Back on the Writing Wagon

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Torn SutrasThere is a Zen story about working very hard wherein a young student (in some versions, an American,) approaches the master and asks how long it will take him to become a master himself. The master replies, “ten years.” The student emphatically explains that he will work twice as hard as any of the other students, pushing himself to the limit to master his teachings more quickly. “In that case,” replies the master, “twenty years.”

For me, poetry is like this. Usually, when I find myself wanting to work very hard, it is because I have not been writing consistently. You see, I have waned in my discipline of getting up early before work to write. And, as a result, I notice myself daydreaming about dramatic change, such as a fellowship with a great expanse of uninterrupted writing time stretched out before me. Yet, invariably, I find that when I start writing consistently again, I become more satisfied and accepting of my present situation. My careerist thoughts subside. I enter back in to the vocation of poetry, the lifelong pursuit.

The art of not pushing, but rather focusing on consistency, is alien to our fast-food culture. And yet, writing something daily is actually a form of instant gratification as well — a true and lasting gratification of actually having written, good or bad. It is also, ironically, good for one’s career. That is because publication and awards are a numbers game. And writing consistently produces a greater volume of higher quality work than an approach of fits and starts. At least, that has been my experience so far.

So, it’s off to bed for me, and up early to bang something out — good or bad — for sake of staying in the flow.

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You Were Supposed to Sing Or Dance While the Music Was Being Played

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The following video (via Valerie, via Chris) seems like as good an answer as any to the question of why, in the middle of a high-tech career, I signed up for art school. While this particular piece deals with music, I find it equally applicable to the ongoing question: “why poetry?

<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ERbvKrH-GC4">Music and life</a>

More Alan Watts — illuminated by the animators of South Park — is available at FreshMinds, including a great piece on perception and the “language of madness” in common between poetry and music.

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Make Art; Not War: the Love of Practice

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Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art renders an unvarnished, practical portrait of resistance and self-sabotage in art. He lays it out, no punches pulled. I like that. I respect that.

But there’s one place where I think he’s stepped in a bear trap. It’s the title.

He talks about how the Marine Corps takes great pride in getting things done under horrible circumstances with sub-par equipment, bad food, subhuman conditions. And goes on to claim that likewise our relationship to resistance is this kind of war.

The problem with thinking this way is subtle, but very real. The temptation in framing an artist’s relationship to resistance as a war is the temptation of aggrandizement through struggle. Unnecessary struggle. Which leads to fabricated pride.

It is the age-old caricature of the poète maudit, bearing an armful of consolation prizes: baguettes of arrogance, strings of onion wit, round wheels of the cheese of prodigious and effortless brilliance.

Despite the momentary invasion of this rascal into Pressfield’s book, the overall no-nonsense tone and strong advice is otherwise excellent.

But I have found even deeper and more substantial counsel in George Leonard’s Mastery. He warns outright to, “honor but don’t indulge your dark side” and grounds his advice firmly in the teachings of Zen and martial arts. Above all, I took away this: to love the practice and to do it daily without distracted thought of accomplishment, progression, or success. Give yourself completely to the matter at hand.

Easy to say, and a life’s work to really follow. Yet it occurs to me that one becomes a master archer, say, not by desiring mastery, but by desiring to shoot an arrow straight. That only comes with practice. And enough practice to make a difference only happens consistently if you love the practice. Therefore not focusing on making a difference is the only way to get there.

Looks like yet another reminder to keep taking my own advice.

Bed now. Up early to write.

Related Post:
Nachmanovitch On Poetry Therapy

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