January 03, 2009

Against Distraction

I am on word 3,511 of a non-fiction book proposal. With another twenty pages to go. And a Post column to draft. And a profile to write. And an article for Poets & Writers. My god. For the last three days I have woken up each morning with one, and only one, thing allowed on my to-do list. Kept my contacts out. Kept my pajamas on. Read at least forty pages of a book over my steel-cut oatmeal. Ignored worrisome work emails. And worked, worked, worked, until the need to turn on an overhead light in the dining room told me that some hours had passed.

It's the happiest and the most-grounded I have been in ages.

But tomorrow, is the Farmer's Market; then off to my grandmother's house; then to my mother's house; then to the Trader Joe's, for whatever I did not find at the market. On Monday I have a dental appointment. Then the office is waiting. The hours shake loose from each other, falling away in little dutiful fragments. Without conscious intention, the last three days are the closest I have been to a writer's-colony-like experience since Millay, and it makes me realize how desperately I need that uninterrupted time.

Some poet-friends have been circulating New Year's drafts, and I am both admiring and envious. But for now, it's all about prose in my house. One of the things Marilynne Robinson talked about was the great loss, in today's American literary culture, of undivided attention. We multitask. We caffeinate. We cram. I've always been a writer who thrived on deadline, who could read a book in two hours and pull the 2,000-word-piece off overnight, but you know what? The stakes are higher now, and that demands a higher degree of craft. Manic energy ain't gonna cut it. I want these words to count.

3,512. 3,513. 3,514...

Did I mention the gray scarf I am wearing? The background noise of a beloved playing Halo? The squid ink I can still taste on my lips?

3,515, 3,516...and, here, a favorite from Marie Howe:

What the Living Do

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won't work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven't called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It's winter again: the sky's a deep headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

the open living room windows because the heat's on too high in here, and I can't turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street the bag breaking,

I've been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss--we want more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I'm gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I'm speechless:
I am living, I remember you.

~Marie Howe

And so 2009 begins.


Maggie May said...

that's a favorite of mine as well. i liked this post. it made me feel calm and intensive and i could smell paper.

... Paige said...

"The squid ink I can still taste on my lips?"
Made me lick my lips.

Love the piece by Marie Howe

Jehanne Dubrow said...

Phew! I'm exhausted just reading your to-do list. But that's definitely the right way to ring in the New Year: with exciting projects and a nice chunk of writing time (no distractions, nothing but pen and paper). I can't wait to read all of these new things you're writing!

Collin Kelley said...

I love getting into that kind of work groove. I worked on my novel on New Year's Day and I looked up and suddenly it was night.

Valerie Loveland said...

Love that poem.

Anonymous said...

Your energy inspires me, Sandra!

Happy new year :)

Sandra said...

Thanks for the encouragement...though at this point, I'd find completed essays a lot more inspiring than theoretical energy.

But I'm trying, I'm trying!

I defer to the awesomeness of that Marie Howe poem.