Monday, December 3, 2007

Sibling Assignment #46: The Writing Life

InlandEmpireGirl assigned this week's sibling assignment: What does your writing life consist of? What works for you? What advice would you share with other writers? IEG's post is here and Silver Valley Girl's is still to come.

By the way, I'm one assignment behind and when I've dug out from the avalanche of student essays I'm under, I'll post #45, but it requires some time at the scanner and in the My Picture folder, not to mention the CD collection.

My writing life consists mostly of not writing.

That makes sense. If I look at a typical day, I spend a great deal of time sleeping, eating, working, driving here and there, picking up some groceries, watching movies, listening to music, reading, grading student papers, socializing, in addition to taking care of Snug, gambling once in a while, and, well, suffice it to say, I spend a lot more time not writing than I do writing.

So, this can only mean one thing: what I do when I'm not writing is the most important aspect of my writing life.

Writing is the record of one's life's events and imaginings and thoughts and memories and feelings that occur when one is not writing.

Therefore, the best way for me to prepare and groom myself for actually writing is to be as fully conscious of my surroundings, the workings of my mind and heart, and my observations when I'm not writing.

This is what makes writing difficult. To write well, one has to, at some level, live well. It's so much more comfortable to live in a slumber, to retreat from the world and all that is happening around us, but wrapping oneself in a thick duvet of unconscious living dulls writing; living consciously sharpens it.

A difficulty arises for me, though.

I am simultaneously obsessive and easily distracted.

On the one hand, I can sit down with something in mind to write, and suddenly a latent interest I've had gets sparked by a documentary I've seen or by a conversation I've had. I wander away from the task at hand and begin to obsess and fly all over the World Wide Web trying to learn more about this distraction that then becomes a short term obsession.

For example, I've been watching documentaries and reading stories about people who have been imprisoned, but who did not commit the crime. I wrote about this recent obsession here.

My obsession with Public Defenders has led me to read Public Defender blogs and to find the titles of more books to read and it throws me into yet another arena where I learn a little, not a lot, and begin to develop some thoughts and ideas, but I'm out of my depth.

I've been thinking a lot over the last several days about Joseph Duncan, the man who today confessed to a long list of crimes, including murder, kidnapping, sexual abuse of a minor, ten counts in all, in federal court.

I oppose the death penalty.

I am chilled by the number of men and women who have been on Death Row, only to be found innocent of their crimes.

I stand firmly upon the principle that the state should not put criminals to death as long as there is any chance that any person sentenced to death might be innocent.

As long as the judicial system is flawed, as long as it sentences innocent people to death, it's my opinion that the state should end all capital punishment.

The system will always be flawed. Therefore, the death penalty should be outlawed.

But can I write about this? I have, at best, an amateur's understanding of this problem.

It's like so many other things I want to write about.

I just don't know that much and by being alive to so much in life, I almost never stay focused on one interest, so I have a cursory knowledge and understanding about a lot of things, but I don't know a lot about anything.

But, back to InlandEmpireGirl's questions.

My advice to a person who wants to write is to read about and practice the tenets of Buddhism.

I'm not a Buddhist.

But, my readings in Buddhism have enriched and enlivened my writing(and teaching) more than anything else.

Buddhism is not dualistic. Buddhism helps me see what we usually think of as contradictions as complements to one another.

Buddhism focuses the mind on the connectedness of all things. Buddhism encourages my mind to see that anything I might be contemplating and writing about is connected to all else, so Buddhism encourages me cast the net of my thinking wide and see that things we might not think of as related to each other are.

Above all, Buddhism teaches that to understand a tree or criminal or a spouse or a dog or a person I disagree with or a person I love, I must become that person.

Buddhism encourages the imagination. Buddhism encourages us all to move outside the confines of our own perceptions and experiences and enter into those of others, into the experience of all animate beings and non-animate things.

For a writer, this means that in my poems or in my essays or as I write bits and pieces of memoir, I can, through compassion and sharply heightened consciousness, explore the world through how others see it. I'm not confined to myself.

For a writer, Buddhism is a source of liberation, flexibility, deeper perception, deeper focus, and mental alertness.

When I'm at my best in my writing life, I'm awake, alert, attentive, outside of myself, accepting, receptive, all principles of Buddhism.

I'm not often at my best.

I try.

The best I can do is encourage my alertness when I'm not writing and hope that when I sit down to the keyboard that some of the connections, some of my perceptions, some of my meditative self-examination translates into words that someone else might enjoy reading.

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