Ways of seeing: It's time for a few resolutions of the heart
I am writing a book and today I started it. Again. I won’t bore you with how many times I have started this book, but let’s just say that the occasions of re-commencing have been frequent and repeated. It would be embarrassing to admit this except for the fact that I have lots of friends who are writers and I imagine that some of them are also using the holidays — perhaps especially the first day of 2014 — to start their projects. Again.
Some writers readily confess that they hate to write, but somehow are compelled to do so. They have Things To Say. They cannot not write. Characters show up, demanding attention, refusing to stop talking until the author finally consents to take dictation. Through acts of sheer discipline, the use of Pavlovian reward systems — perhaps involving chocolate — and other forceful means these “I hate to write” writers somehow manage to get it done.
I admire them. I wish I could be them. But I also sometimes suspect that they protest too much about “hating” to write. I find myself wondering if having to write (seemingly against their own wills) somehow helps the situation. My problem is the opposite. I love to write. There’s a simplicity to writing that just can’t be beat. All I need is a pen, a pad of paper, relative quiet and my brain. Said brain may be addled one day, full of creativity the next. But so far, it works. I may end up hating what I write, but I always love doing it.
Therein also lies the problem. Somewhere in the patchwork of my religious heritage, I must have been a Puritan in one of my other lives, because somehow, I think I don’t deserve to write until I’ve taken care of everything and everyone else first. If writing is so much fun, I had better put it off.
I suspect this underlying assumption is somewhat gendered. (Tell me, sister writers, is this phenomenon true for you, but not for your Y-chromosomed writing friends?) But regardless of the socio-cultural sources of this assumption, it’s a prevailing one. And it’s nuts.
One of the things I love about being older is that I can seize some of my time-honored assumptions and chuck them out of the metaphorical window. In fact, I recommend writing such “truths” down on scraps of paper and literally throwing them out the window. The feeling is quite liberating (especially if you recycle them later).
What, then are my New Year’s commitments? They have nothing to do with getting more exercise, organizing my closets or reducing my consumption of chocolate and caffeine. These are all good, healthy ideas and I may even give some of them a whirl; but they don’t speak to my soul. What is far more meaningful for me in this season of gratitude and new beginnings is to commit to doing more of what I actually love to do. This may seem curious to some, but if I hated writing, I might actually get more done. It would be a noble and virtuous duty that “shouldn’t” be put off. In honor of 2014, I say “out with that logic” and in with the new. If I really love to write, I need to move past my 40-plus years of a tentative dating phase to something more like marriage. The prospect is scary.
So let me throw down the New Year’s gauntlet to my readers (whether or not you are also writers): What is it that you love to do and put off until everything else is taken care of and neatly tied up? I don’t mean putting on the cross-country skis or heading out to the movies (both of which I can do with ease almost any winter weekend), I mean embracing the deeper joys, the ones that involve some risk, some “selfishness,” some effort. The ones that you believe in or care about so much that you convince yourself you have to finish the vacuuming first. By all means, go to the gym. But let me also invite you — as I am inviting myself — to contemplate those internal gymnastics that keep you from following the promptings of the heart and soul. Then take the leap. I’ll be taking it with you.
Rebecca Kneale Gould is senior lecturer in Environmental Studies at Middlebury College and a “boutique shepherd” in Monkton.