Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The drunkenness of things being various

I have always loved the poetry of Louis MacNeice, particularly his "Snow." I am not sure I understand some of it, but I feel that it is trying to tell me something big. The line that forms the title of this post is my favorite line from that poem, and I understand it, at least as it relates to my own life. The feeling that it tries to qualify is one that I struggle with often.

I wrote a new column for SF Signal and once again forgot to link to it. So here it is. I also led the contributions to last week's Mind Meld, about genre-related guilty pleasures, and felt oddly proud that I did not try to take apart the idea of "guilty pleasure" first. I just wrote about my favorite one, which was enjoyable and right.

I've been thinking a lot about different modes of writing lately. As I write fiction, columns, reviews, and blurbs for the bookstore, I find that I am shifting more comfortably between modes, that I am more agile in responding to the demands of the moment, to the goal for each piece of writing. I am enjoying my writing more, I am writing more as a result, and I am producing more for people to read. The latter two might seem a bit odd to separate, but it has been a gradual process of getting my writing in front of people's eyes. I am slowly putting more of work out into the open. After over a decade of most of my writing (conference papers, academic book reviews, even the journalism) being meant for small, very particular audiences, the shift to writing for a wider, more public audience, with a simultaneous shift in what I am writing, has been a bit of challenge, for several reasons, ranging from lack of confidence to depression to the tumult of everyday life.

What is gratifying is that the writing gives me what I need to build up to the new challenges. I have to be careful not to objectify the writing or grant it some mystical powers; it comes from me, after all. But the act of writing is powerful to me, and it always has been. There is no surer sign that something is awry than when I stop writing. "Writer's block" to me is, and pardon the overdramatization, a crisis of the spirit. When the words don't come, regardless of their quality or lucidity, something is jammed up inside me, something needs release.

Writing regularly is a practice that opens me up, often regardless of what I am writing. It is not about catharsis (usually), it is about flow. It clears ideas and anxieties out of the way and exercises my imagination and intellect in ways that help me see other parts of my life more clearer. The act itself is engaging, but the fact of the act gives me confidence and a feeling of anchorage. It is a practice of expression that exerts ineffable creative muscles, and in doing so loosens up other aspects of mind and spirit. The product is important, but the process is where I get most of vitality and value from the work.

Variety is not just the spice, it is the meat and wine of writing.

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