On the Long Haul
I’ve never been a particularly patient person. Yet I’ve spent my life engaged in work that requires tremendous patience. Writing a book is not an activity well-suited to those who need immediate gratification — or perhaps even gratification at all. Writing a book demands blind faith, decent habits, tenacity, endurance, the ability to withstand indignity and rejection, and the discipline of sitting down every day whether you feel like it or not. Above all, writing a book requires patience. A book is a lot like life. You never know what’s around the corner. You never know when it’s going to up and change on you. You can’t predict the outcome. Trying to control it is hopeless and counter-intuitive. Holding back is a mistake. It takes a long time. There are no promises. The world, the world owes you nothing. And yet your only hope is to fling yourself heedlessly, wholeheartedly, into the unknown –– hoping, praying, that you will emerge with something true.
I’m writing this from a window seat on a flight from San Francisco to New York. I’ve been flying so much for the past six months since Still Writing was published that I feel like the George Clooney character from “Up in the Air,” moving through security checkpoints with almost military precision. I’ve been out in the world and it has been exciting and fun. It hasn’t demanded of me any of the qualities I’ve honed over a lifetime of writing books. I haven’t needed to summon blind faith, decent habits, tenacity, endurance, or patience. No. It has been a time for other traits. I’ve called upon the part of myself that is capable of being an extrovert, a social creature, an intrepid soul who goes out into the world, instead of hiding in a hotel room; who researches yoga studios and shows up for classes in strange cities in an attempt to keep myself centered while on the road. This may not sound like much, but for me – a creature whose natural habitat is silence and solitude – believe me, it is. I’ve enjoyed tremendously the dinners in other cities with friends old and new, the public appearances, the teaching. It’s been fun to put on nice clothes and lipstick, instead of my usual uniform of yoga clothes or a bathrobe (or both). But I have been homesick, underneath it all, and this homesickness – a low, thrumming back beat to the travel and the appearances – is not simply for my husband, my kid, my dogs, my own bed. It is homesickness for myself.
My inner life is an inaccessible landscape when I’m not writing, a foreign and unfamiliar place. It doesn’t feel dangerous so much as remote. I don’t know any other way to get there. The pen lights the way for me – it has always been my only source of illumination. But the further away I drift from the page, the harder it is to get back. Ultimately, writer is someone who writes, as someone wiser than I once said. And a writer who writes is one who has found a way to give herself permission. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve wanted to do everything I’ve done in these past months. Since October I have been to Los Angeles twice, San Francisco twice, Seattle twice, Florida twice, New Orleans, Aspen, Boston, Philadelphia, and Italy. If I were to count up, I probably have done fifty, maybe sixty events for Still Writing. I’ve had a blast. My book needed me, and I have ushered it into the world. And I’m not going to stop – not entirely. between now and the end of the summer, I will have gone to Nantucket, Palm Springs, Taos and Provincetown. But I am slowing down. It’s time. Time to close the door. To begin to cultivate the patience and blind faith once more. Time to be fearless and reckless, to pick up that pen and watch the light stream out of it. Here, it will point the way. Here, remember? This is who you are.