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.  

 

31 Responses »

  1. The writing always calls one home.

  2. Yes. Writing is mining with a pen. Among all the evocative words used to describe landscapes and battlefields, it is an attempt to find out who exactly the miner is.

  3. Thank you for sharing this! What a fabulous reminder, and something to think about as I sit down to start writing “again” after a long hiatus. For weeks I’ve heard your voice in my head saying, “I am not well when I am not writing.” Your home will be glad to see you back. It was great to see you on stage yesterday in San Francisco. Cheers.

  4. This is a beautiful post and one that resonated with me completely. I’ve learned the hard way over the years that the pen also lights the way for me. It’s through my writing that I see myself most clearly…much more so than in the mirror or through daydreaming self-reflection. Your posts are a reminder that it’s okay to take breaks here and there for our other interests and responsibilities but that writers like us cannot be truly well if we don’t get back to the page when we feel that tugging at our hearts. Thank you!

  5. Amen to this. Yes. I can’t wait to see the next thing that emerges from your return to the fearless quiet.

  6. Dani, this is it exactly. I got teary reading this, it felt so precisely like you were describing my inarticulable thoughts of late. Thank you.

  7. I really needed to read this. I’m so glad that Shauna introduced me to you. Great writing! Congratulations on the book.

  8. Yes, the writing calls you home to find peace and to make sense of it all. Thank you for sharing, Dani. So happy that you were out ushering and sharing your book with the world and our paths crossed. I can’t wait to read your next book :)

  9. As a hopeful novelist your post touched me. I love the art of writing, but I am a private person, living with six dogs at home. We all dream of hitting it big, but I don’t think I could do the time traveling. So far, not a worry for me, but I understand completely the need to get home, write, and be yourself again. A lovely post.

  10. Beautifully written. Thank you.

  11. Doing the public readings IS enjoyable, but they’re not the thing itself — just as an anniversary card is not the marriage. Non-writers just don’t understand the need to be alone for extended periods with no company but a blank page.

    • The thing itself is the page, the page, the page. So true. Thanks, Gary.

      • I’ve met lots of people who can’t imagine what it’s like to write a book… and, occasionally, people who don’t think it’s odd that they have NEVER even read a book.

        What kind of life is that?

  12. Homesickness for myself. Wow. After being on a book tour for 3 weeks, a strange sense of disembodiment began to set in; without writing every day, I stopped knowing who I was. Haven’t been able to give words to it until now. Thanks so much Dani, for your wisdom. As always.

  13. <3 oh Dani .. this is beautiful thank you for sharing this. xo

  14. Because you quoted him in “Still Writing,” I picked up a copy of and am currently reading Donald Hall’s “Life Work.” Today I happened to read about his and Jane’s 7-week trip to China and Japan and how his desk-energy accumulated near the end of the trip. While reading that section I remembered I’d set this post of yours to one side to read it when I had time to not be interrupted from it. Lovely synchronicity!

  15. This is perfect. It made me want to crack open my pen and watch words flow from it’s belly. I’m inspired. Thank you.

  16. Thank you for this perfectly stated line, “The pen lights the way for me – it has always been my only source of illumination.” I have written that truth in my journal, many times. That it is so difficult to take up the pen again after a long separation is also true, painfully so. I’m nevertheless, like you, carrying around my “notebook for my next book” everywhere I go. Maybe today is the day.

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