Ten o’clock at night in my office.
I stare at a wall painted the color of gray French silk.
I think and breathe and think some more.
All of my stories have had hard births this week; all of my revisions fought me to the back teeth. The edits bit into me like grit in my shoes on a long walking day.
And here I sit, again, way past the hours I normally keep, blunt-faced at my desk with three notebooks open.
I dance around my fatigue, breathe from deep in my gut, and think of you.
In the small black notebook, I have block-printed the word “EXODUS.”
In the hardback composition notebook, the phrase “Twyla Tharp covered all of her mirrors,” rolls across the page.
In the poetry flip-top, I see this in my private handwriting, the shorthand no person can read— “A narrative cannot be found.”
I observe another late night blooming in my palm.
It is an orchid curved across four days of hard writing.
The petals are the color of notebooks and the leaves are the tint of the shadows below my eyes.
Lamplight echoes across the walls, and outside my window— is the stem of an indigo night.
Eleven p.m. I am rewriting.
I read from the page in front of me, make a mark in a notebook.
And I read what I have written, again. Again. Again.
I slash a paragraph. I torque a verb.
I revisit the opening section. It is not good enough.
I stare at the wall, the French gray wall that cools my skin.
I am dowsing for words underneath the white, white page.
So far, all I see is a vast sea of silky French gray. It is not good enough.
Discipline serves the dancer, the artist, the writer the same savory dish— it is the gift of ritual so familiar it calls up the deep breath in the gut.
No matter how much you would rather be somewhere else right now, you are here.
You go through the ritual.
You are immersed, and your immersion is the gift that inspiration, fickle child, cannot give you.
The gift of discipline is muscle.
The white page ripples on my desk where the fan hits it. I smooth it down with a finger.
I lift my pen. And I begin.
Again. Again. Again.
These are the stories that writers do not tell.
Some weeks the words do not want to come to you.
You cup your hand and beckon; they shy away. So, you write your way into their presence.
It may take hours. It may hurt like hell. It may test your ability to be patient with yourself.
Do not blame the page for being blank. Call gently. The words will come, somehow.
Midnight. I have gone through four revisions in five hours. Today is the fourth day of hard writing.
I glance at the notebook in my lap, at another rough draft of a poem— And, lo, I was unprepared for craving, for its absence.
I was base jumping, in the dark—
Plunged headfirst into the whistling night—
Again. Read it again.
PHOTO CREDIT: From the LOC Commons: “Work goes on 24 hours a day at C & NW RR’s Proviso yard, Chicago, Ill. (LOC) Delano, Jack,, photographer. 1942 Dec. One transparency : color. Originally shot for the Office of War Information.)
To read more about the LOC/OWI, please consider reading one of the stories about our mad, passionate love for the history of early modern photography, which you can find here: A Smörgåsbord of Posts
I originally wrote “Songs” as part of our regular series The Bluebird Pillow Book, an idea based on The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon. The Pillow Book, as I see it, has a very elastic form, but a singular intent— to help me be aware of, and intimate with— this wealth of genuine experiences before me.
“Songs I Sing When I’m A-Lonesome” originally ran on April 20, 2012. I’m giddy with anticipation to hear what you think of this short, elliptical piece of mine.
Why a repost? Go here for a partial explanation as to why we’re reposting this week.
A NOTE: I mentioned late last week that I was going on a trip, right? Well, I am in BIG BEND U.S. NATIONAL PARK. It has panoramic vistas and one verrrrry crowded WiFi spot. (See the Bluebird Blvd. FB Page for pictures and links.)
Y’all know that I said I would do my darndest to be online each evening for a bit during these three nights in Big Bend to chat here on Bluebird Blvd, but the fact is— it’s too darn cold and dark, and the next time I will have access, the conditions will be… cold and dark.
What that means is that I’m going to have to catch up with everyone on Saturday afternoon. (Sorry for that!) (Why not Friday? I think I’m going to be flat-out exhausted after a seven-hour trip home that day.)
Today, I have been under the weather, so I decided to use part of the day as an exercise to shoot the cabin where we are staying. The cabin is a work of the Civilian Conservation Corps during the height of the Great Depression. I was really excited about this aspect of our trip because I haven’t seen as many works of the CCC outside of the city where I live. I am thinking of you, and I am thinking of the way the natural world ends up surprising us all. I believe in the grace of unexpected things, and I think the unexpected is what stitches us together in the end. (Hence, my unabashed adoration of y’all, and to a much lesser extent, the CCC.)
THE BLUEBIRD BLVD. GENUINE PHOTOGRAPHY/STORY CONTEST CALL FOR ENTRIES: The GENUINE call for photos/self-portraits/100 word stories is open! See the link for deets and rules.