Business–as in Busy-ness

A view looking through the iris gardens. May 13, 2016

A view looking through the iris gardens. May 13, 2016

James Baldwin once said about writers: “The importance of a writer is continuous… His importance, I think, is that he is here to describe things which other people are too busy to describe.”

 
Well, I have become one of those people who has become too busy. And I’m really trying to sort it out. Even a quiet life can become overfilled with activity.
 
Anything a person does to organize anything requires endless attention. I’ve gone from organizing words and sentences to organizing trees and flowers! The one is actually much harder than the other. (You can decide which is which.) As to which is more important? That’s the real question. I suppose it’s like it’s written in Ecclesiastes 3:1: there is an appointed time for everything.
 
My gardens have grown to the point that next year, I do believe next year, I will have to have help. This is the summer of my discontent (no time). Next year, the gardens will begin to support themselves. And I will have hired help, and more time for words and sentences.
 
The truth is that there is something wonderful about gardens. They are worth the time the take. They teach their own lessons, including the very important lesson about patience. Flowers open when they’re ready to open. Bees find their way to them when they’re sweetest.
 
Patience, however, is an abstract sort of thing. The garden teaches very practical lessons as well. For instance, birds tend to choose safe places to nest and when they don’t there is not a good ending.
 
Life is a balance of choices. Patience is a virtue, it’s said. But to be eternally patient is to get nothing done. Balance. Choices.
 
M L S Baisch

A Time for the World to Turn

Sometimes the best way to start writing a new story is to give it visual form. This is a mock-up cover for my new manuscript.

Sometimes the best way to start writing a new story is to give it visual form. This is a mock-up cover for my new manuscript.

I’ve been gardening, and to a limited extent I’ve been writing. But mostly I’ve been gardening for awhile now. My writerly life has been ‘light’–not superficial, exactly; but I’ve been writing short children’s stories while I’ve been finishing the edit to a longer, more substantial book–Leona the Part-Time Fairy: also a children’s book, but a pithier one than the stories I’ve been writing in tandem to the edit. A writer has to be writing something in order to keep the “writing ligaments” limber. (Not my phrase: it was used by Steinbeck and, I believe, by Virginia Woolf. There is no better way to describe the process: when a writer stops writing, the mental muscle that is needed to write atrophies.)

 
I’ve long known that my gardens are like Petri dishes to an internal, writerly, process. While I putter and plant and dig and water and sit on my garden benches looking at blue skies and gray skies, feel the wind and the sun and the rain, an watch seeds sprout, grow, and bloom, I’ve known that something more is happening within myself.
 
It has been my intention, upon completion of Leona, to write a sequel to it. In fact, I have the story more or less written in my mind. I’m beginning to think that it isn’t the story that I need to be writing at the moment: that it’s a story that will keep. It isn’t in a hurry to be written.
 
There’s something else close to the surface, but just beyond my understanding. Something more difficult to articulate, more difficult to translate from the interior world. More difficult to bring to the world of form: words. It is requiring an internal positioning, a rethinking and a re-knowing process; a re-arranging; a stepping both inside and outside of facts as I’ve known them to be and appreciating that perhaps facts are not really factual at all–there may be another interpretation. Perhaps the facts were really only someone’s point of view. Perhaps they were self-serving, or just self-deluding.
 
I seem about to set off to tell a story that will be part fact, part-deduction, and part entirely fiction; set in an historical period I can never know more about than what I’ve been told and what I’ve read, as it was either before my time on earth, or happening when I was too small to understand.
 
My story will be as true as the stories I’ve been told, as true as my imagination extrapolates possibilities from those stories, and as fictional as any other biographical fiction. It will be a war story and a love story and, if I can become the vehicle for the words that need to be written, it will be a good story. It will not be a short story–in either pages or the time it takes to write it.
 

There is a choice: creativity or productivity

Willa Cather, American author and 1923 Pulitzer Prize winner, is seen in this photo from March 1931. (AP Photo)

Willa Cather, American author and 1923 Pulitzer Prize winner, is seen in this photo from March 1931. (AP Photo)

This is the Christmas season, a time of wonder and hope, festivities and life. And it’s life that I’m interested in. It is also a season when most everyone gives some thought to the coming year–to resolutions, to thinking about life. In that spirit my mind has wandered down a path, looking back from a distance of almost 74 years. I have some thoughts on the matter of choices. If I were to live my life over, I would likely make one elemental choice differently.

Which is not to say that I have regrets or sorrows for choices made: most every choice can be turned toward a good life. And all choices bring rewards, experiences and pleasures otherwise not to be had. Still, some choices preclude other choices and, without exception, certain choices are made so early in a life as to be choosing blindly.

The following two quotes are meant to be explanatory. They say what I mean better than I could ever say it myself:

Excerpt from a letter to Willa Cather, then a journalist, from Sara Jewett, her writer/mentor friend:

“Your vivid, exciting companionship in the office must not be your audience, you must find your own quiet centre of life, and write from that to the world that holds offices, and all society, all Bohemia; the city, the country — in short, you must write to the human heart, the great consciousness that all humanity goes to make up. Otherwise what might be strength in a writer is only crudeness, and what might be insight is only observation; sentiment falls to sentimentality — you can write about life, but never write life itself. And to write and work on this level, we must live on it — we must at least recognize it and defer to it at every step. We must be ourselves, but we must be our best selves.” – Jewett

Cather, at the time, was working in an office, a journalist, earning a good sum and making a good life–but she wasn’t doing much writing. And she knew it, too: but it held her captive. This letter helped her to break from that life. Which she eventually did.

“Still, if I stopped working next summer I would have money enough to live very simply for three or four years. That would give me time to pull myself together. I doubt whether I would ever write very much — though that is hard to tell about for sure; since I was fifteen I have not had a patch of leisure six months long. When I was on a newspaper I had one month vacation a year, and when I was teaching I had two. Still, I don’t think that my pen would ever travel very fast, even along smooth roads. But I would write a little — “and save the soul besides [from Robert Browning’s The Ring and the Book].” It’s so foolish to live (which is always trouble enough) and not to save your soul. It’s so foolish to lose your real pleasures for the supposed pleasures of the chase — or of the stock exchange” – Cather

There is a choice: creativity or productivity.  It’s best made before one has already committed too much to choices that prevent a clear path. For it’s true that there are lives that are duty-bound. Those are also good lives. But it is a choice often made too soon. And the other choice–creativity–may become an almost impossibility.

M L S Baisch

NOTE: Willa Sibert Cather was an American author who achieved recognition for her novels of frontier life on the Great Plains, including O Pioneers!, The Song of the Lark, and My Ántonia. Wikipedia
Born: December 7, 1873, Gore, VA
Full name: Wilella Sibert Cather

 

 

One of the secrets of productivity is to have a VERY BIG wastebasket

creativityI’ve found an interesting book–not a new one–by Mihaly Csiksznentmihalyi titled Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. From the foreward, a quote: “To learn anything you must pay attention . . . and attention is a limited resource.” One more quote–this one by Drucker–also from the foreward: “One of the secrets of productivity (in which I believe whereas I do not believe in creativity) is to have a VERY BIG wastebasket to take care of all invitations . . . productivity consists of NOT DOING anything that helps the work of other people but to spend all one’s time on the work the Good Lord has fitted one to do, and to do it well.”

There’s a lot of good reading in this book. I came to it–not entirely serendipitously as I have an abiding interest in the psychology of motivation and creativity–as I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a writer these days, where there is so much being written for commercial consumption and, really, for no other reason. It’s an 8-5 job for some: a business. And, like a business, writing is becoming a team endeavor. I resist that notion.

In truth, I like to think we write for ourselves first. It’s about the work. Hopefully the work is good. But what “good” is can be measured by many criteria. Conversely, I suppose, it may be that what we write just plain isn’t any good based on any criteria. Is that really important? My personal suspicion is that anyone who continually sits down to write one’s own ideas in one’s own words is a writer–it is too painful to do it for fun. Although writing has its rewards, they are not of the sort that anyone but a writer would consider worthwhile.

Writing is about self-expression far more than it is about marketing, selling, commercial trends, best-sellers . . . Writers create a legacy in words–at least that’s my idea and intention. If one’s work begins to reflect the combined effort of a group then, like anything created by a committee, it gets dumbed down, becomes compromised, loses something.

I’m making a case for writing the old-fashioned way. Can you imagine Jane Austen sending her manuscript off to a beta-reader for editorial comments? Shakespeare? More recently, people like Tennessee Williams, James Joyce . . . After all, the writer comes to the page with idiosyncratic ideas, vocabulary, style . . . if those things are lacking, there is a big problem. And, when those things are present, there will always be people who disagree, want something changed–in short, who won’t see the vision. Want to usurp the original vision and recreate it as their own.

English can be taught. Writing, especially creative writing, can be workshop-ed but taught? Not really. In the past, writers often created their own presses because there was no other way to get published. One could argue that that is exactly what ePublishing is today. There are similarities, but there are certainly differences as well.

What has happened in the arts, especially in the literary arts, is that middlemen have stuffed layers of themselves between the artist and the consumer, and they serve more as a lure for the hopeful than as an adjunct to the artist.

It is easy to get lost in the busy, busy world, filled with electronic gadgets and busy schedules. All any of us really have in life to offer is ourselves. It’s important to keep in mind that’s what writing is all about: self-expression.

M L S Baisch

Salinger in the context of a writing life.

SALINGER28-600x910I’ve been re-reading J D Salinger–9 Stories and Franny and Zooey. Why? First, because I’ve read to the end of all the books I have in my possession, so far, in the Master’s of Rome series (Colleen McCullough). Second, because . . . ooooo me, there are so many reasons why to re-read Salinger! Did you know that he was in intelligence in WWII (not C.I.A.)? He was in Paris mopping up (detaining Nazi sympathizers) after the war–where he met with Hemingway.  Did you know Hemingway was his friend/mentor? Mostly people know that he was an inveterate recluse, later in his life, who, it was said, had ‘strange’ ideas about religion/God.

We, the reading public, don’t pay so much attention to the part about HE WROTE ALL THE TIME–in hotel rooms, in foxholes; but we writers should. Salinger was a writer. He wrote. He rewrote. He submitted and was published early on–in Story, The New Yorker. He mostly wrote short stories. Even his longer work was derived from his short stories. Franny and Zooey was rejected by publishers because ‘they didn’t get it.’ So, what am I getting at? Did he care? He was a writer–he cared! Did he change his story, edit out the Salinger in it? What do you think?

Why should it matter to know that Salinger wrote in foxholes. The point is that he WAS IN the foxhole. It’s important that writers have something to write about. If you read Franny and Zooey you may not think you’re reading about foxholes, but you are. The sum total of the writer comes through to the writing, and for that reason it’s important to live–and to write at the same time.

The real question is why do we writers write. I imagine most of the men you found writing in foxholes in WWII were writing letters home; they weren’t writing short stories. I imagine if someone was writing a short story in a foxhole, he wasn’t particularly concerned about whether or not the story was going to be published; he was writing because he had a story to tell. For me, that answers the question: why do we writers write. And isn’t it interesting the Salinger’s foxhole stories didn’t seem to be about soldiers in foxholes? Not any that I’ve read. The imagination refines the material of the storyteller into gold: alchemy!

The real question is why do we writers write. I imagine most of the men you found writing in foxholes in WWII were writing letters home; they weren’t writing short stories. I imagine if someone was writing a short story in a foxhole, he wasn’t particularly concerned about whether or not the story was going to be published; he was writing because he had a story to tell. For me, that answers the question: why do we writers write. And isn’t it interesting the Salinger’s foxhole stories didn’t seem to be about soldiers in foxholes? Not any that I’ve read. The imagination refines the material of the storyteller into gold: alchemy!

Salinger lived to be 91 years old, he died in 2010. It’s said that he continued to write, although nothing was published after 1950, that I can find, except a collection of stories in 1965. It’s said that nothing will be published until 50 years after his death. I should live so long.

M L S Baisch

Ready to launch!

mona-purplehatI’m setting up a new website. 

And I’m one of those people who know just enough about it to be dangerous. This isn’t my first website, and it won’t be my last, but I don’t do this sort of thing everyday. The learning curve is always steep.

This site has been a long time coming–my writing website. It’s under construction, but content is appearing. Check it out at: http://mlsbaisch.com/

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2015 is going to be an exciting year for me. It’s been a long time coming, but eBooks will be appearing on a regular release schedule.

Every life has it’s cycles. There are joys, challenges, and setbacks. Doesn’t it seem like every joy, challenge, and setback comes with a caveat?

Oh, yah! And it’s all those stipulations, conditions, and limitations–sometimes expected and sometimes not–that keep tripping us up as we go along through life. Which is, I suppose, why every success, every milestone reached, is to very heady.

This site, these books, have been on my bucket list for a long time. Without the books, there could be no site. I’m ready to launch!

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My books are for the young and the young at heart. Although my writing site is writerly, there will be a portal for children with lighthearted content and activities.

Let me know what you think. And let me know what’s on the top of your heart. How is your bucket list coming along?

 

Mona L S Baisch

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