My schedule’s been a bit irregular lately, both here with the newsletter and in life in general. The reasons for it are many; suffice to say I’ve been trying to find my routine again. I remember productive stretches in my life and ask myself what I was doing then that I’m not doing now, and while there are large aspects I can’t replicate, there are little things I can: the time I wake up, what I have for breakfast, the order I do things in the mornings. Some of these old rituals might be obsolete now, but they’re a place to start.
In the first pages of Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook lies a wonderful analogy for practice – for showing up to allow the art to happen. She likens it to a Shakespearian rendezvous:
Part of the psyche that works in concert with consciousness and supplies a necessary part of the poem – the heat of a star as opposed to the shape of a star, let us say – exists in a mysterious, unmapped zone: not unconscious, not subconscious, but cautious. It learns quickly what sort of courtship it is going to be. Say you promise to be at your desk in the evenings, from seven to nine. It waits, it watches. If you are reliably there, it begins to show itself – soon it begins to arrive when you do. But if you are only there sometimes and are frequently late or inattentive, it will appear fleetingly, or it will appear not at all.
We have this notion of waiting for the muse, or for inspiration to strike, and Oliver’s analogy doesn’t deny that there must be waiting. Instead it flip the roles. We – as in our conscious, thirsting, wanting-to-write/wanting-to-create selves – aren’t doing the waiting; it’s the other way around. Art is waiting for us to prove our dedication.
Who knows anyway what it is, that wild, silky part of ourselves without which no poem can live? But we do know this: if it is going to enter into a passionate relationship and speak what is in its own portion of your mind, the other responsible and purposeful part of you had better be a Romeo. It doesn’t matter if risk is somewhere close by – risk is always hovering somewhere. But it won’t involve itself with anything less than a perfect seriousness.
It’s funny to think that whether or not I have oatmeal in the mornings has something to do with making art, but I think it’s the underlying motivation that’s important – the “perfect serious” with which I go about it. It’s part of the preparation – to meet, in the moonlight-swept orchard.