In yesterday’s post, I responded to some of Alex Reid’s thoughts on whether writing might be conceived of as work of play. There are other terms operating in this discussion and my reflection, as well. For instance, there are issues of labor, pleasure, joy, vocation, etc. Each of these has a slightly different point of entry into this discussion. But as I mentioned in my last post, I suspect that what’s at the heart of Alex’s query, or at least my interest in it, comes down to a question of motivation. In the absence of adequate compensation and-or the absence of pleasure, why do we choose to make writing such a large part of our daily lives?
I’ve been thinking about it since yesterday, and I’m still not really sure. I guess it has something to do with love. I don’t want to sound all gooey about it, but structurally, I think there are some similarities.
I mean “love” in the following sense… Sometimes it’s like magic. Amazing. Heart racing. Rewarding. Fulfilling. Healthy. Productive. Something you’ve always wanted. At other times it’s incredibly difficult. Confusing. Painful. Counter-productive. Time-wasted. Still other times, it just is. A writing lifestyle is like a space you inhabit, even though it’s not especially difficult or enjoyable. There’s momentum. There’s an investment. And then there’s responsibility. A responsibility to something not entirely your own. Maybe I mean “audience,” but I don’t really think that’s what I’m getting at. No one I know has “an audience,” that would work for that sort of a metaphor.
Part of me balks at that last paragraph. Sometimes this; sometimes that. That’s not quite right. I want to think back to something I learned as a potter. (and here, I’m borrowing from a very old post on this blog). It has to do with understanding the context of an activity, and breaking down any divisions between the activity and the context. More to the point of this discussion, I’m thinking that divisions between some writing practices or writing moments as labor and some as pleasure might be a problematic division (my division, no Alex’s).
For a significant time in my life, I was a full-time potter. My own studio. My own retail/wholesale business. My own business mistakes. But for a couple of years before that, I trained (apprenticed?) with a professional potter in Colorado. I already had some experience working with clay, so I started hand building some pieces for him. What I really wanted to do was to sit at the wheel and practice my centering and throwing. But there was always other work to be done. Handbuilding, working with the reclaim, loading-firing-unloading the kiln, waxing the pots, glazing, sweeping the floors, going to the store for supplies, emptying the latrine, fixing up the studio, reading about potters, paying bills, eating lunch, etc. With all these other responsibilities and needs, it often felt like I never had time to actually make pots.
I don’t want exaggerate this into some hard luck story of suffering through years of busy work until I understood something about pots. To tell you the truth, the understanding didn’t come out of the hard work or some revelation of my own. I’m pretty sure I read it in a pottery book or heard it from a friend. It doesn’t matter. The bottom line is that at some point I realized that you can’t throw a good pot if your studio is a mess. Your clay is gonna catch some debris or it won’t be properly wedged or reclaimed. Maybe you get sick from the dust or not eating right.
The point is that sweeping the floors is just as much a part of making a good pot as the throwing. I suspect that good potters know that when they are sweeping the floors or emptying the latrine, they are making pots. It helps to make that work not just something to get through, but a substantial part of being a potter. It’s a way of taking the same pride in a clean floor as you might in great coffee mug. There really is not distinction. You can’t make a good mug without spending time sweeping your floors. It’s all one process.
And that’s a lot like how I’m starting to understand the nature of why I write. It’s a whole-being sorta thing. You can’t have pleasure without the work. They are part of the same thing. Sometimes even simultaneous. Some days you won’t want to get up, start the log stove, and finish the pots that will go bad unless you take care of them. But you do it. Because it’s part of the process. And when you’ve finished for the day, and your hands and feet ache, you’ve still gotta sweep that floor, because you’ll get sick if you don’t.
And so it is with writing. Some days, the blog posts are work. Or reading for the dissertation is work. Some days it’s not going to “flow” or I won’t get “in the zone.” But some days I do. And some days I will. And all of those days are the life I want. This one.