Thursday, March 29, 2012


I've done the thing I thought could not be done. No, not finished the manuscript (I know that can be done). No, not won a Prize (I know that cannot be done -- can it?). No, not become a rock star (please!).

I have gotten a sunburn. In Ireland.

What a spectacular string of sunny days we have had here, complete with warmth! Fresh, green, baby leaves have popped out on all of the trees. The yellow fireworks of forsythia have erupted at the same time as the lush pink cherry blossoms and purple -- I don't know what they are but they are bright clusters like mini-lilacs -- and bright orange buds of another sort of tree. We never had a month in which some sort of flower wasn't in bloom, but now they all seem to be everywhere. In fact, yesterday I passed a holly tree with forsythia branches pushing their yellow happiness up through the dark shiny holly leaves. Such a surprising, gorgeous combination!

Sun here must not be wasted. So dark and grey for so long, and who knows if the dullness shall return tomorrow? I pulled a chair out into the brightest part of the parking lot in front of the apartment, and sat all day, reading work and outlining, storing sun in my cells. I hadn't been so thoroughly warm -- hot, in fact -- since last August in the U.S..

Now, my skin is bright too. Bright red.

Later, I went for a run -- wearing shorts! Then, I took a shower and got dressed. The temperature in the apartment had dropped, as had the temperature outside, feeling as if we had an air conditioner on. The feel of my clothes, prickling my fried skin, the tightness of my sun-baked face, and my wet hair all reminded me of being a kid after swimming. I'd wash off (sometimes -- when you are a kid, you think swimming in the pool equals a shower or bath, and I've known more than one kid who, were it not for swimming, would probably have been surrounded by a cloud of pea green funk during the summer months ). Then, I'd dress and sit my body down in front of the t.v. or with a book, the icy a.c. pushing against the heat emanating from my fiery skin (when I was really young and lived among the Catholics in New Orleans, we used to joke that we were turning into the Devil, and if we were really bad we would stay red, like him). Not a care in the world at that moment in time, thoroughly comfortable in my body and what it could do.


While baking, I worked, returning to one of my old, tried and true techniques for writing. Back before Windows, before cut and paste, before a mouse, when my computer screen was half the size it is now, and the computer took up half of my desk, when my computer itself was just a high tech typewriter, I tended to start all of my writing by hand. I'd sit on the stoop of my apartment with a yellow note pad and start writing down everything that I knew about my subject in a list. I called that "barfing out my ideas onto the paper."

Gradually, order would appear. I would draw circles and arrows. I start the list over on another page, but with groupings. Then, I'd do the same thing again on another page, but with more groupings. Words became phrases. Phrases became sentences. The number of arrows and circles decreased while the number of things that might be paragraphs decreased. Eventually, I'd feel the paper begin to write itself. Something about writing on paper feels impermanent, less committed, than writing on the computer.

I've tried the technique on computer, and it works, but sometimes it just lacks the fun of doing it by hand. Maybe the outlining by hand reminds me of when I was little and would climb a tree with a notebook, or sit on my window sill, or hide somewhere to escape the vague sense of doom always about our house, and tell myself stories on paper. Maybe just the sitting elsewhere and not at my desk -- particularly in these hideously ill-designed Ikea chairs which I just know were meant for sitting misbehaving children in the corner -- helps the process.

Whatever the case, over the past three days, I have made the chapter less intimidating, particularly the part in which I scrap most if not all of the paper from which it originates and start from word scratch. Now, to place myself at the computer and turn the detailed outline into actual prose (but not fiction!).  That's always the hard part, switching gears from paper to screen. The fun becomes serious. That is, the fun becomes serious until I get into it, then it becomes its own thing. Really, it's just switching gears, like switching from sleeping to wake or waking to sleeping, sitting to working out (but, oddly, not the reverse!), goofing around to business. 

The sun is only trying to emerge today. The clouds seem to want to return, so I suppose the clouds are working in my favor, as is the sunburn, keeping me inside. Maybe I'll move my computer to the other side of the room, too, so I don't have to sit in this godawful chair.

Soon, this chapter will be done, too. That will put me at about half way through a full, shitty first draft. It's only half as far as I had hoped to be by the time we get back to the U.S.; but I've decided to say that half is better than none and I've had a damn good time in the meantime. Life, after all, is about more than just work and no one is keeping score on how I use my time here except me, no one is actually saying "always be working! Always be working! Coffee is for workers!" and punishing me for failing. The only person doing that is me. As I've discovered, I don't have to be that person anymore.


Susan said...

I think there is also something about the physical relationship between hand and brain that makes working on paper important...

How much longer do you have in Ireland? I think you're just steaming along!

Clio Bluestocking said...

I think you are right and that it is important for those of us who grew up writing that way. I wonder if the folks who grew up on computers feel the same? I'm finding that I there are a lot of old school things like this that seem alien and of another time to younger people. I wonder what sort of neurological devlopments or connections go on in such cases?

Clio Bluestocking said...

Oh yeah -- and I'm in Ireland until mid-May, and probably won't have much time to write at all during May, but back to work in June and July, then coordinating it with new job in August.

You think I'm going along well? Thank you! (Sadly, I need some sort of validation like that!)


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