A bunch of stuff has happened since this time last year. I’ve lost roughly 365,000 hairs, for example, and my heart has pumped 2,688,000 liters of blood through my veins. I’ve packed about 180 lunches and cooked more than 350 dinners. I’ve rafted down the Deschutes River, strolled the streets of Chicago, wandered Vancouver’s waterfront. I’ve devoured 49 books and I’ve shot a .22 handgun in the Houston outback.
But I’ve also written 70 posts for this blog since I started it in October 2011 (click here to peruse my very first one, “Doin’ the wave at Old Faithful”). And all you lovely people have read them!
How cool is that?
It’s been great practice, in the same way that sitting down regularly and counting one’s breath is good practice, or swimming laps every day is good practice. You sit, you count the breath, you lose track, you remember and go back to counting. Somehow, doing this over and over smooths out the internal kinks.
Writing these blogs has smoothed out my writing muscles. I have less resistance to getting my thoughts from brain to paper. And ideas have been coming more quickly, too, so that what Ann Patchett says in her essay on writing titled “The Getaway Car” makes sense in a way it hasn’t before: “If a person has never given writing a try, he or she assumes that a brilliant idea is hard to come by. But really, even if it takes some digging, ideas are out there. Just open your eyes and look at the world.”
Brilliant or not, ideas come with increasing ease when I get into the habit of writing them down (this happens with dreams, too. Try it). I start to notice more. And that’s the reason for practice of any kind — to become skilled at noticing. Noticing how the ball needs to leave your hand in order to curve just right, or how your body feels when you eat too much, or how that particular expression on your beloved’s face means she’s frightened and trying to hide it. When I practice writing, I start to find more and more things that I want to write about (K-pop! Fleet Week! A dog named Ed!), which then opens to the next connection, then the next, and the next — like a set of Russian nesting dolls.
I find that writing can actually be pretty fun, which is not something I have always been able to say. In fact, I love the passage in Annie Dillard‘s The Writing Life, when she’s describing an encounter with a local sheriff, who politely asks her about her writing: “Foolishly, not dreaming I was about to set my own world tumbling down about my ears, I said I hated to write. I said I would rather do anything else. He was amazed. He said, ‘That’s like the guy who works in a factory all day, and hates it.’ Then I was amazed, for so it was.”
I have felt this many, many times, the compulsion to write even when I don’t enjoy it much. One reader commented after I posted “Scratching the itch” in September, a rumination on the point of writing at all: “I don’t understand the itch, the need to write…I can look at a blank page with no anxiety, delight, or burden…[if you’ve got the itch, it’s] probably the signal that what comes into your head needs to be shared.” Maybe he’s right.
So it’s great that writing these blogs has given me more pleasure than pain. Another Patchett quote (this time from her book Truth and Beauty): “Writing is a job, a talent, but it’s also the place to go in your head. It is the imaginary friend you drink your tea with in the afternoon.”
Share a mug of tea with a friend? That sounds much better than factory work. Let’s clink our cups to another year of practice.