I just finished up a hectic two-week stretch–hectic in academically relativistic terms, of course, since it’s summer and I more or less lurched into an abyss of inactivity. When I am at my very best (as a producer of things, not necessarily as a human being), I tend to obey two inward edicts: I impose order on my world and I get stuff done as it comes. I tend to be good at scheming, layering short-, medium-, and long-term prospects competently, and I can be a bulldozer of human efficacy when the stars are right, tackling task after task without all the usual hems, pauses, and deviations from my working script. Working as an administrator, however, made my planning and my doing habits much more contingent, since the shape of my days was dependent on what happened in the department and how I might effectively minister to it. The return to my more natural ordering and doing habits has accordingly been gradual, certainly more gradual than I’d like.
If you’re like me–I don’t get to say that often, but I think most writers are in this wise–you may need to clear a little space to get stuff done. (The inverse is more often true: when one is attempting to postpone writing, one suddenly finds stuff to do–clothes to wash, bills to pay, and other guiltless diversions.) In my case, at least for the sake of this summer, I needed to get back on my own time clock. That’s the space I needed to get myself sorted. I updated my home computer, and delays, returns, and resendings made the purchase a six-week affair; I made arrangements to get my deck stained, and a series of rainy days obliged the crew to postpone the job again and again; I contracted for some long-overdue landscaping, and what I thought was going to be a quick-hitting job turned into a ten-day affair. That’s not meant to sound like kvetching, since the painters and the landscapers did fantastic work and the delays were all beyond their control. Until they were finished, however, I had to change the shape of my days in order to accommodate them. Now that they are done, all the space in time is mine again. I can do some ordering of my own.
One of the real pleasures of getting the landscaping done was seeing my yard stripped down to its bare bones. (Hiring out for landscaping made me feel terribly bourgeois, since all the work they did is work I might have tackled myself, but what took them ten days would have taken me till October, and I would not have been half as thorough.) The yard I inherited when I purchased my house had been overrun. The former owners had, it seems, tried to cultivate various plants in various places with no real method, and the owner before that (if reports from my neighbors are true) simply trusted to Nature itself to sort things out: whatever fell from the heavens and found purchase in the soil was allowed to live where it landed. There were some lovely peculiarities as a result, but there was also some stunted, smothered flora that had settled in spots where it had no chance to thrive.
The picture above? That’s what the crew uncovered when it waded through a sea of weeds. There was an herb garden below the weeping cherry at one point in time, but wild growth had choked it out. I’ve got it mulched for the moment, and next spring I can turn those existing beds to some new purpose. And that, in effect, is my dual-purpose metaphor for the day, one that stands in for both the writing life and writing itself.
David Wong over at Cracked recently wrote a nicely incisive article about the wide gulf that can grow between wishing and doing. The things we want to change and the things we want to accomplish typically hinge on the quality of our wanting: is it sufficient to drive us to map out an actionable plan, to spur us to reapportion the time and energy we would otherwise devote to other pleasures and priorities, to spur us to work to bring the wished-for thing to its fruition, step by step and inch by inch? It sounds like the rhetoric of motivational posters, but it’s fundamentally true. The competing rhetoric (and my own “need for space in time,” as described above, is a fine specimen) encourages us to spin our wheels, to surge forward when some deferrable condition is met or when inspiration strikes at last. Life is livable as it is, and we’re pretty okay right where we are.
The blanket of weeds that covered up that garden was the work of time, as was all the labor that drew it back. And that labor was not mine–it occurred because I was willing to pay a price in order to free up time, time that I might turn to purposes suited to my abilities and wishes. I some ways I’ve begun to work toward those purposes, setting in motion a couple of existential initiative and building momentum step by necessary step. The writing I need to undertake, however, still finds me deferring, dithering, and begging off. What the aforementioned clearing of space has achieved, however, is a determined draining of the Pool of Excuses. I could fill it with more, of course, but doing so would now take conscious and conspicuous effort. I’ve effectively changed the nature of the conversations I can have with myself, and I’ve also obliged myself to think critically about the things I want and how I might go about acquiring and achieving them.
For that reason, I think, I have seen more regular appearances from Bulldozing Bill, whose penchant for doing what needs to be done without complaint or complication is a good omen. The success of the coming semester, however–and of 2015, which will involve eight months of summer and sabbatical–will depend on the return of the Overlord of Ordering. I’ve made the space as inviting as I can, and I’ve robbed him of his usual excuses. Now I just have to keep an eye out for his arrival.