October 11th, 2013

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” — Earnest Hemingway

 

Pardon the melodrama but I’ve gotta start somewhere — with something.

I did everything except what I’d intended to do throughout the summer.

But I’m a wizened Cancer and I know better about how my creative flow creates.

We’re always hearing about athletes stoking themselves, like Mount Vesuvius, into their ‘peak zone’. Or muse-possessed artists working non-stop until stigmata appears on their hands and feet. And then there’s those mothers who raise Mack trucks up with their bare hands should a child be pinned beneath an axel. Yes, those sorts of super states are factual, but they are also highly romanticized. And not part of my creative reality. Just thinking about exertion like that makes me want to take a nap.

The lunar association with Cancer is both a horror and a gift. There is the always satisfying absorption of solar light, holding an impulse and molding it into something original. But there is also the dark side of the moon that, heretofore, only Pink Floyd have ever explored publicly. And there’s the rub.

Until a Cancer learns about this other half of their nature they remain caught in the constant waxing and waning of the light, waiting for a moment’s pause to gather their bearings, hit the perfect note. But of course that moment never arrives, that promise of perfection remains allusive. And so there are many stillbirths and the bad moods — the loss of persistence, that follow.

The dark half of the moon is the bardo that a wise Cancer (or any creative person) eventually learns to abide in. They come to see it as part and parcel of the creative way: To have no sense of light — no direction or purpose. The only poet I’ve ever read who wrote about this place was T.S. Eliot and he illuminated it perfectly in his masterpiece Four Quartets.

Eliot illustrates the dark of the moon by evoking the subway “when an underground train…stops too long between stations. And the conversation rises and slowly fades into silence. And you see behind every face the mental emptiness deepen. Leaving only the growing terror of nothing to think about.”

This is the realm of the pre-conscious. Or the pre-conceptual. In this place all is perfect but also motionless. Life-less. The journey into form has not commenced. The options and the potentials are limitless, but what to designate, what to bring the solar gift of light to?

The dark side of the moon is a borderless landscape of nascent pre-things. A realm where every impulse, idea, thought, word and image is poised like a cat ready to pounce. All it needs is a mouse. Or carrot (not to mix metaphors — so scratch that.) This is the realm Cancers might access but only after they’ve paid the price of admission. And often the price of admission is a lot of doing (seemingly) nothing.

And from the nothing comes the something.

As Gertrude Stein once wrote: “It takes a heap of loafing to write a book.”

So this summer I did not complete the book I’d started last summer. I’d say I’m half-way home, but I’m also in what pilots call a ‘stall‘. Yet another subdivision of the dark side of the moon. Initially I associated this ennui with Saturn’s retrograde throughout the early summer — not in placing blame, but from valuing what it’s like to rethink and re-conjure an idea, plan or miracle.

But then Saturn turned direct and I was watching more TV than ever and complaining to friends about what a disappointment the big grand water trine was in July. I mean, if I was to recount what the trine coincided with I’d say: Sleeping (and dreaming) eight hours every night, punctuated with naps in the afternoon and pained expressions from realizing my gym did another re-bill to my credit card and all I ever did was drive past the establishment on route to the movies.

So, lucky you! I’m not going to list any how-to tips for the struggling writer or artist or poet or gardner or chef or budding ne’er-do-well. I dislike most how-to books because with my temperament I take the information, usually very logical pointers and turn the tips against myself, to the point where I become so frozen I’m ready to move into a cryonic chamber.

No, that approach is out. I understand for some folks that inspirational goading works and they can harness their will to the rich experience of others. But that’s the problem, those are other writers’ words of wisdom. It’s technique that worked for them. I’m a different sort of animal and I’m old which means I have a good amount of wisdom under my belt about the mechanics of creativity.

In the end it always feels like a gamble. Tempting fate, in the sense that I could die at any moment and a really good book would not have been completed. But then too, I could live longer and squeeze out a shitty book that I would be embarrassed to be associated with.

And so like a chicken I sit on the egg. And trust the Prime Mover (and this is something a wise Cancer gets to be really good at: trust. Genuine trust.) And listen: There’s a horrible secret associated with that sort of trust. Horrible because what’s illuminated is a total mindfuck. Prime Mover Trust imparts a direct apperception that we have no volition in life. I know, right? But I’ll save that topic for another post. Maybe something about Hindu saints or Stoic masters.

Meanwhile: I trust the gamble of the stall and remain open to see what arises from that mysterious allotment of time, that black half of the lunar ball.

A sort of respite:

Shakespeare had a great line in Hamlet, it goes: “Assume a virtue, if you have it not.” This is my default rationale when all else is failing in the creation department. And it’s a good one. It does work. (Oh shit, I just gave you a how-to tip. Sorry.)

So what have I been doing that resembles some semblance of writing and completing my book? Well, watching, reading, meditating, contemplating, daydreaming, backtracking, and gobbling bandwidth while uploading to Evernote. The greatest application in the history of software.

It’s like Evernote’s creators studied the discursive nature of my beach-combing-like brain and said this poor fellow needs some serious help, lets create an electronic set of pigeon holes that, once filled, will rival the Great Library of Alexandria.

No matter where I find myself — desktop, laptop, iPad, iPhone — be it mine or a friend’s, every bit of effluvia that floats through my addled cranium related to the book, be it a semi-particle of an idea, a nanosecond of a mood, a smidgen of an insight, image, web page, link, quote, photo, sound, song, poem, found object — all of that stuff moves instantly into my Evernote safe place.

So, yep — I’ve forsaken Microsoft’s behemoth Word and will write my entire book via a fucking tiny web app. That is if I live to tell.

Stay tuned.
 

This post is dedicated to Wonder Bright for reasons only she and I know about unless she makes public our arrangement in her next blog post. Writer’s prerogative.



12 Responses to 'How I Spent My Summer Vacation'
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  • Wonder Bright

    Oh wow, Frederick. YES! This post may be lean on tips, but it’s miles wide in terms of Truth with a capital T, and not the kind that brutalizes you when you’re young and never good enough, but the kind that comes to you when you’re older and have stopped fighting yourself long enough to just accept what you are and breathe right into it. SO fucking encouraging and spot ON. Thank you XO

  • frederick_a_woodruff

    I think you should write version 2.0 of this post Wonder. You seem to be sitting on a wellspring of insights related to doing the ‘not doing’ so something gets done. Yes?

  • Lorna

    Beautifully written-I can identify.Thank you,Frederick.

  • Cat Valle

    Thank you thank you thank you for acknowledging that sometimes we can do only what the fates allow us to do or sometimes demand us to do, and that sometimes those who exalt Free Will are missing part of what others of us experience.

  • Geoff

    This made me cry. Thanks. Laughing.

  • Neeti

    Love the way you write.

  • Wonder Bright

    Haha YES, of course! I think I started writing the version 2.0 today already in a lengthy email message to you. This is such a massive piece of the puzzle, and something that we are in danger of losing sight of today, with all the hustle and bustle and tiny little screens everywhere. Process is so easily mistaken for non-productivity, when in reality, it’s possibly the better part of it.

  • frederick_a_woodruff

    Thanks Neeti. You’re in the same scribe-tribe, so I appreciate you saying that!

    FW

  • frederick_a_woodruff

    I really dislike that term ‘free will’ Cat. I’ve never understood it. In fact I don’t even know what it implies. Free as in opposed to paying for the right to exercise will. Or will vs. fate and my will wins. It needs to be removed from the lexicon of existential angst.

    FW

  • frederick_a_woodruff

    Thank you Lorna. Blessings on you,

    FW

  • Wendy Simpson

    I think you’ve been reading my diary! Great post —

    I am a “wizened cancer” too, and have found my life unrecognizable since late May. Where is the good Jupiter Ju-Ju? I am also a writer, surrounded by folders, notes, and research, and not a bit of new writing. Although my enthusiasm for my projects is strong, I have no focus.

    Love your work!

  • Bernadette

    Great post FW you made me laugh just thinking about the other Cancers I’ve been observing lately…B