“There is neither a proportional relationship, nor an inverse one, between a writer’s estimation of a work in progress and its actual quality. The feeling that the work is magnificent, and the feeling that it is abominable, are both mosquitoes to be repelled, ignored, or killed, but not indulged.” –Annie Dillard
I started teaching again the day after Labor Day, and even almost two months later, the shock of that transition killed my writing “schedule” (my writing schedule over the summer was, “Try to write some words” once a day. I had middling success. The recommendation to pick a time and location to write every day exists for a reason). Recently I’ve had to revisit my old strategy of just writing for ten minutes at a time. It’s kind of like my meditation strategy: I can concentrate on anything, even something as boring as my own writing or my own breathing, for ten minutes. So before my second class of the day, I set my timer for ten minutes and write. While my students take a grammar quiz, I write. Later in the evening, before I Netflix and Chill with a stack of essays, I’ll try writing for ten minutes again. At the end of the day, I will have written for thirty minutes, which is thirty minutes more than I will be writing at any other point this week.
But the last few months have been good publication months, both for my resume and my confidence. Since July I’ve been notified of four publication opportunities: the first, an essay on yoga and my divorce, was published by The Other Journal. I revised an old piece about Uganda for Topology magazine that was published this summer, and recently I got another yoga essay accepted by Windhover Journal (out later this year). Finally, my friend and fellow Indiana Wesleyan University alum Christin Taylor, who edits and oversees Annesley Writers, asked me to write a blog on being single after a divorce. This was one of the hardest pieces I’ve had to craft, at least in the beginning stages, largely because of my own doubts about my experience. While divorce was hard, the singleness felt easy after a hard marriage, and it was made easier by having wonderful friends, one of which became my husband in May of 2015. I wasn’t sure I had anything valuable to contribute to the discussion. I also wasn’t sure how honest I wanted to be. Divorce and its aftermath seldom brings out the best in us.
But my writing professor in undergrad taught us in Creative Nonfiction to “try really, really hard not to lie” and with her words in mind, I sat down to write. Over several days I wrote three different drafts, all very different, all written with the ten-minute freewrite strategy, before I came up with the final piece, which was ultimately about realizing the absence that comes with an end of a marriage, and mourning those moments even as you know the end of the relationship has to happen. Once I found the right collection of moments to write about, the piece almost wrote itself (that never happens for me, and I don’t count on it ever happening again). The piece, which I eventually titled “Orbit,” went up last month, and I got some great feedback on it. Blogging is wonderful and dangerous this way–the sensation of immediate positive feedback is a little bit of a high, a carrot to keep me writing. But what about the days when I’m writing for ten minutes between stacks of essays? What about the days I write blogs that no one reads and essays no one accepts?
Bryan Kest, one of my favorite yoga instructors, has a line he uses when teaching eka pada padangusthasana, or Extended Hand to Knee Pose: “If you can touch your big toe in this pose, don’t be happy about it. You’re no better than anyone else. And if you’re only happy when you see something you like, what happens when you see something you don’t like?” I’ve been thinking about this line a lot. All publishing runs come to an end. All periods of great success also come with periods of rejection and failure. I’ve felt those before, especially when my more successful, more published fellow alums come back to campus for readings. I used to spend those events furious that I was grading comp essays while they were doing book tours. All I wanted to do was poke holes in their lives so that mine equaled out, and somehow, I would feel less bad about their success. That’s a miserable way to live.
Bryan also says, “And if you can’t touch your toe, don’t be sad about it. You’re no worse than anyone else.” What if, he says, your hamstrings are longer than someone else’s? What if your arms are shorter? Keep your eyes on your own mat instead.
I wish I had more Bryan Kest and Annie Dillard in my life in my early twenties and thirties to remind me to keep my eyes on my own mat and kill all those mosquitos. I wish that when I did have them, I had listened closer, and remembered my eka pada padangusthasana lessons when I got rejected from jobs, publications, relationships, and my own to-do list, and then had to sit through one more success story of someone my own age.
But now I’m remembering those lessons, and sometimes, when I experience failure, or someone else’s success, I stay calm. I remember to write, and breathe, for ten minutes. Sometimes I’m even happy for my peers’ success. And this is good. Because last week, one of my former students (Mary Nolen–read her book!) came back to campus for a reading. I did the welcome for her talk, and didn’t even have to kill any mosquitos first.