“Once, driving around the lake by our house we stopped and looked at the sunset, a December sky. He [Carl Sandburg] spoke of the ‘gunmetal sky’ and looked for a long time… For I could feel what was going on in him while he looked at the sky,–some kind of an experience, incandescent and in motion. But I was living ten minutes hence in the future, feeling a little self-conscious and anxious to please and full of small compunctions, though I exclaimed: ‘Isn’t it perfectly wonderful!’ Well Carl Sandburg was living in the present and having a poetic experience. But I was too full of other cerebrations, concern about being a polite hostess and getting home on time to dinner.”
-Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write
When I read this quote, I see my whole life in it. I see precisely the person I want to be in Carl Sandburg, and every bit of who I really am in Brenda. Would I not respond with equal cheer, hardly glazing over my desperate need to be punctual, to be interesting, to keep my dress clean and ensure everyone’s happiness? I fight the same snaky demons when I try to write, and especially in keeping a blog.
Even now, I am chewing my bottom lip, anxiously hoping I find the words, but wishing I would hope less and write more. There is another brilliant section in Ueland’s book where she shares a letter between Van Gogh and his brother. Van Gogh describes two kinds of idleness:
“There is the man who is idle from laziness, and from lack of character, from the baseness of his nature… Then there is the other idle man, who is idle in spite of himself, who is inwardly consumed by a great longing for action, who does nothing because he seems to be imprisoned in some cage, because he does not possess what he needs to make him productive, because the fatality of circumstance brings him to that point, such a man does not always know what he could do, but he feels by instinct: yet I am good for something, my life has an aim after all, I know that I might be quite a different man! How can I then be useful, of what service can I be! There is something inside me, what can it be!”
Thank you, Vincent, for finding words to begin it, to scratch at it, anyway. I am so overcome by the fear of sounding fluffy and superfluous I can’t begin myself, to describe with any meaning the belief in me that I am valuable and brimming with worthwhile art, but also, somehow barred from the actual expression of it. Left with restlessness and guilt and the illusion that maybe I’m wrong and flat after all.
Another time, Ueland writes, “Everybody is original, if he tells the truth, if he speaks from himself. But it must be from his true self and not from the self he thinks he should be.” The trueness of this statement is immediately recognizable, don’t you think? Is there not something in you that jumps a bit at understanding and believing it perfectly? Without intending to, I spend a lot of time thinking about self-versus-should, always internally assessing my motive and honesty. I seem to believe it lives in my stomach, and when I speak, my mind recedes down into my gut looking for the exact words to describe what I mean. It is the same when I write, but usually with less success. Writing, unlike talking, deceives me into the belief that I ought to have an arsenal of haughty vocab words and fresh literary mechanisms. When I talk, it is most important that my listener understands. The same should be true when I write.
This post is my fiftieth on Raw Milk Marathon and it’s been almost exactly a year since the first.
I started this blog to keep writing. And I have written some, but mostly, I have fretted about writing. Very quickly, the excitement of beginning a new project melted into a puddle of anxiety and despair. Something just happened a few posts in, and I quit believing I had anything very important to say. Seeming little masterpieces went unnoticed, discouragement riding their coattails. The pressure of performance, of gaining a readership, being liked and commented upon, overwhelmed me. Instead of writing, I spent hours and days drafting new headers and trying on templates, knowing all along the most beautiful design couldn’t replace the necessity of sharing an enlightened word.
And 49 posts later, I suppose I’ve learned something.
First of all, design is important and now I think I like mine just enough to get to the writing. But much more significantly, as Ueland puts it, “for when you write, if it is to be any good at all, you must feel free and not anxious.” It is not a promise to myself or you I will never be anxious and always be free, not a guarantee all my words will well up entirely from the most authentic place in me. Certainly not another obligation to fill or goal to tick off some list. Rather, it is a way of being in the world, writing or otherwise, and a statement that I will try.
I hope Raw Milk will continue to be about things that matter, and sometimes about food, but in my most magnificent daydreams, I hope it explodes with technicolor meaning and a naked, inexhaustible fury for fathoming and loving, sweetly, the utter mind-blowingness of existing and of trying to be human the best we can.
“So now you will begin to work at your writing,” Ueland tells us. “Remember these things. Work with all your intelligence and love. Work freely and rollickingly as though talking to a friend who loves you. Mentally thumb your nose at all know-it-alls, jeerers, critics, doubters.”
Brenda Ueland, credit: http://www.startribune.com/entertainment/books/137208923.html
Vase with Twelve Sunflowers, credit: http://www.vggallery.com/painting/p_0455.htm