Over the Rainbow
“The gist of the story is that if, and who can argue with this, a writer is “one who writes,” then I was barely one.
By Jason Dubow
I n preparation—always in preparation—to get back to writing, I have been organizing my workspace. In doing so, I came across “remarks” from my graduate school thesis advisor, the writer Nick Delbanco. He recalls my wanting [my emphasis] to write “important things.” I do not remember speaking of this desire, though I acknowledge having it. But the focus of his comments was the disconnect between my talent—“skills are abundant and expressiveness real”—and my production—“more would have been more.”
The gist of the story is that if, and who can argue with this, a writer is “one who writes,” then I was barely one.
And not much has changed in 20 years. A few weeks ago, for no particular reason but apropos of everything, a friend—former student, drinking buddy, fellow hoopster, personal tech guru, Twitter doppelganger—sent me a stark two-line e-mail:
Cortazar: “When one wants to write, one writes.” I imagine the opposite could also be true.
In other words, “or not,” is always on the table.
When I am asked what I do, I first mention teaching, then mumble “writer,” which I inevitably modify with “theoretical” or “sort of” or “at least that’s what I want to do.”
Another quote I can’t get out of my head, this one courtesy of Delbanco, comes from Cyril Connolly’s Enemies of Promise. I’ve kept the handout Nick gave us all these years, though mostly it’s been buried in a cardboard box amidst unfinished drafts of stories and indecipherable notes pertaining to them. I come across it once a year or so, usually on a spring day like this one when I am touched by the warm breeze of optimism. Then it goes back into the box. But today, perhaps as originally intended, I hung it above my desk, forcing myself to be confronted with some regularity, more or less (always the rub), with Connolly’s fair warning:
“Whom the gods wish to destroy they first call promising.”
I have not written a post in almost a year, though innumerable get-back-to-it days have presented themselves, one occasion or another, signs of seeming significance that then vanish, victims of the psychopathology of my everyday life. If not Good Friday, then Easter—I’m talking about last year’s resurrection, not this year’s—the first day after I have turned in my spring semester grades, the first day of Skeptic’s summer vacation, the first day of the week when both boys are away at camp, the first day of school, my birthday, the day after SchoolLess’s bar mitzvah, the anniversary of my first post, the first day of the new year (make that the first weekday of the new year), Truck Day, the day catchers and pitchers report to spring training, in honor of Nana Ruth’s birthday, leap day!, in celebration of “in like a lion”, the day SchoolLess gets high school admissions news, the day he chooses a school, the Ides of March. The hint of epiphany is always in the air, almost here today but always gone tomorrow. A day becomes two becomes a week becomes a month becomes a year becomes a lifetime. It’s déjà-vu all over again.
On March 16 I e-mailed myself the following start to a post:
I survived the Ides of March and so, apparently, did you. Opening day of the baseball season is in 19 days. My spring break starts today. The convoluted, draconian, labyrinthine, soul-killing high school admissions process is behind us. The bar mitzvah is a happy memory. We are at home and at peace in our renovated space. Perhaps this is as good time a time as any to bring back LearnMeProject.
What will thwart me today?
Is this the path to hell of which prophets speak? And please note the lower case “h”; for me damnation is not eternal but internal, not a literal destination but a metaphorical state of being. What does it mean, anyway, for an intention to be good?
Hemingway wrote over 12,000 letters in his lifetime, something like one a day, many of them long and thoughtful. Between bouts of this and that—writing novels, shooting cats great and small, drinking and cavorting—he found, he made, the time. Why, oh, why can’t I?
In addition to coffee, sports news, and imploring the boys to “get going,” my morning routine includes this question about all that I need, or think I need—or want, or think I want—to do today: what can be put off? Sometimes it’s grading papers or cooking dinner (“Order for delivery, please.”), an e-mail or a phone call, an errand or a walk to offset too many calories and my uneasy mind, but all too often, in fact almost always, “writing” is on the list of things to be attended to another time.
Today, I resolve, publicly for accountability, to write here more often. I would like to say “every day” but discretion being the better part of valor, I will settle on the more humble “one day at a time.”
I remember Nick announcing on the first day of workshop that he was going to require us to write a story every week. It turned out to be a joke, as everybody else apparently got, but I was disappointed. Gun to the head, I could and would. I am not capable, however, of holding a gun to my own head.
I need my spouse to lock me up, if not literally (Colette), then figuratively (Virginia Woolf), a debtor to come insistently calling (Dostoevsky, Dickens, Poe).
My intention is to write posts that are shorter, less careful, less crafted, to offer you my shitty first drafts, the unedited me, my genius and my dreck.
I will be less selective, less controlled, less curatorial. Say hello, for better or worse, to loosey-goosey me, drunk all the time and throwing caution to the wind. The Devil may care but that doesn’t mean I have to.
My friend, a psychologist who co-coached SmallerMan’s basketball team with me—more on our devastating playoff loss another day—used the word “habituating” after practice one night in the context of the pick and roll. I will habituate when it comes to writing and un-habituate all that I have allowed to keep me from writing.
Of course, like the pick and roll: easier said than done.
I have been backed up, a constipation of thoughts and ideas, if not the soul. Now, if I’m not mistaken, here come the runs, a cleansing of the creative colon. Not quite right, conceptually or visually: I just mean to say I’m looking for flow. But this is the new me; read me with the preschool mantra in mind: you get what you get and you don’t get upset.
I have a pile of note cards, each containing the potential nugget of a post. I will pick one, if not tomorrow, then “tomorrow”, dash off a couple hundred words and, with as little ado as possible, offer it for your consideration.
I’m teaching a seminar this semester based on Howard Gardner’s book Creating Minds and one of the points he makes about genius is that quality often follows, or at least is inseparable from, quantity. Picasso drew and painted all the time. Einstein spent countless hours on thought experiments. Freud’s life was his work (not to mention vice versa). Hard work leads to good work. Who knew?
It may appear that the gods, my mortal enemies, have destroyed me but I deny this assertion. The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.
Yes, I want to write, but sometimes wanting is wanting, if you know what I mean. To want is never in and of itself enough.
Therefore, I will.
In fact, I am.
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