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Gelatinous Narcissist

April 13, 2010

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about writing and life, about how writing is itself a kind of life of its own, about how I am always feeling like life interferes with writing and, to a lesser degree, vice versa. I’ve also been thinking about why I’ve always thought of myself as a writer, even though I so rarely put anything out there (aside from blog posts, anyway). And when I say always, I mean pretty much always. My mom, who reads here at least occasionally may have more evidence than I do on this point, but I remember her helping me write down my first “book” of poetry when I was, I think, still in preschool. Or maybe it was kindergarten. But the lack of progress has bothered me. It’s something I’m working on and have been making some significant progress on in the last year, both in terms of academic and non-academic writing. I churned out four articles this year (three short form, one regular), which should all be published soon. I’ve been writing a poem a week for several months, and posting some of them on Miss Rumphius Effect, where I get my weekly prompts and enough occasional comments to keep me coming back. And I’ve got a couple of half-finished short stories that I’ve been working on that I’m pretty happy with. But for my own peace of mind, I need to finish something (and I’m not even talking about the big something that needs to be finished, the Work That Dare Not Speak Its Name).

I’m thinking about all of this for a few reasons. One is that I’m reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, which is possibly the best book about writing ever written, although I am even more in love with the writing in it than its advice. It has given me my new favorite insult (“gelatinous narcissist”) and I have a bit of a writerly crush on Ms. Lamott (I think this piece that she wrote for Salon in 2006 may be the truest piece of writing about parenting I have ever read and I am very much looking forward to reading her latest, which is about exactly that). I am reading this book with excruciating slowness so that it will last as long as possible.

I am not very far along in the book at all, but the thing that has struck me about it so far is that it’s about the fusion of writing with life. So many books on writing talk about establishing routines and provide you with exercises. They are about shaping your life to make room for writing. But Lamott, at least so far, seems to be more about a tighter marriage between writing and life: life is writing and writing is life. There is no difference.

I am also thinking about these subjects because I have a lot of friends who are having or have recently had babies and are feeling like the work as they know it has or is about to come to a crashing halt. And it does. And for a long time, it will be hard to think about anything else. There is no way a brand new parent can establish a routine for writing that will not get broken immediately. There are too many conflict on a new parents time. And yet, I feel strongly that having AJ is what gave me my writing back. It’s when I began to write again. I began writing about him and then about other things. And finally, after nine years of being a parent, I’ve come back to where I used to be, but I do it so much better now. If writing is living, then parenting doesn’t make it stop. It adds material. If writing is living and living is writing, there can be no conflict between them life and work.

When I went the conference at my alma mater earlier this year, I made some promises to myself about my writing. One was that I go through with a lecture I’d been asked to do that got scheduled several months earlier than I had requested. I did it and it went well. The other was a timetable for completing The Work That Dare Not Speak Its Name. And while the timetable was not entirely realistic, I am on track to at least be close. The third promise I did not write down at the time, because I was focusing on my academic work and because I didn’t know exactly how to frame it. But here it is: I will send out a short story to at least one place by the end of May. I know which story and I know which place, I think. Unless I lose my nerve. I am hoping I am not so much a gelatinous narcissist that I can’t recognize its lack of suitability. But I think I know where I and where it stands.

I am writing it down, because writing these things down give them gravity and import. I’m not looking for support or cheering or traffic cops to keep me in line. I am looking to hold my own self accountable for what I think is important. And if that makes me a gelatinous narcissist — and it’s very possible that it does — so be it.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. April 13, 2010 11:37 am

    Oh, I do love that Salon piece. I almost wept with her and I don’t even have children. She is such an incredible talent and an equally incredible soul.

  2. April 13, 2010 12:36 pm

    I think Anne Lamott is a complete flake, but her writing is strangely compelling.
    Also, all writers are narcissists to some degree. But you’re tending towards the firm, rather than gelatinous.

  3. April 13, 2010 1:28 pm

    Jeanne, you may be right. I admit that I was prepared to quite shallowly dismiss her based solely on her white girl dread locks, but then I read what she had to say about them and I decided to give her another chance. And I’m glad I did, because I am thoroughly enjoying this book.

  4. April 13, 2010 1:29 pm

    And Jill, while my parent self responds to that article, I really think that having been a child is enough experience to get it too.

  5. freshhell permalink
    April 13, 2010 1:51 pm

    I am on the fence about Anne Lamott. I like that book – it’s been years since I’ve read it and probably need to read it again – but some of her other utterances….eh, I don’t know.

    But, I do like what she says about writing. And it’s tricky, meshing writing and life and making a life of writing or at least having it be a part of life. That is my struggle. I live it daily. I constantly have to compromise one for the other (and life usually always wins). I am not caring for a newborn (god forbid) which is a JOB all in itself but just having kids in the house means very little writing occurs in that space. It’s hard to create new habits and when you do, it’s hard to break them. Guilt and depression set in, I find, when the habit has to constantly be reestablished because it’s been broken to bits over and over. And where’s the payoff? Sure, I can tell myself it’s a reward in and of itself and that ‘s generally true. But sometimes it’s not enough.

    Sigh. Best of luck with the short story.

  6. freshhell permalink
    April 13, 2010 1:51 pm

    “hard when YOU HAVE TO break them” I mean.

  7. April 13, 2010 7:36 pm

    My daughter has the kind of hair that made us consider white girl dreadlocks in the past, although she hasn’t resorted to them yet…

  8. April 14, 2010 12:09 pm

    “Gelatinous narcissist” is indeed a wonderful turn of phrase. Anne Lamott put me off – probably unreasonably – by the church going. But I’ll see if I can find Bird by Bird, because your high praise of it is intoxicating.

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