“The lyf so short, the crafte so long to lerne, the assay so steep, so sharpe the conquerynge.” Chaucer’s Parliament of Fowles.
This quote is actually about the art of love, but I like to translate it into my own version which, since I seem to be doing a lot of writing and not a lot of dating, applies to writing and it goes like this:
Life is short, the craft of writing takes a long time to learn. The climb to a finished piece is very steep, and the top is thrilling.
I’ve already written about the “overnight sensation” of The Algebra of Snow which took me 30 years to write & publish. In that time, I’ve written four other books, including a collection of essays on being a single working mom. Several of those essays have appeared in cool publications like salon.com and Oxford American. One about my dad living with me and my two boys at the end of his life just came out in Confrontation. I’ve been writing in the early morning hours for many years now and have amassed a pretty impressive stack of papers in my study and files flung haphazardly around my computer. I’m thrilled to be working with several clients now who are also producing books that need to get into the world—some of them even are up at the same time I am and I salute you, you fellow crazy people! (Speaking of which, I just published an essay on the hallucinogenics of writing at 5 AM in The Louisville Review).
So, today, I’m going to take as my text: taking care of the writing self.
Because the assaye is, indeed, very steep.
In fact, writing, if you’re doing it as I am in the midst of a busy modern life what with 50,000 things competing for my attention including children, bosses, clients, dogs, an aging and radon-filled house, and those pesky, wonderful friends and family, you have taken on a Herculean task.
But the conquereyque is also sharpe.
I don’t know how many of us feel this way: one good sentence can make my day. Heck, one really great word can do it: if I found a place to use the word “paternoster” today I think I’d feel my existence was quite justified for the upcoming 24 hours. One good idea or a really helpful, insightful gift to one of my clients—bingo, I’m done for the day in my own mind.
It doesn’t always go that way—and it never goes that way when I’m hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. Or fretted, worried, overwhelmed, depleted, or any of my kids or pets are sick or MIA.
So I have come up with legions of ways to keep myself in shape for the climb. I have so many helpers it isn’t funny. You know who you are. I have assistants, a therapist, an acupuncturist, a massage therapist, my favorite Zumba instructors, a handyman, a recovery group and sponsor, a mentor in my book coaching life and one in my administrative life, I’ve had many outstanding writing teachers and I’ve been honored to be part of a couple of excellent writing groups. I have a physical therapist and a psychiatrist. I miss my old hairdresser who went off to graduate school, but I love my new one too. I of course have a great nurse practitioner, a fine ENT, pediatricians and vets on call, and a body work lady who knows things about my body I can’t even guess at. We won’t go into the highly reliable car repair place I drive 45 minutes to get to.
And I still fret, have chronic stomach distress, am in what might be generously called zaftig form, one of my dogs has a chronic bladder problem and one of the sons has an ear infection.
But, hey, I’m getting this blog done, aren’t I? I did that today. Say a paternoster for me!