Finishing things

June 19, 2008

The main reason I’ve put off doing a new post is that I was worried that enough time had passed since my last post that I would need to come up with a convincing reason for why I hadn’t written in so long… and I guess I have a few (packing to move, two MLIS courses, MLIS comps, juggling a social calendar filled with good-bye visits, trying to work on the MFA thesis), but none of them really feeling convincing. Honestly, it looks like I’ve been working hard since May 1, but really, I feel like I’ve been watching BSG, drinking wine (it doesn’t travel well in moving vans), and wondering, yet again, about whether or not I’m all on board with this life path that I’m taking another step down. Or actually, knowing that I’m really on board with this step but not sure about what one to take next. This is, of course, the usual.

So, nothing really changed from pre-end of last semester, I just stopped blogging for a while to try and clear my head and focus on poetry. This has had not quite the impressive results I was hoping for. And when the results aren’t there, it does get difficult to keep the faith and my daily appointment in the desk chair, which is just par for the course, I know I know. But it’s still a bummer sometimes, and I start to wonder what I’m doing wrong, which is probably nothing exactly, except being SJ… and there’s not much I can do about that, so back to notebook full of scribbles…

actually, I think I’m having a more or less specific problem with my writing, which is finishing things. Case in point, I have yet to submit one single thing that I have written as an MFA student anywhere, even when I promised I would. (Wait, I did get it together to submit to one contest… maybe I just need deadlines?) Why? Because I have promising drafts I just can’t see my way to finishing. Now this is happening to my poetry–I’ve got notebooks full of two decent lines. Seeing as the main reason I think I may have gone into poetry in the first place (other than the fact that I love it, for reals) was that I stopped being able to finish short stories, this is a bit of a discouraging thing to realize.

I don’t want to psychoanalyze myself on the web, esp. b/c I know that this is not a unique problem among writers. I know that there are several easy explanations that pop easily into mind: I avoid finishing things b/c I’m afraid of failing (even though I have “Fail. Fail Again. Fail Better” written on the first page of all my writing notebooks. I avoid finishing things b/c I am crippled by perfectionism. I avoid finishing things b/c I am secretly lazy.

Yadda yadda yadda. All I know is, I’ve got to get in the habit of getting over it. I really think all it is is a habit, the way that practicing the oboe every day was a habit and flossing my teeth is a habit. I’ve got to set it up in my head and in my body and in my life that I don’t feel write unless I’ve done XY&Z for my writing work that day. Of course, the trade-off here can be steep. I’ll write more, but I’ll also be more of a different kind of miserable than the kind I am when I’m not writing enough, the kind of miserable all serious musicians are–the kind that realizes I can never work hard enough. There is no enough, there is no line between stopping and starting. Also, I’ll never be good enough or as good I as I want to be. That’s just how it is. When I was a truly serious artist, I was miserable most of the time, but I was also kind of happy… go figure… so the question is, can I get the right kind of misery going so I can also be the right kind of happy that will also somehow magically figure into this kind of stable life I have now that is filled with people who think I am normal? (Again,  I’m not trying to say these concerns are unique, but they are mine at the moment, and that’s what a blog is for.) Or wait, maybe it was all that misery that contributed to my decision to quit being a serious oboist and so I should avoid misery unless I want writing to do the same thing… no, I don’t think that was it. I was always a better writer than I was an oboist, even when I was pretty good, and they just give more scholarships for oboe and I recognized the difference between getting a scholarship and wanting a career around the same time as I graduated. I may have been somewhat miserable as an oboist, but I always felt like I was working, and that’s kind of important to a Protestant like me. Why is it easier to play scales and practice technical passages for hours every day than write?

So, the explanation here is, I figured if at least I didn’t have the momentary joy of finishing a blog post as a substitute feeling of accomplishment, I might finish more of my formal projects.

That didn’t work, so I might as well go back to blogging, eh?

You know, this started off as a post about moving boxes, specifically the tower of moving boxes that is beginning to take over the living room of my apartment.

But to circle back for a moment, the only way I’ve ever found to finish a poem is to sit with those two decent lines and wait and wait and scribble and wait. And play around with some sounds and wait. And wait. And freak out and wait. It’s the waiting I’ve gotten bad at, perhaps. The faith that waiting is not wasting time.

The other thing about oboe playing was that when I was working really hard, I always felt like I was getting worse. It was only in retrospect that I could recognize that I’d improved.


2 Responses to “Finishing things”

  1. Emily Says:

    Oh, SJ, I feel your pain — you’ve worked yourself into circles and just can’t get out of them. I’ve got the problem of a deadline (still 2.5 months away) and revising down a section of a diss chapter (approx 40 pages of the chapter) into a much shorter, stand-alone essay (approx 25 pages, including bibliography). I am avoiding it like crazy at the moment.

    But you do have some deadlines — and I’m sure you’re going to meet them (so no beating yourself up about starting at a few lines and playing with them. That’s a lot of the process — as you well know).

    One of my favorite academic bloggers wrote about the way that we who do research in historic fields spend tons of time among the rare books — and how that doesn’t always feel like “work” (it’s fun; not everything we work with ends up being incorporated in the current project; etc, etc):
    check it out

    Actually, a lot of academic bloggers have discussed the frustration of feeling like summer is a lot of wasted time — even though we’re reading a writing.

    And good luck on that packing (seriously, when all else fails to feel productive, keep packing. That’s a visible sign of productivity)

  2. Wide Lawns Says:

    Mmmm Hmmm. I know. Me too. Fear of failure, fear of rejection, crippling perfectionism = not finishing things unless there is a serious deadline. I have submitted some things though and I’ll tell you ultimately what made me stop procrastinating those few submissions, and it’s probably horrible. People I once knew or went to school with or kissed or kissed near becoming extremely famous and making me feel like a loser. Thanks Kiran Desai.

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