Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Bird By Bird

"Let go of your failures and write something great." --Natalie Goldberg

When I took a writer's vacation last year in Juarez I was beginning work on a book about the bicycle as a model for living. I was going to title it something like "The Humble Machine," or "Life as a Bike," and structure it is a compilation of reflection essays. It has since been shelved and I will probably at some point rewrite it as a children's book. But for now it is composting on the "to do" heap while I work on finishing Kissing the Sun.

When I began work on Kissing the Sun, the chapters were long and rambling. I've scrapped most of the original manuscript in favor of this shorter, more reflective format, originally modeled after the Don't Sweat the Small Stuff books. I think this is the only way it is going to work. I get distracted and overwhelmed very easily and need to write in a way that takes little bites out of the project, one word at a time. But I need a punchy, uncomplicated format to move things along.

When I see huge structures,--whether it is the Basilique du Sacre Coeur in France or the Comcast center here in Philly--I marvel at how such structures are built. Then I remember, they are built one brick at a time, like that expression "a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step." I tend to look straight to the finish, the end result, and quickly conclude that such a feat is far to great to be completed. And so I am defeated before I even start.

When I moved out of my apartment last month and had all my possessions packed into my bus, I became overwhelmed at how it would all fit. After a few weeks I had time to go through a lot of things, toss some things, and find a place for everything else. It was a lot all at once, and so I was forced to take things one ste at a time.

When I need help, inspiration, and support in writing, I turn to two of my favorite writers: Ann Lamott and Natalie Goldberg. Every time I read Lamott's Bird by Bird and Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones, I regain my center, hone my style, and remember not to take myself too seriously. Goldberg's zen approach keeps everything in focus, William Carlos Williams style, and embraces the absurd. The chapters in both of these books are short and that is how I have begun to restructure Kissing the Sun. It has gone from all-you-can-eat buffet to dim sum.

My life has been in the shadows of big changes and weighty decisions lately. After writing to the Abbot at Christ in the Desert, it may turn out that I will not be admitted to the community on account of my being bi-polar. He also said that most monasteries would not consider me because of this. I have always thought that this was where my life was headed; with this door about to close in my face, I've had to start looking around at alternatives. Set to graduate in May, I have no idea what kind of job to look for. Staying with Chris has been great, but I am left wondering if I should be looking for my own place.

I have finished the Introduction and one chapter of Kissing the Sun. I am a few miles in to this journey, with a long way to go. The only way I am going to reach the end is one step, one bird, at a time.

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