or… That’s a load of Latin.

“There is thus a will to live without rejecting anything of life, which is the virtue I honor most in this world.”

― Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus

I’ve been carrying a moment of self-consciousness since I read the galleys for my most recent book. (Not that recent, I’m afraid). The translator wrote an essay on how he experienced my development as a writer. He labeled the (then) new work as “late period”.

It was a little like reading my own obituary (flattering as it was). And I feared it would trip me up. And it has.

I wrote Friday that nothing has to try to grow. And today I’m thinking that trying to grow is counter-productive. It’s the tennis player suddenly thinking about her strong backhand, and losing it in the analysis.

I can’t speak for others, but I believe art is created through a practice of wu-wei: art as process and experience, not as product and commodity. And this kind of practice is such a far cry from the zeitgeist of knowing one’s passion/calling/brand.

I spent so many years studying craft. Only to find that my best writing is without craft.

Every time I begin to analyse my process, it stops – usually in a cloud of self-consciousness and shame. A woman once commented on my blog after I had begun writing again: “I was wondering where that woman went who wrote letters to her friends.”

I’ve missed writing letters. I’ve missed the easy, unconscious flow of observing and sharing. Each poem a dharma talk, each reader the sangha.

That’s a bit lofty, I know.

This is my letter to the World

That never wrote to Me—

The simple News that Nature told—

With tender Majesty […]

(pull quote formatting centers the text – not my choice and not likely that of Emily Dickinson)

Maybe tennis isn’t the best metaphor to choose. I don’t want to approach writing a competitive sport. When I was younger, an older lover told me not to work so hard. Still, it was years later I realized that sex could be experiential, not performative. I think of the realization as a gift from this aging body: a strange kind of selfless self-centeredness. A koan.

Maybe I’m learning only now that this experiential aspect is also true in terms of art. In terms of all things. I think of it as a gift from the immediacy of the life and death of the world, as it comes closer into view.

I find often that poems I think to throw out are the ones people like best. Poems where I’ve felt I fell short in terms of craft. The metaphors people say speak to them are usually the metaphors I didn’t choose: it was just me questioning, pointing at something I noticed.

I’ve been listening to Stephen Batchelor’s The Art of Solitude. He talks about asking questions, without seeking answers.

This is my new ars poetica.

I feel ridiculously self-conscious talking about writer’s block. I am one of those people who believes that all present tense descriptors only relate to the moment as it passes: not the future. And that the past is “history” and not something one can cling to in the present. Though I know we all do that for comfort sometimes.

And sometimes I think “writer’s block” sounds like a humble-brag.

I took enough Spanish in college to remember that there are two verbs used when describing people. You can say: soy feliz or you can say estoy feliz, “I am a happy person” or “I am a happy person in this moment – as the words escaped my mouth”.

The correct way to say, “I am a writer” is soy escritora. But I can’t bring myself to say that if I’m not writing. In these pauses between books, between journal-keeping, between poems; what am I?

I try to tell myself I am not “a what”… Still: what am I dong with my life?

A few years ago I named the problem: the oxpecker who sits on my shoulder and pecks at my brain. My writing practice has always come in seasons, and always with varying production. But the drive to write never left me entirely until three years ago. It’s bound up somehow emotionally with the day E. and I were running on the beach and I just couldn’t seem to find the energy. I wasn’t “tired” or “fatigued”, it was a feeling I’d never experienced before. It was as though I just couldn’t get the engine to turn over, to catch hold and run.

I kept telling E. that something was wrong, but it was nothing I could point to. Until my leg turned purple the next day, and I was hospitalized with deep vein thrombosis.

My body is healed, but the shock having walked around for 51 years, ignorant that I’ve had a weird congenital defect seems to have broken my confidence in so many other ways. And when I sit down in my little library to write, I feel that same sense that something is wrong. That tiny fear of not being good enough – of needing reassurance – has grown and animated itself as this bird that pecks at the wound in my mind. I would say that it feels like my life in on pause, but I see myself growing older. Time is passing.

Yesterday a good friend asked me to join her at a “share your practice” session at one of the local arts centers. A young dancer was going to hold a workshop. It was so much fun. She lead us through a kind of guided meditation dance, and through a series of exercises with gesture work, and partner work with abstracting gestures. I am not a dancer. In fact, I don’t think that I can ever be a performer again really, but her instructions kept me focused and in the moment so the oxpecker was also distracted from her own goal: to protect my ego at all costs.

When the workshop was finished the dancers decided to do a half-hour jam. No rules. No distractions. The oxpecker returned to pick at my wounds. We have a phrase in drama pedagogy: rules as tools. Now I am thinking: rules as distraction.

Now how can I apply that kind distraction to my writing practice?