Wednesday, September 21, 2011

My 'vision' and what it taught me

Last night as I lay in that hazy place between not really awake and not quite asleep, I saw a picture of myself behind my closed eyelids. I was sitting at a computer that had been placed on a long table, much like the kind one finds covered with paper or plastic tablecloths at church potluck dinners. My fingers were on the keyboard, but at that moment I wasn't typing. Instead I was looking over my shoulder at the people behind me, rows and rows of them, many sitting so closely to me that their knees jammed into my back.

One gentleman in particular caught my attention. He was an older man, tall and thin, with just a hint of a belly, on which he rested his folded arms. He was seated near the middle of the room, his long legs stretched out before him. His head, covered with thick, white hair, was bent toward his chest, and his eyes, hooded by fuzzy gray brows, were squeezed shut. As I watched him, his body started to list. One part of me--the human me, the compassionate me--was afraid he would fall off his chair and hurt himself. The other part of me--the writer me sitting at the computer--was afraid for myself, that my writing was boring him, putting him to sleep--and so I tried to type--something, anything--to wake him up, to make him interested. To make my work--my dream of writing--relevant.

The other people in the room were younger and eager. They sat at the edge of their chairs; they clutched notebooks and pens; they periodically glanced at their watches or at the gray clock that hung high on the wall. Some of them were the owners of the knees that pressed anxiously and painfully into my back. Like the old man, these people made me feel rushed, like I needed to hurry and write something brilliant and wonderful and unlike my usual work. They were writers just waiting for me to fail so they could step in and take my chair and my computer. And my dream.

The vividness of this waking dream was the first thing I thought of when I woke up this morning. Before bed, I had been rereading Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, and in it she talks about the things that keep us from writing--those nagging voices that whisper in our ears, trying to convince us--oftentimes successfully--that what we're doing isn't valuable or important or worth anything in the grand scheme of things. I think the people I envisioned were probably my inner critics--the old man showing me through his actions that my work is boring and the others not so gently reminding me that I, sitting and accomplishing little, am lazy and need to step aside and allow the "real" writers to work.

I find it interesting that this "vision" occurred just as I'm getting ready to embark on a new project. I don't know if it bodes well or not. But what it has shown me is that I need to stop procrastinating and start doing: start working, start writing. And I need to stop second-guessing myself. It's so easy for me to believe the voice that says that my project is stupid, that my ideas are unworkable, that writing is too hard, that all I'm doing when I sit down to write is wasting my time, and that since few people in my life seem to take my writing seriously, why should I?

The answer is this: because I want to. And no matter what the critics say--no matter if the old man falls off his chair from boredom or the eager writers continue to try to shove me aside--they can't change that simple fact.

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