What Am I Doing?

Last week my writing group met at P’s new home near the coast. Despite our group being a writing group, none of us has been doing much writing: P just moved; E has a new job; L is looking for one; I’m distracted by remodeling my house. So our intent for today was not discussing what we’ve done lately, but using the time we had together as a working session.

But after we’d caught up about the latest in our lives, and before we settled down with laptops and notebooks, we discussed:

What are we doing here, exactly?

What is the point of all this writing? What is the goal, the target, what are we aiming at? What is the project?

It was a question I started because it’s one I’ve been wrestling with. My first published poem is coming out in a month or two (thanks, Modern Haiku!); I’ll be a featured reader at Coastside poetry in February; I have hundreds of files of writing on my computer, in various forms and states of finished-ness; I blog here when I feel like it. So there’s progress, and material – but really, what am I doing?

When I was a little kid, I started taking theater classes. Pretty soon I was in a traveling group of kids who performed plays at other schools. I would take the day off from my own classes, go visit somewhere else, put on a costume, become part of the troupe performing onstage for other kids who had in turn been taken out of their classes to watch the show. It was special, it was amazing, it was my first foray into audience.

In recent years, I’ve been reading different things than I read when I was growing up. More non-fiction, more essays, more exploration of what the world is like from various perspectives. More poetry, where the poetry I like best holds some of the same traits: a new angle on an old view, a detailed image, a perspective. And in both cases, beautiful, precise, textural and compelling words.

The classic advice to writers: get up early; write regularly every day; make it a habit; have a word count; don’t worry about quality, this is just a first draft; has never worked for me. I dislike have-tos; there’s a ton of other stuff I need to do first thing in the morning (hello, meetings with contractors and videoconferences with New York and India); and I am more than capable of spitting out vast quantities of prose with very little purpose or provocation (hello, arguably this blog post). The question for me is less what or when than why. If there’s a point, I’ll do it; if not, I won’t.

I’m dancing around the point and the purpose in this blog post. I am beginning to know what it is – it’s something about audience, it’s something about creating something that would mean to others what some of what I read has meant to me – but here’s the trick: I’m also a little scared to tackle it.

I’m not scared because I’m scared of failure or success, or any wishy-washy whatever like that. I’m scared because the internet is scary right now.

I’ve got a mostly-done essay about flying business class. I’ve got notes and ideas about feminism. I’ve got a poem about what it means to get more senior at work. I’ve got thoughts and ideas about power, about good fortune, about cause and effect –

and most of all about ambiguity.

There isn’t, as far as I can see, much support in the world for ambiguity right now. The internet is focused on good/bad black/white yes/no right/wrong hate this/hate that. The conversations around me are much the same. Maybe I’m trapped in a bubble – I hope I’m trapped in a bubble! I hope the whole world isn’t like this! – but within this bubble, expressing doubt, uncertainty, or shades of gray seems like an invitation to slaughter.

I don’t like slaughter.

On the other hand, I believe deeply in ambiguity.

So I’ve got a lot of files on my computer, waiting, uncertain. In ambiguity, lingering, unknowing what’s next.

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