On Changing: the World, Diapers and Writing Habits

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

I never intended this to be a political blog. Still less did I intend it to be a blog about marriage, of all things. But sometimes you get seized by a political moment. It’s made writing my novel hard, although I am about to land my narrator in McCarthy-era Los Angeles, so maybe I can fuel all of these feelings right into the story. Never thought of that!

First, let me say that I am OVERJOYED about Obama’s election. This is past-due and gives me a renewed faith in this country. I really didn’t think we’d be willing to elect an intelligent man president . . .

I am so angry that I even have to think about the probable passage of Prop. 8 and the lawsuits these reactionary people have already filed to annul my marriage. This is a time of celebration and hope, and I am sitting here wiping crap pie off of my face.

So I want to talk about the practice of writing. Writing every day. Whether you feel like it or not. Whether you like how it’s going or not. Whether you have time, energy, inspiration or a clue. Much like parenting, this is the only way to develop a relationship with writing that will sustain it and you over the long haul. I have not done this always, and for that reason, I have accomplished more as an editor and a teacher than as a writer. But in the times when I do it–and this is one of them–I break through the romance of writing and take it up as a responsibility (to myself, because who else cares, really, at this point in the drafting?).

Imagining being a writer and actually writing are two such different experiences as to have almost no commonality. It’s like the first year of being a parent (at least when you have two): you have no time or capability for understanding or analyzing your experience. You are just living it, moment after moment, diaper after diaper, feeding after feeding, nap after nap, story after story, meal after meal, laundry load after laundry load, grocery shop after grocery shop . . . Wanting children is all about desire and imagination and feelings (sometimes hard feelings, when it isn’t going well). Having children, at least at first, has very little to do with any of that (except when the hormones through you over the emotional edge).

And yet, having children has connected me to myself and a sense of being human that has transformed me. It’s not a splashy transformation. Few people even know about it, I would guess, since I don’t have time or energy to telephone people anymore, and when you meet me at the park, I am running five different directions at once and conversations are choppy at best. Anyway, I think this is true of writing, too, and I’m not sure how I feel about it: paragraph after paragraph, attempt after attempt, each sentence structure, the lousy voice of judgment harping on in the background while the fingers move and move, the mind hoping for some combination of complete, transcendent brilliance and extra time left at the end of the evening to watch Californication.

Maybe changing the world works the same way. Conversation after conversation, rally after rally, defeat after defeat, the highs, the lows, a kind of daily commitment to believing that things can be other than they are, that things should be other than they are. One day, you look up, and there is a stack of manuscript pages in the printer, a grown-up person who was once your little jumping bean, and a President of the United States of America, whose own parents, like my sons’ parents, could not have gotten married at the time of his birth in 1961 in sixteen states in the Union.

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