Archive for the ‘writing’ Tag

Yearning for the Abstract   46 comments

Monday, I went to Soapstone Lake, hiked around, startled a couple elk having an afternoon drink, laid down in the moss and shade, trees above me and a fern dangling inches from my face, and briefly napped. I sat by the lake and finished Dave Eggers’ A Hologram For The King, which is a beautiful and sad novel. On the way to work Tuesday, I saw two deer off in the distance fording the Miami River and then shortly after that a bird began to fly diagonally toward and away from my car, somewhat mesmerizing me as I very slowly grew closer and closer to it—at a high speed—before it disappeared from my view, only to reappear a few moments later in my rear view mirror, tumbling in the road and surely dead or dying. I didn’t mean to hit it; I hardly even thought about it as it was happening. The moment hypnotized me.

I’ve been trying to hold onto this magic the last few days, as the human world hasn’t quite been so lovely or magical, though it’s had a sadness I was thinking of even as I accidentally killed that bird. The days keep being beautiful and my work outside invigorates me even while I fight melancholy in my quieter, less engaged moments. At some point nearly every day of late, I feel overwhelmed, seemingly always in different ways.

I need to be writing stories.

— ∞ —

I wrote the above almost two weeks ago. I meant it to be part of an entry here on the blog, but it’s only now making it to this venue. As I imagine most of my regular readers have noticed by now, I’ve been missing for about a month. As you might also have inferred, it’s as much as anything because of the subject of my previous post: the current busyness of my life. I already catalogued much of that, so I won’t recount the details. Suffice it to say, I haven’t managed to set up a system for myself to get my writing done despite my work. Hence the quiet around here.

However, there’s a bit more to it than that, and it’s something I realized a couple weeks ago while working out in the garden. It’s a realization summed up in the last sentence of the above writing. While I’ve been so busy this summer with the actual work of growing and raising and selling food, I’ve become more interested in focusing on and writing about the abstract during my down time. I’ve been reading fiction rather than nonfiction and have felt a strong urge to write fiction rather than essays.

Throughout the winter, I rambled on and on here about homesteading and voluntary poverty and simplistic living and connections to nature. Now that much of those ramblings have manifested themselves in the messy, imperfect ways that the real world tends to deal in, and now that these manifestations are taking up a good deal of my time, I find myself not particularly motivated to continue to explore them in my writing. I honestly want to deal more in the abstract in that part of my life. It’s not that I’m not still thinking of all these things, of course—it’s that I’m a bit sick of constantly thinking of them in concrete terms and am interested in trying to hash out some of the emotional reality of all this floating under the surface. And I want to do it in an under the surface sort of way.

I feel the need for some metaphors, in other words.

That’s why I wrote that I need to be writing stories above. Writing stories is therapy for me. I could use a little therapy at the moment, and I could stand to tackle some of these issues from a different direction.

— ∞ —

Thus, much as I took a hiatus last August after starting this blog to get through the busy season, I’m taking something of a hiatus again. I hate to do it, but it’s simply what I need. I want to keep writing, but I don’t want to, for the moment, do the sort of writing I’ve been doing here.

Earlier this week, in fact, as I pondered a complete rewrite of a short story I wrote years ago, something more ambitious and perhaps nearing the state of a novel came to mind, and I’m excited to dive into writing that. So that’s where my writing energy is going to be going for at least the next few months. However, I also hope to write some smaller pieces, perhaps some flash fiction even, and to just dabble with whatever comes to me.

With that in mind, I’ve been considering how to handle this hiatus. I may not post much of anything here until the fall, but that’s not what I’d prefer. I hate to shut the blog down completely. So, rather than going entirely quiet, I’ll look to perhaps post some small writings like what I wrote at the beginning of this post. I may put some kind of flash fiction up, or just some small recounting of something that happened to me written in a bit more of a literary style. I don’t know if any of my readers are really interested in that; please feel free to chime in in the comments, and don’t hesitate to let me know if you’re not interested.

It’s entirely possible, too, that none of those plans will manifest here on the blog and that I won’t really start writing again until after the summer passes. Either way, you can expect much less frequent postings here than was common before the last month.

I do plan to get back to the blog’s regular tone once the fall and winter roll back around. I have little doubt that I’ll find myself quite preoccupied with this blog’s themes in the quiet dark of the winter season, and I imagine I’ll be a bit recharged and refreshed in that regard. I’m hoping not to lose what readers I do have, so please don’t never come back. If you want, you can always sign up on the left hand side of the page to get emailed new posts as they’re published.

— ∞ —

I’ll end this with a small garden update.

There’s one red Stupice tomato just about fully ripe in the hoop house; many other tomatoes—a wide variety—will follow on its heels. The squash, summer and winter alike, is suddenly growing like crazy. A deer got into the garden about a week ago, but the beans and peas it munched on seem to have survived and are coming back. The deer ate selectively, so really it just provided me a bit of unexpected succession planting. I can’t be too unhappy. The potatoes are in bloom, eggplant and peppers are coming on, the summer salad mix is about ready for a harvest and soon I’m going to have far more kale than I know what to do with. My first broccoli head is almost ready and I have a few hundred fall crops seeded in trays, just starting to sprout. The work is never ending, but it’s also a nice level of casual—I can find time for other things if I need it. And I will—for writing, for play, for sanity, for contemplation. But it’s the work that keeps me going, that keeps each day moving into the next.

I hope it’s much the same for everyone else here. No matter how much I find myself yearning for the abstract of late, it’s the work that creates that yearning. It’s the base. It’s the sustenance. I try always to keep that in mind.

That’s the update. I hope everyone is having a more or less good summer. (As for you, Chris—and any other southern hemisphere readers—I hope you’re having a fine winter.) I’d love some updates in the comments. Don’t take my hiatus as a lack of interest. Without the small community that’s formed here, I may have run out of steam long ago.

— ∞ —

In other words, thank you.

Posted July 20, 2012 by Joel Caris in Farm Life, Meta, Work

Tagged with , , , , , , ,

A Matter of Habit   15 comments

I am very good at avoiding work.

I think many of us are. I don’t say that to absolve myself, because this is one of my key challenges and I don’t intend to avoid the responsibility of it. Further, I know people who are very good at diving into work and busting their ass. I currently live with just such a person and she impresses the hell out of me. Yet, many of us—even those who do insane amounts of work—are also quite good at avoiding work. For me, it’s very tempting to fire up the laptop and get on the internet rather than study something challenging. It’s easy to settle into a good book when I should be accomplishing some other task, working my body in some way.

It’s also easy for me to not write. I’ve loved to write since the third grade, when my fantastic teacher, Mrs. Edwards, implemented a mandatory half hour of daily writing after completing a workshop on building students’ writing skills. We could write whatever we wanted and, during those sessions, I quickly fell in love with the art of storytelling, beginning a long story about the luckiest kid in the world. It wasn’t a brilliant story, but it helped me figure out the art of narrative and started me on the path of a life of sporadic writing.

Up to that point, I had imagined being a veterinarian when I grew up. Over the next couple years, that dream morphed into becoming a published writer. As I became enamored with the young adult horror genre (and obsessed with Christopher Pike) I started to write similar stories. I wrote a short novel in sixth grade titled Revenge and soon after that began my next project, Nightmares. I convinced myself I would become a bestselling author, and suspected it would happen before I was done with high school. It was an ambitious plan and became derailed by only one small oversight: I largely stopped writing.

Granted, even if I had continued to write, I imagine I wouldn’t have become a bestselling young adult horror writer by the age of, say, seventeen. However, I didn’t even give myself the chance. I never finished Nightmares and after that, I would often think of ideas for new stories and novels but rarely actually write them, and generally only when a deadline for school prompted my necessary completion of the story. What I discovered during that period of my life was that, as much as I loved to write, it was work. Sometimes it flowed effortlessly, but even more often it would be a struggle to get going. Often, the words came out wrong or I didn’t know where to take a story next. Sometimes I would write something that seemed brilliant; more often I would write something mundane and disjointed. It became easier to watch TV or read a book than write—and so that was what I did.

Of course, the more I failed to write, the harder it became. The longer I waited, the more the urgency of whatever idea I had come up with faded and the more challenging it became to string together effective sentences. As work, writing requires practice, and I had stopped practicing. That made it harder, creating a negative feedback loop that reduced the frequency of my writing to the point that, eventually, I started to mirthlessly refer to myself as a writer who didn’t write. Ever that was a lie, of course. I wasn’t a writer at all.

This process has played itself out in my life multiple times, though the details vary. As I said at the beginning, I’m good at avoiding work. It’s a terrible skill to have, especially in a world full of tempting distractions. I’ve come to believe that the many distractions our society and culture provides—the internet, television, movies, reality shows, celebrity culture, sports, gambling, so much more (and understand, I’m not saying all of these things are devoid of usefulness, though some of them arguably are)—serve at least partly the function of distracting us from the murderous outcomes of the way we live our lives. Our levels of affluence and consumption are devastating the world we live in, enslaving other humans and non-human creatures, ripping apart ecosystems, destroying traditional cultures and risking the future of all living beings (except probably rats and cockroaches.) To go on with this way of life, which is simultaneously stripped of much of its meaning and fulfillment, is to be necessarily distracted from its realities and consequences. In turn, we then are distracted from good work and shielded from the idea of what good work even is. This means that we often fail to do such work and instead spend our time engulfed in meaningless distraction.

For the last few days, I’ve felt this intensely. I’ve been trying to write a new blog post since Friday, to an obvious lack of success. I have instead spent a good chunk of the last few days poking around on the internet—wasting, for many intents and purposes, my very life. I’ve not been doing what I idealistically want to do. I’ve wasted hours absorbing largely useless information and distraction when I could have been writing, studying or doing. I’m good at this wasting of time. I wish I wasn’t.

The future we face is one in which we are going to have to ruthlessly cut out such distractions so that we get done the work that desperately needs doing. Hell, it’s the present we face, as well. Enumerating and breaking down that work is part of this blog’s point. But so is going over the process of getting there, which is a process I’m very much in. I think there are many people out there who, like me, are good at avoiding work. Hopefully, they are less good at it, but I imagine the skill is there, for it’s one of the more common skills in our current society. Yet it’s one that we need to abandon and we need to do it as fast as possible. There is too much good work that needs doing—that desperately needs doing. I can’t emphasize this enough. We would be very smart to avoid the consequences of not getting that work done, no matter how much the dominant culture provides us with easily-accessible distractions (and more importantly, no matter how easy it is for us to allow ourselves those distractions.)

The blog post I’ve been attempting to write for the last two days is, theoretically, about working with animals. I have some thoughts on that, based both in recent and years past experiences. I think they’re good thoughts to share. But I’ve failed in writing that post and, in fact, never even started it. Last night, long after the sunlight had faded, as I grew too tired to even fool myself into thinking I might yet write the long-delayed post, I felt a certain disgust at what I had done. I had spent hours on the internet, reading some good things but basically avoiding the work I needed to do. I had lost another day and I very much felt the reality that it was gone forever—that I was poorer now for having lost that time. I had impoverished myself, and not in the smart and effective way that I will be advocating on this blog over the course of this year. I had impoverished myself spiritually and mentally, and I had impoverished myself in habit. I had, over the previous day, avoided the work I knew I needed to do and, in so doing, had made it harder to get back to that necessary work.

For work, ultimately, is about habit. Good work can be a real joy to do. It can also be a great challenge. But it’s very satisfying and I never regret doing it. My avoidance of good work is not about avoiding pain, misery or drudgery so much as it is a weakness of habit. I fall easily into distraction and its instant pleasures. However, I gain far more from good work than I do from those instant pleasures. The tendency toward the easy escape, I think, is as much in the habit as anything else. It all in that initial moment of deciding what I’m going to do next. It’s very easy, in that moment, to start engaging in distraction. It’s much harder to start engaging in good work. But once good work has been engaged, it’s far more satisfying.

A focus of mine this year, then, is to work on building the habit of engaging in good work rather than distraction. These habits, after all, or going to have to be my own doing. If I want to have an excellent garden this year, which is most surely the plan, then I’m going to have to get myself started on the work of gardening. If I want to regularize a series of homesteading activities, which is also the plan, then I have to do that via my own motivation. The same for regularly writing this blog, doing non-blog writing, studying, meditating and building my salvage skills. All of these are goals I’ve set for myself this year, and all of these will happen only if I motivate myself to do it. They aren’t paid work, I don’t have a boss, and there’s no one who’s going to scold or fire me if I don’t follow through (aside from, I might hope, the readers of this blog.) It’s up to me to build my own habits of work, upon which I’ll better be able to build the life I want.

This post right here, then, is one of the small successes of that habit, though it’s a qualified one. I eventually set aside the post I planned to write on working with animals and instead started the introductory post to my How To Be Poor series. I worked on that for much of today, alternating between it and occasionally the internet—a small failure, each time, of habit. But then I realized at a certain point that that post wasn’t coming together, either, so I decided it made sense to start again on something new, something that felt like maybe it would come together. And that is this post, which is today’s small success.

The last two days I largely wasted. Today was a partial success. Tomorrow will be better. This is the task at hand: a slow building of the habit of good work. It’s just as important as understanding the work that needs to be done. Later tonight or tomorrow I’ll return to the post I began today but did not finish and I’ll finish it. Beyond that, I’ll perhaps write some more, and I’ll continue to read Steve Solomon’s Gardening When it Counts and planning my garden. There will be more good work, as well, and minimal instant pleasures. That’s the goal, and the more I tend to that goal, the more I’ll habituate myself to good work and the easier it will be to accomplish the tasks at hand. For there are many tasks at hand and each one avoided is another bit of impoverishment I can no longer afford.

Posted January 15, 2012 by Joel Caris in Work

Tagged with , , , , , ,

%d bloggers like this: