When I started blogging, I posted for the first three years without a single visitor, not even my mom. It didn’t matter because, a.) I didn’t really understand (and wasn’t interested in) social media, b.) I didn’t think my writing was ready for prime time (though there is no such thing as ‘prime’ or time, here), and c.) I feared people’s reactions to my writing would change or discourage me — pretty much how I feel, nine years later.
But I set up a daily practice in hopes my writing and blogging could grow to offset what I did for money, which wasn’t making me happy, was starting to become something that would dominate my life in a way I’d regret, at my own doing.
I was in the kitchen this Sunday when a radio program came on about the psychologist Abraham Maslow, someone I liked for his theory of self-actualization, a term I’d first heard in high school. It was a contemporary of his speaking about work he’d done on what makes people feel happy and fulfilled (he coined the phrase ‘flow’), that there is no increase in happiness that correlates to increased income, based on some 40 years of data, but instead this notion that people who are really skilled in a vocation or activity can actually lose themselves in a state of temporary bliss, whether musician, figure skater, corporate executive…
The program ended with Maslow talking about his idea of peak experience, similar to the flow idea, that while some people can enjoy this feeling of exaltation, of losing oneself, it doesn’t last (‘you may get to heaven, but only for five minutes’). And it reminded me of my writing, the fact I may produce a half dozen good phrases a day, and a half dozen good phrases a day does not a book make — but could, over time.
And I took to the trail in the Issaquah Alps to lose more of my gut, and found something on the edge of the map called Fantastic Erratic, a large, glacial boulder: and as my mind spooled out on the switchbacks I stopped to write in my notepad and thought my writing is like that too, a Fantastic Erratic, it’s good in spurts but I have to catch those moments myself because there is no muse, the muse is you (and if you want to believe in one, you better know how to train it, they don’t like cages).
I visited the artist Matthias in town the day before I drove Dawn and the kids to the airport, in Frankfurt. Matthias showed me some of his art, which hung on the walls, and I asked if I could take a photo with my phone, and one by one he took them down and handed the pieces to me and asked what I thought–like what I saw in the pictures–and then, with care, told me what he’d meant by them.
I realized I didn’t have enough time to be there and told him I had to go. He had a key for the nearby watchtower, and I followed him up the corkscrew stairs to the top, to look out over the village. He explained the design of the stairwell, a column inside another column, that it was the most efficient use of the space, and very smart for its time. And it made me think of Dumbledore’s office, what we’d seen on the set for the film outside of London, how his office was really a series of interconnected rooms intended to symbolize the multiple layers of Dumbledore’s character and past, stories nested within stories.
I can’t write a blog post until I’ve got a first line that hooks me. The first line is like a keyhole through some door to a space I go inside but can’t get to without that first line, which rarely changes after it’s drafted. Those who write or paint, or do whatever requires balancing two parts of the brain, the creative and the critical, can relate to the need to toggle between those areas, to learn how to keep them separate but keep them in check: I do that by previewing posts so I can read them like a reader would before they’re published, and bounce back to the other area to edit. If you think you can really take people somewhere else with what you write or create you need to imagine you can go there yourself, first.
I got to the boulder called Fantastic Erratic, but was a bit disappointed by it. I guess I pictured something really fantastic because of the name, and it was, but I was tired and knew I wanted to use it in my blog post, to tie it to my thoughts on writing, to end it. In some ways I’d pictured it as something more, no different than any number of story ideas that change once they become real.
Because the forest was thick with ferns and fallen timber, I wasn’t sure if I could even see it, but there it was, bearded with golden fronds, a carpet of moss, a sleeping giant with stories of its own, arriving a hundred thousand years ago for reasons we’ll never know, we can only imagine — it’s erratic because it differs from the surrounding rock, that’s what it means to be erratic, and also because it’s unsettled, inconsistent, irregular. It’s all those reasons to start a blog and write. No muse knows that better than you.