It was a hot sunny day and my dad was proud but displeased that my college would give Bill Proxmire an honorary degree that commie and it was so hot in those black robes that somebody fainted and I don’t remember any specific words that were said except “onward.” And maybe nobody said “onward” but that was what they meant to say.
And 46 years have passed 46 (forty-six) [four tee sicks] are you kidding me? That’s more than twice as old as I was that afternoon and so I have lived three of the lifetimes I had lived up to that moment.
Time did not fly, and it is not flying now, it is just hard to believe the planet has circled the sun 46 times since that May 18 when I stood and accepted a bit of sheepskin written in Latin because that’s how traditional my college was, hard to believe because the emotions are just as fresh though long gone.
I have fewer than 46 trips around the sun left and miles to go before I sleep (or at least I hope there are miles, it could be a few feet or a couple of inches) and so much has happened and mistakes and triumphs and wins and losses and pain and gain and all the rest, and here I am still to tell the tale.
I suppose there are lessons learned and all that stuff, but today I just remember, and — all those cliches about it feels like only yesterday but I know it’s been a long long time? Yep. That’s why it’s a cliche: At some point everybody feels it.
Here, at the beginning, at the onset, with a clean slate, with a blank page, a new week before us, and some of us, freshly graduated or newly hired or finally retired, starting the next stage of a lifetime, with the bloom of a new day, a new week, a new season, a new year, the newness beckons.
We hear the call, re-energized, re-inspired, refreshed and renewed, as ready as we’ll ever be. We know setbacks are inevitable, but for now we step forward ready for the challenge and eager to get started.
“Monday, Monday, can’t trust that day”? “Blue Monday”? Ridiculous. Monday is a burst of energy. Monday is where it all begins again. Monday is a new chance to get it right this time. Monday is an opportunity to start over, the first step on a journey of a thousand miles, the day the world has been waiting for all this time, the day the ship comes in, the day the tide rolls out and clears the decks.
Happy Monday! We get to try again, or repeat what worked before, or find a new way to get it wrong and cross that one off the list of possibilities on the way to perfecting the light bulb. Every idea looks bright and shiny on Monday. Every possibility awaits to be tried and tested. Oh, what a miraculous world that has Mondays and fresh starts and opportunities and infinite possibilities!
Yes, thank God it was Friday, because the road can be hard and rocky and we need our rest, but thank God it’s Monday, yes thank God I say, because see how grand is the vista before us.
Why do the young (supposedly) write the most amazing songs? The Beatles were in their 20s. I know, not so, not so — some of the great works were by mature authors — but maybe foolish youth doesn’t know better and unleashes work that hasn’t been tinkered and edited to death.
After that first burst of success, they begin to think, “I am a recognized whatever now, and so I am obligated to produce works of genius,” as opposed to “I am flowing with the universe and I must share what I experience, I am the conduit not the genius creator, come see and hear what I see and hear.”
As soon as the acclaim comes, the pressure is on. “What will you do next,” as if that wasn’t enough, as if “you” did it. And you start to seek out the inspiration instead of watching and listening.
Yes, there is a flow to be tapped and there is a Great Architect willing to share the vision, and we are creators made in the Architect’s image and so the act of creating is built into our genes, but in the trying too hard to craft we can lose sight of the spark — just as these sentences are crawling more slowly out of the pen than they were a couple of minutes ago.
Sometimes, when I get out of my own way, here come the words in a torrent, and as soon as I become conscious of the flow — “Look, mom, it’s a torrent!” — it starts to slip away.
Oh, take me away, mad genius, let me swim and swim in the torrent sharing what I see and hear bursting from my chest like some generous alien critter — not a parasite like in the movie that uses my body and casts it aside, rather a creation maker who fills my heart and makes it give — an I-don’t-know-what that sends my hands flying across the page, and I look back and don’t quite remember where it all came from.
Imagine an aging Paul McCartney who never wrote his little masterpiece, sitting down to write and coming up with, “Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away,” and looking at the phrase and thinking, “No, no, no, that’s kind of bogus, I can do better than that …”
It’s a trick, letting the universe talk and not judging what you’ve got until later, and maybe the young are better at it because they haven’t learned the unfine art of second guesses. Ray Bradbury said, “Don’t think,” and I think he was on to something. In thinking comes editing, and from editing comes a trickle instead of a torrent, with only what seems best in the moment coming out.
Somewhere in the torrent will be the real gem, and you must let the river run through you, the wild river untamed and roaring along with all of it, not just the trickle, and you come back and say “Some force possessed me,” not “Oh look, see what I contrived to create this morning.”
“Grown people were so strangely oblivious to the truly important things of life. Material for new garments, of night or day, could be bought in any shop for a trifling sum and made up out of hand. But if a dream escape you, in what market-place the wide world over can you hope to regain it? What coin of earthly minting will ever buy back for you that lost and lovely vision?”
I haven’t updated the home page on my website in more than a year, so if you haven’t been reading this blog you couldn’t know that I released Gladness is Infectious or 24 flashes or updated A Little Volume of Secrets and Resistance to Civil Government and Letters to the Citizens of the United States and got Myke Phoenix into wider distribution.
I haven’t sent out an author newsletter. I haven’t promoted my books. I haven’t …
Enough of what I haven’t. I have kept posting on the blog every day for 286 days. I have kept writing, even if my main project is spotty — I celebrated 10,000 words in, what, January, and I only just passed 14,000, aiming for 40,000ish.
Yeesh! See what I did there? I turned it back into “I haven’t.”
I have almost hit my goal for my next collection of blog posts, Full, a companion to A Bridge at Crossroads and How to Play a Blue Guitar and Gladness is Infectious. I have written at least a handful of words in that 14,000-and-counting project mentioned above every day for a couple of weeks.
I haven’t (STOP IT! oh, just wait) left enough time for writing this post to add an illustration or links to the names of all those books to make it easier for you to check them out. But I have gotten them into distribution so you can just go to Amazon or Barnes & Noble or Bookshop.org or, heck, Walmart or Target and search for “Warren Bluhm.” How cool is that?
As I said, I have gotten far enough along that I can almost promise that Full will be on sale by June 1. So there. I have been busy.
It was one of those scattered mornings where day-job deadlines loomed and my mind rebelled against the idea of staying in one place and doing The Work first — you know, The Work, not the stuff that brings home the bacon but the other stuff, the stories and the blog posts and the magical music of words — the fun.
I have been trying to take The Work as seriously as I’ve always taken the day job, and so I sat, a little tense and unfocused but determined to robot my way through the morning writing routine if I had to. In the back of my mind, I kept hearing all the clocks in the house tick and thinking about photographs I had to process and news stories I had to write and edit, even though I had set this special sacred time aside to write things like, I don’t know, soaring over the bay chasing a pelican to ask how the view is up here and if you ever grow weary of bringing home the carp or the perch or whatever it is that pelicans dine on.
It was always “Maybe if I buckle down and get the work-work done, then I’ll have time for the fun stuff later,” but it always became later later later, and then the day was over and the fun stuff didn’t happen, so I committed to sitting down to attempt to do The Work now, not later, but instead I’m moping instead of doing fun stuff —
And then, just like that, my fingers raced across the page and gave me some insight into the main adversary in the novel I’m writing, more than a page of wild fantastic spunk. For a few minutes the day job vanished and I was inside the mind of a Venusian prince mansplaining his evil sister’s motivations.
How did that happen?
Pay attention here, friends: I wrote a handful of paragraphs about how distracted I was because I had so much work to do and I didn’t really have time to do any of the creative stuff I wanted to do …
And then, BAM! For a few precious moments I created something cool, something I can fold into the Big Project I’m Working On When I Can.
But see what I did there?
I wrote! I didn’t think I had time, I kept thinking about all the other stuff I had to do, and the first few things I wrote were about woe-is-me-I-wish-I-had-time-to-concentrate.
But I wrote! I didn’t think, “Crap, I don’t have time for this today,” and blow it off. I sat down and wrote, and it was junk and whining and worthless until it wasn’t, until I was writing a page about why the villain in my story is so villainous and how she learned to mistreat people the way she does, and oh my goodness I didn’t have time for this but I forced myself to take a little time anyway and a little corner of my novel suddenly blossomed.
Because I wrote. I had less than 15 minutes to spare, and I couldn’t concentrate, but I sat down to write. And that’s the moral of the story.
They say that 90 percent of art is just showing up. I got an illustration of that basic fact right there. Wow, says I. Just wow.
You do art, right? That’s what brought you here. I’m here to tell you because I just relearned it: Even if you have only a couple of minutes to spare, sit down and spare those minutes. Your art will honor your commitment and gift you.
Because I refused to skip my morning writing session that morning, my evil princess is that much eviler. (And by the way, I made my day-job deadlines. Bonus.)
Honor your art. Practice your art. Seize your minutes. Just show up and do your art.