Saturday, August 31, 2013

Ravens of unresting thought

In my last post I wrestled with a metaphor of writing as the chasing of a dangerous bird through a sinuous jungle. Since most of the essays I'm working on involve chasing real birds across the Prairie State, the comparison feels apt. Birds, especially nocturnal hunters or birds with black plumage, have a long history in mythology, poetry and art as being dark omens, messengers and muses. And unemployed writers with too much time on their hands have an equally long history of getting a bit carried away by their "muses."

At the moment, I have a bit of down-time between jobs. Ultimately, I'd like to get back into teaching, or else go back to school. Maybe law school? I'd really like to be a conservation biologist, but with a history/English background that would mean starting over from square one. I'm not sure if I want to do that...

Now, this is my own fault for continuing to work in a field I find aggravating, pointless and boring for almost a decade, instead of looking for something that might actually be meaningful, but I finally got to a point where I just couldn't do it anymore. Life is too short to be miserable. Our talents are too precious to be squandered. While I'm regrouping, I've joined the Illinois Master Naturalist program, am trying to brush up on some basic skills, and finally have some time on my hands to write and to think. You know, about stuff.

It's tempting at this point to try to let everyone know exactly how awful and demoralizing it's been, how I was surrounded by mean girls, backstabbers, slackers and idiots, and how I came home every night and beat my head on the wall. It's tempting, but I won't. For one thing, whining is tacky, and for another my hideous job was no different than anyone else's hideous job. That's why Office Space is so funny.

The important thing is to learn from experience, and move on. But sometimes while I'm writing and thinking all these "deep thoughts," comparing a few hours at my laptop with some sort of shamanic quest for Truth and Beauty, I start to feel a bit sorry for myself, because, well...just because. I start quoting Yeats, about "ravens of unresting thought" flying to and fro in my brain, and then the alarm bells start going off.

It's time to put down the laptop before things get any worse. Because do you remember those arty, "sensitive" and absolutely annoying people who went to your school? I kind of used to be one of them. For a while, in my youth, I might have even had a touch of Special Snowflake Syndrome. Luckily this was a couple of decades ago, so I was at least spared embarrassing myself all over the Internet.

Then I stopped writing, mostly, except for this birding blog. I traveled a bit and settled down with crappy jobs and, it must be said, became a lot more down to earth. But I've missed writing. Even if it never goes anywhere, I feel like I'm doing something worthwhile. Besides, I love books, and how can we have books without writers?

But there's a difference in being creative, and wallowing in it. I don't want to be like this:

The fictional Jenny Schecter

If you've ever watched The L Word, you probably hated the character of Jenny, the self-absorbed, neurotic writer.  I actually liked Jenny. She was kind of unbalanced, but I could sympathize. Don't people understand that spending all that time in your own head, poking at every dark impulse and painful moment to get at the authentic truth of your experience, and then presenting all that hard-won anguish to an indifferent world who'd rather read Twilight, will make you insane? At least Jenny never ran around trying to kill her family members with a giant croquet mallet, as another famous fictional writer-gone-crazy did. (And yeah, I can sympathize with Jack Torrence, too.)

It might be an occupational hazard. In one of my favorite books about writing, Bird by Bird (of course, a bird reference!), Anne Lamott warns us of the dangers of "Radio KFKD" (K-F*cked):

If you are not careful, station KFKD will play in your head twenty-four hours a day, nonstop, in stereo. Out of the right speaker in your inner ear will come the endless stream of self-aggrandizement, the recitation of one's specialness, of how much more open and gifted and brilliant and knowing and misunderstood and humble one is. Out of the left speaker will be the rap songs of self-loathing, the lists of all the things one doesn't do well, of all the mistakes one has made today and over an entire lifetime, the doubt, the assertion that everything that one touches turns to shit, that one doesn't do relationships well, that one is in every way a fraud, incapable of selfless love, that one has no talent or insight, and on and on an on. -- Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

When that station starts playing, I know it's time to go birding. To walk around looking at flesh-and-feathers birds, gazing out over the mudflats and getting bitten by chiggers and keeping both feet thoroughly grounded in the real world, where crows are scrounging French fries off the street and not symbolic messenger to the dark reaches of the psyche.

In the meantime, I'll keep running after that dream of writing something that will translate my love of the Grand Prairie onto paper. I hope these random thoughts on the process are interesting or helpful to someone besides myself, but just let me know if I get too "special," OK? And I'll promise not to come after you with a croquet mallet.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad I'm a reader, not a writer! Although I do write scripts for movies, mostly book derivatives, and play them in my head. (And NO, insanity does not run in the family!) The best part about birding is that when it's good, it makes you so happy, and when it's bad, well, you're too tired to fuss. And fussing is what my brain does best, if I let it. I love it that you like/need to write, because you let me read it! MOM