Walk it out.

Look, here's a thing I realized tonight. When I tell you that I hate to write, or that I never want to write again, what I'm really saying is that I hate losing touch with my material--hate losing my feel for what I'm doing, hate not being able to reach my way to the next idea, hate never being able to relax into my prose.

This morning, I woke up so excited to write that I wasn't even able to do it for the first six hours or so I was awake. I was that sure that I would finish the book's new introduction today: I could taste it, and that foretaste was so sweet that I was nearly afraid to mess it up by discovering that I actually had yet one more day of work to do. I meted my sweet time out to myself: time in bed to finish Cranford; time to put innumerable upcoming events into my silver calendar; time to eat my cereal and read the news.

Time to read another chapter of Annie Dillard and to remember how she helps me: The Writing Life is all about the fierce spareness of writing, how it can whittle down what you see and what you do until all you see and do is the writing itself. It is a whole way of living in the world. "Push it," she exhorts. "Examine all things intensely and relentlessly. Probe and search each object in a piece of art. Do not leave it, do not course over it, as if it were understood, but instead follow it down until you see it in the mystery of its own specificity and strength" (78).

By the time I opened the New Intro 2 file, it was after 2; by the time I got up again, it was nearly 5. Three hours is no long time, I realize, but in that time I'd slipped through that sheer barrier that separates me from the beautiful articulation of my most cherished ideas most of the time. Things that mattered to me, things that have earnest import in my life, were shaping themselves off the ends of my fingers, joining up to rest together and wait for their readers. By the time the sunset started looking extraordinary, I had already decided to skip a lecture (Simon Winchester, darnit) in order to polish this thing off. I strode out into the evening with my camera and a half-paragraph left to complete at home.

And I realized as I walked along the strangeness that is Rifle Range Road, the path-that-ends running alongside the college, that I miss my home landscape. I had forgotten my love of photographing grasses against sunsets. I could take the same picture over and over and over, with no regard of what anyone else might think of it later, simply because taking the picture repeatedly helps me to acknowledge where I am.

On the whole walk, I was attuned to pattern, shape, and curve in a way that has felt difficult for a little while here. The curls of grasses, the knots of wire, the tendrils of thorn: these are the things my camera and I saw. Occasionally, I did what I never do and shot without aiming, largely because I wasn't up for lying on the ground. Some of the night's best pictures involved the highest degrees of chance.

My new pledge to myself is that, when I start hating the writing again, I will remember that blocks come for good reasons; some things that I needed to know in order to write this introduction didn't click into place until very recently. It needs certain things that it does not yet have; it certainly has some things that it does not need. But I'm taking this victory and going to bed with it. And I'm remembering that this is why writers get editors.

Yes, I did just call myself a writer. That's the other thing I realized on my walk, right about the time I saw the little cocker spaniel that wiggled over to say hello but had a ball in his mouth and was shy to boot and ended up wiggling on along after all: when I say I hate writing and that I'm not a writer, it's mostly because I'm afraid that I'm not really a writer, which is what I've always wanted to be. The fact that, without giving it any second thoughts, I registered as early as possible today for a poetry workshop at an upcoming literary festival tells me pretty much all I need to know about whether or not writing is what I do.

Next time I start doubting my vocation, I'm going to walk it out.