17 Aug Summer New, Summer Done
Summer comes and goes. Just about the time you start thinking it’ll never end, you wake up and realize the chill is setting in. The mornings bring a shiver and are slow to brighten, slow to warm.
My summer, with the arrival of the bright and long-lasting sun, has seen a waning from writing. My journal has continued to fill with thoughts, new books and short stories have been started. But the life of my winter, the daily routine of a warm cup of tea and a few hours of writing, a deep meaningful contribution to a growing work, that type of writing has been on vacation.
Last spring, I sent out a manuscript. Six copies to six people. Throughout the summer I have held my breath. It was one of the scariest things I had done. This creation of mine, this veritable child of my intellectual loins was set free, and now, as is inevitable in all forms of parenthood, I could do nothing but stand back and see if it faltered or if it flew in majestic diving soaring glory. I was sure it would flop, sure it would result in soul-crushing feedback, relationship deteriorating conversations with all my editors. I was certain it would bring a swift violent end to my writing career before it had even left the nest, a poor chick ruthlessly plucked by its neck for the nourishment of a blood thirsty raptor.
Like most scary things, the idea of it was much more frightening than the reality. I was humble. I had anticipated the worst. I knew I wouldn’t be great at the beginning, that there was still much learning to come. And, it has come.
I spent most my summer heading out to the river. There I waited for my feedback on the book. There I began a new process of learning. I trained to become a raft guide. At 31, I was the rookie, navigating the new skill of working the oars, of navigating a class 3 river safely and confidently, of managing the nervous energy of families entrusting me to get them down the river. It came with its lumps, as learning always does.
It was wholly overwhelming, frustrating, and challenging. I knew it would be, because beginning something new always is. But knowing it’s coming never helps. My hands didn’t work right, my body didn’t respond right, I got stuck in water where there was nothing to get stuck on, just fighting stubborning with the oars trying to read their intention, read the water, read through my own lack of coordination. On top of that there was reading my boss, reading my coworkers, reading my guests, and managing all of their expectations each day. Each day left me exhausted, making lists of the things I had screwed up and what I’d have to improve the next day.
Slowly over time, the lists got shorter and I was less exhausted. Excitement and confidence took the place of frustration and my summer became a celebration of a new skillset and new career. Surely, I am a long ways from mastery, but the process has begun. There is inertia, momentum. The hurdles of the beginner are behind me.
As the raft season winds down, I have an opportunity to reflect on all this. Learning, growing, the requisite pain of it all. This made me think of the process of writing a book. As the summer progressed, slowly, my manuscripts came back covered in black and blue inks, words crossed out, words written in. Someone else’s judgement written all over my work. Someone else’s judgement of my new skill, of me.
But I’ve sorted through the feedback, the comments. I’ve made a list of all the mistakes to correct and now I can begin getting better. Surely, with the next draft there will be another list of mistakes to correct, things to refine. When I try to publish it, there will be a whole other list, perhaps that’s a whole new skill set to learn, a whole other beginning.
Yet, much like my rafting, I feel I am beyond the frustration, beyond hurdles of the beginner, beyond the fear of judgement or critique. Now is the hard work of refinement. It comes down to a grind, a daily practice. Now I’ll grind for I am on the path to mastery. Perhaps it is only mastery of writing this particular manuscript, a small part of my life, a small part of anything. Yet the momentum, the inertia, like the current in a strong river, it carries me now. So I shall let it, and each day I’ll refine my navigation of this broad river. The boat and its oars are my pen. The water, sometimes raging and fast, sometimes slow and flat, is the universe’s endless creativity.
Ride with me.