Would that my kitchen counters were blank and my computer screen was not. Or my mind, for that matter. Well, it’s not exactly blank, just cluttered with stuff that’s not particularly useful. Not unlike the kitchen counter, which at the moment holds all the usual suspects, as well as an extra dishtub, an empty vinegar bottle, and the tail ends of two-liters from a party for my husband’s students yesterday, among other things.
My mind feels similarly cluttered, a confusing jumble of to-do lists, threads of stories begun but not completed, worries about the day/week/month/year ahead, snatches of song lyrics and poetry, and all the other mental flotsam and jetsam of a life that is sometimes too thoroughly examined.
Someone really needs to come up with the corollary to that saying about the unexamined life not being worth living. Because the too-examined life has its downfalls, too. I overanalyze everything. I overthink every experience. And I’m not sure how to stop doing that. I’m not even entirely sure whether I should stop–not because the mental break wouldn’t be nice for a change, but because I wonder if I could even still be me without the constant stream of words and ideas in my head.
This isn’t to say that I’m incredibly profound. I just can’t shut my brain off. Just because there are five hundred channels twenty-four hours a day doesn’t mean there’s anything worth watching.
It’s been an interesting experience to take a very intentional break from writing. I’m not sure how I feel about the experience, at the moment. I definitely needed the break, but now I wonder if it’ll be hard to get going again. In characteristic fashion, I’m worrying about whether I’m worrying about it enough. And in the interval, the clutter in my head seems more cluttered than usual. The stories are still in there, but they’re getting short shrift, drowned out a little more than usual by the chaos of the day, the thousand trivial thoughts that aren’t worth putting down on paper.
I’ve always been the kind of writer who has to straighten up the room before writing in it is possible. Cleaning was one of my favorite procrastination tools in college. Still is. But now, I’m starting to wonder if I also need to put words on paper in order to be able to clean the house.
Maybe it’s because writing is a way of organizing, of making sense of the world. Writers are supposed to be wildly creative types, but I have to acknowledge my own left-brained-ness, too.
A couple of lines from Wallace Stevens’ poem “The Idea of Order in Key West” are always hovering just under the surface of my thoughts, breaking through every once in a while into consciousness:
“Oh! Blessed rage for order, pale Ramon,
The maker’s rage to order words of the sea.”
I feel that rage for order, the need to order the words that speak worlds into being. It is blessed–a sacred act–but there is a rage, a madness perhaps, shimmering underneath. I am left with the conclusion that writers are contrary, cantankerous beings–we feel the wild pull of forces beyond our control, even as we strive to master the language that will call down divine fire from the skies, alter the shape of continents, or shatter and then resurrect the human heart.
Language offers power through order. In old tales, to speak someone’s name was to master him by placing him in the right order of things. Rumplestiltskin! If we can name him, we can know him, put him back where he belongs, restore order.
I write to order my thoughts, to shape stories–to give meaning to my world, a world that’s often marked by surface chaos. I think this is why we all tell stories. We need to make meaning in an imperfect and contradictory world where there all too often seems to be none. We need to spin the straw of our thoughts into gold.
The words are just below the surface, waiting to be summoned. I am searching for them, fumbling through the worries and doubts for dried fistfuls to spin into a shimmering garment.
But they’re not ready yet. I need to percolate a little longer, let the cut shafts dry to golden straw. So, for now, I’m going to clear off the kitchen counters, my head full of poetry and faerie tales.