I'm guessing I read it in one of those Writer's Market tomes I have lying around my office, but I cannot say so with any certainty. The "it" to which I refer was an author's comment about how, when she decided she wanted to be a writer, she had to force herself to stay up later than normal in order to tap out a few words on her computer. Her point, essentially, was that many would-be authors tend to blame life for getting in the way of his or her work, that child-rearing and jobs and stress and traffic and fatigue and parties and cooking and cleaning and lawn-mowing are too often cited as the reasons a given project never came to fruition. In other words, the writer, like any artist, must create time, must steal an hour here and an hour there, must poke around life looking for whatever hidden space he or she can crawl into and, when there is no crawl space to be found, he or she must scrape, scrape, scrape into the fabric of existence and make a crawl space.
I am reminded, too, of a famous passage in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five:
Over the years, people I've met have often asked me what I'm working on, and I've usually replied that the main thing was a book about Dresden.I said that to Harrison Starr, the movie-maker, one time, and he raised his eyebrows and inquired, "Is it an anti-war book?""Yes," I said. "I guess.""You know what I say to people when I hear they're writing anti war books?""No. What do you say, Harrison Starr?""I say, 'Why don't you write an anti-glacier book instead?'"What he meant, of course, was that there would always be wars, that they were as easy to stop as glaciers. I believe that, too.And even if wars didn't keep coming like glaciers, there would still be plain old death.
The shit that life tends to throw in one's path, the caltrops we keep stepping on? Our path will never be clear. True, it might clear up for vast stretches, but like wars and glaciers and plain old death, the obstacles will return: the broken pipes, the teething babies, the cancer, the bad weather, the depressed lovers, the thieves in the night, the corrupt officials, the loud neighbors, the solicitors, the aches and pains, the chores, the stresses of work and family, the uncalled for insults, the car accidents, the power outages, the heat waves, the poorly-timed phone calls -- unceasing, uncaring, unbearable.
The writer, though, cannot blame these obstacles for his or her lack of progress. He or she must write through the pain, in the pain, with the pain of it all.
I'm not saying that the artist should not take a break, only that we mustn't allow ourselves to sit, waiting for the glacier to pass us by. To succeed in creating, then, we need to strap on our crampons and set out across the glacier, refusing to allow ourselves to blame an unfeeling, inhuman mass for our inability to work. We do well to look at Captain Ahab, destroying the lives of his crew in pursuit of the "inscrutable thing" embodied by the white whale.
The reason I mention these things this evening is because I may have learned something today. My approach to writing my dissertation has always been to take it in tiny steps, adding to the project day by day. And that approach has been a good one for me. For a while now, though, I have been pressing my shoulder against the cold, inhuman wall of metaphoric glacial ice (I say metaphoric because, actually, in real life, I totally love glaciers) and, predictably, the effort has taken its toll on me, sapping me of some of the energy I might otherwise devote to my dissertation. But that's what has only just struck me: if I want to write my dissertation, I have to follow the advice of that unidentified voice rattling around my sleepy brain like a shrunken pea. I need to make time despite life. Today's crying baby may very well be tomorrow's inconsiderate neighbor.
So, yeah, it might have to take a bit more legwork to traverse the same distance with the glacier in the way and, yes, it has been slower going than I would have liked but the only way to say fuck you to a dumb, senseless chunk of inhumanity is to admit that it will never hear that insult, will never process it and, instead, trudge over it, work on the dissertation in spite of the difficulty, and always, always remember that I, in walking over the glacier, am above it.
For tomorrow: Read or plan.