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Marissa Lingen

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Space for the heart [Oct. 8th, 2016|10:27 pm]
Marissa Lingen

I am newly returned from a week and a half out of town. I went on a writing retreat and visited some friends for a few days. I came back to a bunch of stuff to catch up on and am still not quite caught up. Closer, though.

And I want to say: this is great. I have done more of it this year, I will continue next year, it is so good. I think it doesn’t require a particular shape of thing to be good. Whatever you can manage, whatever works for you. For some people this will be an hour at a coffee shop, for some a weekend at a friend’s house. For some people, having any humans around defeats the purpose, and for others having to do any maintenance work does, so those shape what will be possible for you. If you really need to not have to think about food and cleaning, housesitting for a friend while they’re out of town won’t fit the bill. If you need at least a day to really get mental distance, a few hours by yourself won’t work. If you can’t have people around you, getting an airbnb with half a dozen friends will be a pleasant vacation rather than a productive retreat. But.

But consciously, actively making a quiet, separate space–this is a thing that I think is undervalued, especially for people trying to do large creative projects. It’s not just the room of one’s own. It’s the time of one’s own, the permission to take that time. The sense that taking that time is not the same thing as powering through a word count goal. Ideas may come, word count may come. But the quiet comes first. Even if it’s half an hour’s stop at a waterfall on the way home from running errands, a quick dash into the woods when you’ve been doing eldercare. Whatever shape it takes for you.

I have seen in people of all ages–though reflected in different behavior sets–the idea that being up on current events and well-informed is an unlimited virtue, and a virtue that requires the intake of every soundbite that comes out of a politician. I am all for informed voting and civic engagement. But 1) You do not get informed from soundbites. Yes, there are times when “this candidate said this appalling thing” is news you can use. But it’s not all there is to the vast majority of campaigns. If you were going to buy a major appliance, you wouldn’t consider yourself ill-informed if you hadn’t watched all the company’s commercials–or well-informed if you had. “Hey, the Maytag man said they’re reliable! He said it again!” That’s not research. Neither are the soundbites the news/commentary cycle thrives on. And 2) Everything you do in life, you do within your own limits. Even if you’re committed to making home-cooked meals, some days that’s going to mean pasta or scrambled eggs instead of five elaborate courses. Your limits include your emotional limits as well as the limits of your time and understanding. Doing your best does not mean doing nothing but reading political commentary for months before an election. There has to be room to set it aside and think of other things. Your family, your friends, your scrambled eggs, your creative work. The way the river looks as your plane lands.

I really mean “has to.” There has to. Our elections have gotten unreasonably long in the US, and it’s affecting everyone else in the world. If you stay intensely engaged on it, you will get exhausted, you will burn out. There has to be space to breathe occasionally.

I know I’m lucky to have the money, the flexibility, and at the moment the health to go somewhere completely separate from my ordinary life. I’m really lucky. But I also think that it’s a good thing for most of us to look for opportunities for set-aside space within our lives, however we can find it. Not just “I am on deadline and now I will go and go.” But also “what is this thing that I am doing that is worth doing, and how can I do it better?” and “what am I missing, what am I not seeing?” And other subtler questions that are how we keep our heads above the waves, other questions that speak to what we’re doing that’s worth protecting. Culturally easier when you’re at some stage of a large project–I could say to my Facebook, “I’m going away to start my new novel,” and that was true. But the novel is what it is because I had the conceptual space, the emotional space, to make it that and not do it by rote and reflex.

No matter what work you want to do, I think that’s something we all need from time to time, especially in times of whirling chaos.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux


From: aamcnamara
2016-10-09 05:32 pm (UTC)

And not just that, but the part where there-is-always-something-to-do, always something one ought to be working on--me being in grad school classes exacerbates this but it's true across the board, I think. (Too many problems in this world and not enough time or energy or money to contribute to fixing all of them.)

Added to which, I know that I at least have a tendency when I'm busy or stressed to retreat from in-person interactions with friends and rely on social media. But that is such a random-rewards mode of interaction that it can take up a lot of time for little return--and without deliberate good filtering one gets an influx of things like election politics on a constant basis through those channels. None of which create good patterns.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2016-10-10 12:53 am (UTC)
And I think--I don't know, but I think that when you're trying to make art, having it on the list with doing the dishes is sometimes a really great thing and sometimes not. And making space for both things if you possibly can is maybe a good thing.

I'm trying to figure out something more coherent about why I feel that way, what it does to art to be on the always-something list. Because some of it I think is that you're integrating it into your life, which is good. But sometimes it isn't getting its own space, which is maybe less good.

But yes: social media as a means of connecting with friends is particularly problematic with the delayed feedback cycle that means that you can't really ask for "can we talk about something else" in realtime.
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From: aamcnamara
2016-10-10 01:18 pm (UTC)
If you're lucky, putting it on the list with doing the dishes means you take that time to step away from your life and do the thing. It often does, for me--part of my writing routine is not to look at the internet while I write--but that is still only an hour or two out of a day. The longer-term, sinking into that feeling, times are absolutely necessary too.
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From: sheff_dogs
2016-10-10 09:56 pm (UTC)
The 'not reading every article about an issue' thing is something I have learnt is necessary for my emotional health. What that means in practice varies from reading nothing to reading factual articles along side commentators I trust. It does seem to be especially important when I'm starting a new knitting or sewing project, during the initial making of decsions that will shape the skeleton of the item. Quite why this is I don't know as at first glance it wouldn't seem you use the same part of your brain for being creative and for thinking about politics.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2016-10-10 10:04 pm (UTC)
And yet the part of your brain that's being creative can shut down under stress, so.
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[User Picture]From: pameladean
2016-10-19 05:09 pm (UTC)
I just want to say that I've thought about this entry almost every day since you posted it. I'm doing all right with the "putting writing on the list with the dishes and cat-boxes and doing some of it on a regular basis" part of things. The other part, the sinking-into, not so much. I recently read an article, which I'm sorry I cannot link to, that reported, to no one's surprise other than perhaps that of some people in management positions, the discovery that meetings are bad for the productivity of people who do coding and other complex tasks. Being interrupted is very bad for their productivity. The mere prospect of a meeting in the afternoon tends to reduce their likelihood of starting any complex job in the morning.

Now, I don't have to go to many meetings. But I do have some set household tasks like making dinner. And even though I enjoy making dinner most of the time, I am starting to find that the prospect of doing so looms over my whole afternoon and makes me reluctant to start serious and protracted writing work -- especially when, on the same list, are more discrete tasks that are also worth doing and that have usually been delayed by various amounts of time ranging from an hour or so to months and months.

There's also a phenomenon that I've been familiar with for some time, but that Raphael and I at the moment call "I did something today already syndrome," from a line in "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt." Mowing the lawn makes me feel that I've done a thing already and I don't want to do more things. Looking ahead to making dinner makes me feel that I'm going to do a thing, so I don't want to do things before that. I do them, but it's not in a pleasant mental atmosphere. I suspect some part of my brain is attempting to tell me something by kicking the wall rather than sending me a postcard. So I'm planning to clear a week of everything from making dinner to having lunch with friends and going hiking, and see if I can get the sinking-in part of writing back. I suppose I'd have figured this out on my own eventually, but I appreciate the entry's shortening the process of realization quite a lot.

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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2016-10-19 07:50 pm (UTC)
I am so glad. I hope it goes beautifully.
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