It's one of those wonderful things about being an artist - everyone buys into the tortured artist stereotype, but no one really wants to hear about it day after day. They tend to tell you things like, "Get professional help," "Try Prozac," or "Why are you doing this again?" When really, the one thing that will help is telling the writer or artist to get back to work and not to come out until they've had some fun. Really. Many of my friends and loved ones have standing orders that when they hear me start to question whether I should continue to be a writer, they are to do the following: 1) ask me how long it's been since I've written anything, and 2) order me to go immediately to my desk and write something.
But my silence over the past week has been because we have been doing some work on a couple of rooms in our house. The front room which is our primary TV and computer room - basically where the family congregates, and our bedroom. The front room has gotten a complete makeover - we ripped out the carpeting, installed a new floor (laminate, but it's the first time we've done this and it looked the easiest way to go), put in new baseboards, and painted the whole thing. The bedroom has just gotten a new coat of paint. Doing the front room was an exercise in faith. Never having done anything like this, we really had just our ability to figure things out and to ask advice from the right people in order to make things come out all right. While we were planning it and buying the flooring and paint, Stu kept asking me why I had this crazed, panicky look on my face. He was all excitement, oh boy, something fun to do. While I was all about worrying about not knowing what we were doing, worried that it was going to come out looking awful and that we'd need to hire professionals to fix what we'd done wrong. And, of course, as we worked through the project, we kept getting in deeper and making it more complex - oh, the baseboards look really beat up? Let's just replace them. So we ripped them out and figured we'd just figure out how to cut new ones later.
Some of my terror comes from the fact that I knew just enough about what we needed to do to know how difficult it was going to be. Baseboards? We're going to have to mitre the corners. Stu was just a happy idiot going along for the ride figuring that everything was going to work out all right because he didn't know any better. Me? I knew. My dad did lots of woodworking while I was growing up. I remember these things. They were not fun.
We're almost all the way done now - we did the final touch-up on the baseboards and walls tonight, tomorrow we clean out the room and bring the furniture back - I'm hoping the House Beautiful people will magically appear and transform our furniture into really cool stuff, but it's probably going to be the TV cabinet with the one glass door that won't stay on, the day bed with the hardware that always comes loose so it creaks horribly when you sit on it, and the plastic utility tables from Costco for the computer and the fish tanks that get put back in the room - oh, and the bookcase I've had since college.
What was interesting about the experience, was that I did remember things from the projects my dad did when I was growing up. Like how to mitre corners, how to drill circles in boards, how to set nails. Little things. Lots of them. That came back when I needed them. Today, looking at the baseboards, I said to Stu, "We need to set the nails so they're not sticking out." He asked, "How do you do that?" I said, "With a nail setter." When we got it at the hardware store, he asked me how I even knew such a thing existed. To be honest, I didn't until I was looking at the baseboards and this image of a nail setter showed up in my mind. The whole week has been like that - I feel a little like Trinity in the Matrix when Tank downloads instructions on how to fly a helicopter into her mind. The information is just there. When I need it.
Writing is like that, too. I learn and relearn and learn again that I do not write with my conscious mind. My conscious waking brain, the one that walks and talks and thinks that it's in control is not the brain that writes. My conscious brain has NO IDEA how to write. In fact, it panics when it sees a blank page. "WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO WITH THAT?!?!?!?!?!!?" it asks in horror and immediately starts coming up with a hundred other things that need doing around the house, errands that need to be run, emails that need to be written, MY GOD, YOU HAVEN'T CHECKED FACEBOOK IN THE LAST FIVE MINUTES, WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?????? Writing happens elsewhere, somewhere deeper, somewhere where I don't know what I know until I write it down. It's like magic. It just happens on the page. Like it happened in the room. The information is there, I just don't have access to it until I need it.
And then, another thing I noticed about the project was recognizing that what really makes the difference between a professional job and an amateur is not the quality of the work. Professionals make mistakes, they have to come up with solutions that are NOT ACCORDING TO FACTORY SPECIFICATIONS because the room isn't square and the walls aren't plumb and the frickin' texturinzing that got put on the walls pushes the moulding away so it won't lie flat, they have to deal with the same issues that we did. The difference is they know how to correct their mistakes and figure out ways to creatively get around the crazy walls and make it all look nice. They're not doing things perfectly, they just know how to make it look that way.
It's the same with writing. It doesn't have to be perfect when it comes out of the pen. But as a professional, I know how to make it look that way when it gets to the agent or editor or reader. That's something I have to remember as well. Even professionals make mistakes, they just know how to cover them up and make it look good.
And, all in all, as my friend JRab says, I need to cut myself a little slack. My residency only ended a month and a half ago. It's not like I've been goofing off and doing nothing. And I have been working on the novel. Maybe next time I'll write about doing research, because that's been how I've been spending most of my writing time. When I'm not checking Facebook, that is.