Friday, June 13, 2014

The value of a blink

I'm definitely one of those people who believe that writers should write every day, and painters should paint every day, musicians should play music every day, etc. Even if it's just a few minutes. I think that the reason that many don't is because they decide, either consciously or unconsciously, that because those few minutes feel shallow and they can't really get under the surface of things before they have to stop, there's no value to a fifteen minute art sit-down or the addition of a single paragraph to a manuscript.

I think there's a lot of value. I haven't tried to put this into words before, so I hope you'll be patient with me while I thrash it out.

Probably the least important part, and the part that is a focus of programs like Nanowrimo, is that those individual paragraphs add up. And they do. But this is super-easy to shrug off, because if you feel like you don't get to go deep, they're probably lousy paragraphs anyway. I think they always have the potential to be just as good as anything else you might write, but we're discussing writer mentality here, and even I wonder if I might not be writing stupid crud when I sit down for fifteen minutes before work and tap out a quarter of a scene.

I think it's more important to look at it as mental exercise. At first it might be true that those paragraphs written in stolen moments are probably not worth much, but with daily practice, you can't help but get better at dropping in and making quick additions.

Ooo, here's a good one: I don't stop thinking about my books when I go to work, and I get some great ideas there. Or maybe while grocery shopping I'll pick up a can of olives that are on sale and I'll think oh, oh! the contrast of salmony pink/red with purple-y black! and I'll dash home and splash some colors onto a new blank Photoshop screen. I might not have time to do anything more than that, but it's there for me to riff off of when I get some more time. And for those who rely on inspiration, having that inspired moment captured is a good and precious thing, even if they didn't have time to see it through to completion. And an incomplete gesture of inspiration is the norm, unless you're one of those rare people who completes an entire project in a single day. Even then, wouldn't it be nice to have something small and perfect and good every day?

Speaking of incomplete gestures and notes of inspiration, there's no rule that says that when you sit down and write, it has to be on the prose within the manuscript. Especially for books but also for short stories and art, I take notes which end up scattered on all different sizes, shapes and colors of paper all around my desk. Note-taking and planning is also creative time, my friends, and very valuable creative time. That is definitely part of the writing every day rule, and shouldn't be undervalued.

These are all good and true things. So, no more excuses. Write every day, even if it's just for a blink. After all, if we didn't blink, our eyes would dry out. So it is with the arts.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Jay Lake (June 6, 1964-June 1, 2014)

All the things I want to say don't feel right except, fuck cancer. It took my father, also at age 50, and other fine people I've known since then. I have family and friends right now who are fighting cancer. Today ....

I don't want to say Jay lost his fight with cancer. But he died early this morning, and there's no way around that.

There's all this stuff floating around in my head, about how his battle made significant contributions to medical science, about Jay Wake, about how amazingly prolific and inventive he was ....


And that part of him is still with us, in the hearts of the people closest to him, in his work, in the genome project based on his cancer's DNA, on his blog.

That doesn't feel true, not at this moment. When I reread his books and stories, the telepathic construct called writing will be transmitting his thoughts and ideas into my mind, and I might feel, during that moment of immersion, that I've gone back in time and he's talking to me.

Small comfort for his daughter. Small comfort for any daughter.

Today, cancer ended the life of a unique and talented human being, as cancer is wont to do.

Perhaps one of the reasons this disease feels particularly cruel is because it almost seems treatable, and sometimes it is. Certain ones. If caught early enough. Sometimes, but not always, for good. Often, treatment delays the inevitable just long enough to put our affairs in order and to say goodbye.

It's such a twisted, evil thing, this disease of our body where our very cells rewrite themselves in a way that destroys our lives, that we've poured vast riches and engaged some of our most brilliant minds to try to find a cure. Maybe this battle will have proved to be a decisive one. Maybe this man's battle will help others not just survive a little longer, but maybe thrive and live long, healthy lives.

This isn't grief I'm feeling. It's anger and frustration, and no little fear, too.

I live in a place and time of great privilege. To live to age 50 was a much rarer gift not so long ago, and in many places it still is. In the modern, western world, it's too young. It doesn't feel right to ask for more. But I do.

I'm mortal. That can't be changed. I can accept exterior forces; storms, viruses, famines, car accidents–just about anything. But this thing, cancer ... that's a betrayal. That's treason, and a self-destructive, mindless, pointless sort of treason that gains the disease itself no future existence of its own. It buries itself when it buries us. It's a suicidal thing that shoots everything around it before it shoots itself in the head. The mindless, senseless, pointlessness of that enrages me as few other things can.

I think the reason there is so much research and money poured into cancer study and treatment is because I'm not alone in singling out cancer as being a particularly horrible disease. There are other things that kill people, things that can be prevented and treated, suffering that could be eased for pennies on the dollars that we spend to fight cancer. I'm not sure that makes sense, but I'm throwing in my support to fight this villain. Not because it's more likely that I'll die from cancer than a car wreck or heart attack.

But because I hate cancer.


May his daughter, family and friends find some comfort in this time of terrible grief.