The bright green trees blurred as they passed my window. I could see them through my peripheral, guardians always there. I placed my finger in the book as my temporary book marker to glance at them dwelling in the story, completely swept away into a world different, better, way more interesting than mine. I was seven or eight years old–my first memory of completing a novel, a chapter book on my own. I was on a train going from Hyderabad to somewhere. We had found optimal seating and I, the youngest and smallest, had somehow ended up having enough space to spread out–a rarity in my youth, well I guess even in my adulthood. We were on the train for more than a day because I remember waking the next day, still next to the glorious window. This time watching rice fields blur by knowing that I still had my book close by ready to be read. Finishing that novel was the first time I remember experiencing that fulfillment, that delicious satisfaction that fills your mind and heart after reading a really good book. I also remember thinking, I can do this–read a book from the first page to the last. I flipped through the already read pages several times relishing in the feeling of just that.
It’s a memory that doesn’t leave me even in my adult life. I still ritualistically feather through a finished novel allowing its words in settle into my being. So, today when I chose to take a day off to take care of me and the clouds joined me, I looked at the novel I started on Monday and decided on my plans–ignore the mountain of dishes downstairs, ignore all responsibilities such as grading final essays of the year, ignore picking up the debris of laundry all over the bedroom, ignore changing out of pajamas–spend the day reading. Suddenly I am swept away, content.
Outside the clouds have gathered like a puzzle fitting exactly together. The tall trees have grown big leaves in all shades of green–some dark, some bright, some luscious. I clear my throat from all the allergy symptoms my body exhales just looking at the green. It’s a perfect day. I’m home alone with no official responsibility. Free to spend my day as I please. Five weeks away from having consecutive days that will allow me this new schedule. I tell myself I’ll do the dishes in an hour. I’ll clean in two. I’ll run my errands in three and hit play to an old Tori Amos album and am transported forgetting all responsibility.
Little Earthquakes comes on and I remember the time that I wrote every day in college on the steps of McKeldin Library, in the green grass on the mall, in my car. What happened to that writer?
I spend hundreds of hours teaching students how to be an artist and teaching them about discipline as young artists. I remember earlier this year, we met with a student who said he wanted to be a NBA player to which a fellow teacher responded with: if you want to do that, you better learn that working hard is going to part of your everyday routine. It reminded me of when I used to identify myself as the “hard worker” in the family. I used to think it to be lesser than, but the truth it is it is greater than. Discipline takes hard work. I remember how easy it was that day to finish my first book because we were on a train and there was no television, no phones, no iPod, no iPad, no gameboy to take my attention away from it. Then I think back to college as an English major. It took me much longer sometimes to finish a book because I was so distracted by walking around campus thinking, by going to the movies, by partying, by drawing and dancing and everything else. I was so focused on everything. My friends, even today, joke about how I want a piece of everything in life. I want to belong to it all. It can leave a person completely fulfilled and completely empty.
Last Monday, I was complaining to a close friend about this very feeling of belonging to everything and belonging to nothing. I confessed that I think even my blog is a distraction from my ultimate dream. She prescribed me to begin my focus by watching the movie Author’s Anonymous. Then, gave me a list of ideas that have worked for her. “I have made a time sheet for myself. A writer’s time sheet where I clock-in hours of time spent writing to remind myself that I am a writer and that it is a priority in my life,” she said. Being a hard-working student, I took her advice and watched the film that night. While it was a funny take on a group of writers trying to make in LA, there was one theme that spoke to me the most. The main character says two lines that gave me reason to recommit to my novel. She said first: “No distractions, writing comes first.” Then later she says to the male lead: “Henry, you are so focused on other things like your favorite writers and me. I just write from my heart.” [I paraphrase here for I don’t have the film available to reference for the exact quote.]
It’s true I am Henry Obert. I am so focused on living my life to it’s fullest sometimes that I lose focus on my dreams. If you want to be a writer, then you have to do the work. You have to write regularly. Although, I love to write here on this blog, it is not my primary goal as a writer. Although I love to dance and am good at it, it is not my primary goal either. Although I love to teach and am good at it, it is not my primary goal. All of these art forms are fulfilling and necessary but do not have to take over my life.
I can spend the time, the disciplined time, to write my novel. It’s a matter of commitment and discipline and allowing for ebbs and flows in my identity as a writer. There will be several days just like that day as a seven-year old on the train when I will have uninterrupted flow and write for days at a time motivated. There will be days when I feel like watching movies and escaping. I used to think that I couldn’t recover from those days, but I do. I always do.