I’m not entirely ready to say good-bye to summer, but the calendar turned, my yoga teacher said that the planets did something or other at about 10:29 last night, challah is being savored in some homes, and my socks and fingerless gloves are out. The apples are crisp and roadsides colorful with purple asters and pumpkins lolling in fields or lined up at farm stands. I’ve spent much of late summer tending to small things. I researched (i.e. read with a quick page-flipping beat) a lot for a short picture book set in ancient China. I researched-read more for a still-smaller poem. I pulled together an essay about history I started a year or two ago. I steeled myself and wrote queries about manuscripts sitting too long. I gasped at an editorial email I received without a “but” in the praise, and now I’m waiting for a phone date to discuss this, while busy with semi-denial and don’t-jinx-this thoughts, though trying, as always, to keep hope in a steady place.
Now it’s time to go back to my novel, where I spent warm days circling back and through five chapters. The weave of those chapters has gotten sturdier. I know the setting, the characters, the problem and a bunch of other stray things, and I do mean stray. As I opened my folder again, I sighed, in that good way, as if I were about to pull up warm covers. Or walking into the Jones Library with plenty of money in the meter. Then I started to think about all the other things I could do. Never mind errands, but I did have an idea for another essay, which shouldn’t take me a year. And I have another picture book that needs just a bit of work. Where was the resistance to a novel whose characters I like coming from?
Some stalling comes when stepping back into a big project. And really, who likes transitions? Even heading somewhere great, we may feel we’re leaving a comfortable place. Just the thought of change can leave me feeling tired. Even the idea of pleasure can get in the way. Some of us don’t wear a favorite sweater because we don’t want to spill something on it. We may not open the pricey ice cream because that means it will soon be gone. We put off calling friends, or don’t see an enticing movie because of the small effort to pick up the phone or get in a car. We miss enjoying fall because our mind turns to March ice.
This is age, laziness, fear, and sticking with habits. I have to turn my manuscript back to habit. Sometimes it’s good to take it slow, but while I often choose a gentle pace, in this case I’m all for the just jumping into the water. Whip open that notebook. Getting in slowly gives me too much time for nagging fears and a sense of worthlessness to rise, and honestly who needs those? Moving straight into a project, otherwise known as the big unknown, can be one reason why people like classes or workshops with prompts, when the instructor gives a few words and perhaps sets a stopwatch or alarm clock. You can burst past the pesky quibbles and rush into something that might or might not be great, but will be something. Yay for something over nothing. Give yourself a cheer.
I’m not quite able to set an alarm on my desk and murmur ready-set-go, but I do have my tricks. One part of me has to give the other a push, which I do by asking myself to organize those stray things. Putting them in folders develops some new ideas. The clutter grows, but that’s what is supposed to happen now. Lines sweep out in every direction, there for me to pluck and trim, and I find myself immersed again. Lo and behold, peeking from under a new sentence, there’s my excitement or her dowdier but important sister, commitment. My work again becomes the warm blanket, the stroll into the library where I’ll see shiny new books and old friends. I’ll take my tea hot now with spices. And admire the Monarch butterflies stopping on asters as they fly south.