Simplify, Simplify, Simplify

Thoreau admonished “Simplify, simplify, simplify.”

Emerson responded, “Don’t you think one simplify would have sufficed.”

As I go back and scan these entries, I cringe at their tediousness.

Simplicity isn’t making its way on the page.

That’s okay, for now.  This entry is an apology, and an acknowledgement that fiction and nonfiction are entirely different animals from expository writing, no matter how lyric and luminous an expository essay may be.  For too many years, I earned kudos for my writing, because I mastered the formula and stuck to it.  I was like James Patterson, I knew exactly what my audience wanted, and invariably used it: introduce the topic, ask a question, form a hypothesis, succinctly state the thesis, develop an argument paragraph by paragraph, nod to the alternatives, summarize the argument, then give the conclusion, usually in a clever or nearly poetic summary.  Wow them.

I did well at that formula.  Really well.  So well that I created a comfort zone that was impenetrable, as I knew how to work the formula without failing.  Much of my adult life was spent hacking out sentences in the wildly exciting craft of revision.  Revision, revision, revision.  There’s no simple way to an elegant essay, other than revision.

I succeeded in my academic studies, not because I was brilliant, but because I was willing to put in inordinate hours revising.  Sentence by sentence, I was a workhorse of wordsmithing.  I was also good at close reading, good at synthesizing the seemingly disparate, and good at interpreting metaphors, which when served by the excessive labors of revision, earned me my coveted rewards.  I aimed to please, and I knew how to impress my audience of one, my professor, if I could hide behind the work of others, use my handy dandy formula for success, and spend sleepless nights and days revising.

I’ve abandoned that model, to draw from a deeper creative well.  Those years gave me extraordinary writing practice, but now I’m dealing with my own voice, my own stories, my own narrative construction.  The consequent prose often flounders, struggles to find its way in this new landscape, isn’t always certain of itself, and the excesses of that exploration are repetitive and strained.

A criticism of the blogosphere is that there’s little editing done.  I agree.  We rarely see our work’s shortcomings without distance, and social media’s immediacy fails to recognize the space needed for writing’s refinement.  No matter how much I edit these entries, they aren’t what they should be.  They are blog entries.  They are cumbersome.  They are redundant.  They are poorly proofread, that is, with the eyes that wrote them.  They are me thinking out loud much of the time, trying to tie big disparate life elements together in a little package, and I have yet to master that creative bent without the expository essay formula.

However, I am doing what my “About” page states I will be doing here, flushing out ideas, honing my voice, and discovering more about this new territory.  In this regard, I’ve been successful.  More than successful, for these forays have richly informed my evolving narrative choices.

Simplicity is work until it becomes habit, in life and in art.  In life, it’s both discipline and awareness, daily choosing what works over what doesn’t, until habits are lived without thinking about them.  In writing, simplicity and elegance mean making every word matter.  That’s the practice of writing, and the craft of revision.  Sometimes, it’s better to throw down as many words as possible, muck around in the ideas, polish the prose as much as time allows, and then move on, having gained experience in what works and what doesn’t.

In an Ira Glass interview that I posted earlier this year, he exhorted writers beginning their career to produce as much as possible.  Just produce.  Throw it all down.  Make the mistakes.  Learn.  Move on.

In artistic terms, I think that means that the burgeoning writer will be Thoreau like, saying the same thing over and again, when one word would have sufficed.

Thanks for subscribing to these updates and following my journey.

6 Million Dollar Spirit

The spirit is larger than the body.  The body is pathetic compared to what we have inside us.  —  Diana Nyad

I still have a handful of posts that I’ve pieced together, but not finished — as usual, I’m trying to do too much in a single post, instead of just hammering out something somewhat entertaining and enjoyable.

But they are good posts, and will be completed.  Although there is a tension between writing them and working on the book, which is gaining momentum, to the exclusion of most everything.  But training.  And art.  Because the writing and the training and the art are all connected, informing each other in an inexplicable and mystical and creative dialogue that constantly amazes me.  It’s not me who does a lot of this.  I just show up.  The rest comes with time and practice.  I show up.  Stuff starts happening.

I just returned home from my best 5 mile time in too long, and I thought to post a quick entry on the joys of training.

This post on training is actually part of one of the other posts I am working on, but posting this sequel entry first seems to make sense, for reasons that may be clear, should you read both entries.

I didn’t realize until a month or so ago that I had accidently landed into a paradise for training.  My front steps lead to four different routes for biking, walking, or running.  As a local friend said to me, “I didn’t realize it until you brought it up, you really are in the best spot in this area for taking off on the roads, aren’t you.”   Four routes converge on my doorstep — the only place in this area that can boast such a wonderful fluke of circumstance.

It’s really extraordinary, yet another confluence that’s taken place in my life.  I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect portal to place myself for training, with the hills, the pines, the rivers, the lakes, the fresh air.  And there’s no fighting with cyclists or cars for the right of way — a bane of existence during my life in Cambridge.  The few drivers that pass me here are excessively courteous, slowing way down for the strange, foot bound humanoid that is less common in these parts than deer.

The joys of training.  One mile becomes two.  Two miles become three.  Three miles become five.  Every day, a little more.  Soon the challenging five miles is not only effortless, but invigorating.  Not just invigorating, but thrilling and nurturing.

Today, I not only did my best time, but I came home energized.  Some of the hills around here are steep and unforgiving, and today for the first time, every incline was skillfully managed by slowing down, breathing deeply, and letting the endorphins kick in.  No stops.  No feeling like I was going to puke.  No making the hill and then stopping for the breath, while telling myself I had just made the hill while stopped at the top and checking the monitor as an excuse to catch my breath.  Just concentrated effort.  And breathing.

Before today, some of these inclines have inspired not much more than an “oh shit, here we go” with an immediate heart rate spike, well past the safety zone.

Today, there was simply the joy of pushing through, maxing out my heart rate while pushing through and filling my lungs with fresh air.

That’s another joy.  The air here.  Having my lungs fill with this clean, pristine air.

I considered everything I have pushed through in the past few years, some of which I mentioned before, some of which comprises the entry that will follow this one, and I’ve often had the feeling like all the strength had been sapped from me.  But today’s easy 5 miles — soon to be 10 — reminded me how incredibly strong I am, how resilient and fortunate I am to be given everything I have been given.  Here’s a truth: just when we think we can’t make it, if we push through just a little more, practice patience with ourselves and with life, there we stand, edging closer to the person that we want to be.

This invigorating 5 miles, by the way, happened after a mild back injury last week, which I quickly recovered from thanks the miracles of the modern heating pad.

Injury is usually temporary.  Giving up is always fatal.

Today, by just showing up, there was inscrutable joy — the sound of the birds, the trees, my heart beating, the sound of my feet on the open roads, my lungs filling and feeling like they never have.  Thanks to the mountain air, deep breathing takes on a whole new meaning.  I was completely present and in the moment, and it was beautiful.  Everything sang in unison, and I was part of the choir — contralto, no doubt.

So I eased on home strong — cutting a full 15 minutes off of the times I previously clocked on this one route.

My heart rate’s been dropping fast during a cool down, indicating that I am building great cardio strength again.

Better.  Stronger.  Faster.

Never give up.  Humans are capable of so much more than we allow ourselves to believe.

“Better.  Stronger.  Faster.”  Although I’d qualify that its the human spirit is the actual bionic powerhouse, for we simply follow our spirit’s lead: