Showing up

Trouble’s wants are few; her needs even fewer. She needs to be fed and watered, and given the opportunity to relieve herself and to exercise. She wants stimulation, toys, something (anything) to retrieve, belly rubs, and proximity to the Human. Life is better for all of us when she gets what she wants. Human gets up on a schedule, gets fresh air and exercise, learns new things (rally obedience!), takes regular relaxation sessions (tension and belly rubs are utterly incompatible, even if it’s not your own belly), and enjoys – even basks in – companionship.

Then comes JanuarFrost facey. It’s cold. Often very cold. Cold enough to frost a furry face. And it snows. Deep enough to cover a toller. And Human remembers that she’d rather hibernate than heave herself outdoors, swaddled in a parka and swathed in scarves. Don’t forget the mittens. Two pairs.

But she does. Because Trouble is sitting at the door.

One day, someone told me that I’d be a good writer, eventually – when I was grown up and had something to say. So I got on with other things, and a very long time passed.

One of those other things was teaching students. I had lots of useful advice for them, such as not to wait for clear ideas before starting an essay. “’How do I know what I think till I see what I say?’”  I’d say to them. “Listen to Forster if you won’t listen to me. Get writing.”

Or not to wait around for inspiration or the perfect moment. “’Inspiration is for amateurs ’”  I’d quote Chuck Close: “‘the rest of us just show up and get to work.’”

And if you’d asked me, I’d have said that I practiced what I preached. Despite the pleasures of procrastination, I’d show up at my desk and write until I knew what I was going to say in that memo, or that report, or that scholarly article.

But it was years before I thought to apply the same advice to the question of discovering what else I might have to say.

It isn’t easy. At least with memos, or reports, or scholarly articles, there’s a rhetorical situation that needs to be addressed, a conversation, professional or academic, to be entered, and a mass of material to hand. When I show up to see if I have anything else to say, I feel a bit like Trouble venturing into the snowy wastes. There’s nothing to see when the snow is deeper than you; nothing to convince you that there’s anything at all to be found.

But there is alwayin snows something, even in January. Even when the screen is as blank as the back yard in a blizzard. If you show up.


1 thought on “Showing up

  1. Peter King

    As to seeing what one might have to say in the absence of a defined rhetorical situation, Annie Dillard advises: “People love pretty much the same things best. A writer looking for subjects inquires not after what he loves best, but after what he alone loves at all. Strange seizures beset us. …
    “Why do you never find anything written about that idiosyncratic thought you advert to, about your fascination with something no one else understands? Because it is up to you. There is something you find interesting, for a reason hard to explain. It is hard to explain because you have never read it on any page; there you begin. You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment.” (also incorporated into her book “The Writing Life”).


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