Signing Off, with an Invitation
Shortly after my return Down South this September, I received a letter from my friend Sarah. A real, honest-to-goodness letter: USPS-ushered from Seattle to Bellingham, turquoise envelope double-stamped in honor of its heft. The card was lovely (whale, octopus, sea horses and fish mingling beneath a sailboat anchored on a calm sea) and bulging with four additional sheets, handwritten on the bare backsides of Sarah’s successfully submitted manuscript. (“For luck.”)
Letters are one of boat life’s best side effects. Removed from the immediacy of the internets, I embrace the intimacy of old-fashioned correspondence to feel connected with the people I carry with me at sea. Last summer, Sarah was one of those people. I sent her a card congratulating her on her finished manuscript, and asked if she had any advice for me in my own march toward a deadline. I want to share her words with you, with gratitude for her permission.
Darling Tele, I can’t tell you what a gift it was to find your letter in the mailbox the other day! But I’m going to try.
Ever since I hit that Aug. 1 deadline for the book, I’ve been really really sad about my writing life. It’s gone on the back burner again, essentially, & there is so much I want to be working on – (an article, some essays, poetry, SUBMISSIONS), let alone building a platform to market my baby (that ten year old beast of a book project) – but I’m not. 70% of that is the rest of my life crowding back in – things I pushed out of the way (son, husband, dogs, home, work $, friends, garden, family) to hit my deadline, that I dearly love or at least (waitressing) that I’ve got no choice but to give hours to. My writing hours shrink & shrink, unless I give up more sleep. Not really an option. Working 4 or 5 nights at the Pub now, & watching other people’s kids to earn hours when they’ll watch mine.
Ugh! Sounds like a lot of whining, & it is… But I honor the fact that it’s also my Story right now, & I really do cherish all my work… It teaches me what is most important to write about, when I can.
I said 70% of my lack of writing progress is Rest-of-my-Life… & 20% exhaustion, & 10% fear & isolation. Which is where your brilliant letter arrives in my mailbox.
I know I am a writer, because I have no choice but to write.
I know it is the same for you. That being said –
A part of me is always terrified to let my words be public, because I’m terrified it’s not good enough, clear enough, done enough. It must express what we mean for it to in our hearts, & it so rarely seems (to me) like I succeed.
Which is why I’m a revision junkie.
Anyway, your letter was a tangible piece of evidence that I am part of a community of writers, all laboring away at their own lives, striving to keep tabs on their muse and their loved ones & their mortgages, etc.
It was a lifeline, sweetpea…
a vertitable buoy on the end of a rope, with you on the other end.
& NOW… inspired by your example, you courageous fisher-poet novelist (what’s the word for writer-of-non-fiction-books?), I’ve just sat down & devoted an hour to writing (despite an array of interruptions.)!! I took a writing workshop from David Peterson (edited Edward Abbey’s journals) once at the North Cascades Institute (have you been there to write? You would Love it) and he said Ed Abbey always wrote letters or postcards to friends to get himself into writing mode. And so I have today resolved to write to you this fall & winter, Miz Tele, as part of my writing practice & also as an act of support & love for you as you labor toward your May 27 deadline.
You ask if i have any advice… not much, mostly just empathy. But if I had to give some right now, I’d say…
Labor steadily, just as you would on the Nerka at busy times,
Give your body & mind over to the muscle memory of the task at hand.
Hit that groove & the words will come
& Remember to step back quasi-regularly for some fresh air, lovemaking, music, food, to nurture yourself.
I’ve kept Sarah’s letter close at hand for the past two months, smiling at that cheery turquoise envelope every time I sit down at my desk. It’s packed away now, one of the many tokens of luck and love that I’ll carry with me up to NCI today. The car is stuffed so full that I’m equal parts embarrassed and curious, wondering how Subi will make it up the steeper bits of the drive. Turns out, preparing for a three month residency in the mountains is very similar to preparing for a fishing season.
This is how I learned to work: watching my parents attack the task at hand with the tenacity of pit bulls. (Inelegant, yet accurate. The last boat they would build together, a fiberglass 54-footer, they took from a bare hull to ready-to-fish troller in nine months. Simple enough; that was what needed to be done. They christened the Willie Lee II after an equally goal-oriented friend who, incidentally, raised pit bulls.)
My parents’ methods got the jobs done, but at a cost. Each completed task was an increasingly lonely success. Sarah’s gentle reminder to take time to step back, to nurture? I’m still learning how to approach work as a balanced practice. Edward Abbey might be one of the teachers.
Hooked will be a ghost town this winter. NCI has the internet, but I’ve disabled my laptop’s access and will institute some strict rules about using their library computers. Old school, hand to pen to paper letter-writing, though? That seems a step towards balance. A way to remind my loved ones and myself we’re connected – even when we’re not. A tool to keep my writing mind working – even when I’m not.
If you’d like to be part of this, here’s my residency address:
PO Box 429
Marblemount, WA 98267
Okay, sweeties… In the time it’s taken me to write this, the sun has melted all of the night’s frost from the trees outside our kitchen window, and the chickadees have made a good dent in the suet log. (Joel, will you take care of the feeders while I’m gone? I know the squirrels’ greed irritates you, but everybody’s gotta eat. Thanks, buddy.) It’s a two hour drive up to my new home, and I can’t delay leaving any longer.
Take good care, friends, and be well –
P.S. That lovely woman who sent such generous, heartfelt words? Sarah and I have never actually met. These friendships we create out here are powerful and real. I’m grateful to every one of you who’s helped teach me that.