Raw Rach: Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.
Tuesday means we get three chances to kick it on the mat.
See you at noon, 5:15, or 7:45. Figure it out, kids. Make the time. (Just an hour will do!). Life's better, clearer, more bearable, more sweet, when you wring the stagnant, stuck, heavy stuff out and have that daily opportunity for a fresh start.
(I practiced twice yesterday — a hot sweaty afternoon class followed by a hot sweaty evening class — and damn, was it a treat. And damn, if those few hours didn't remind me of the power of just hitting the mat and doing what we so love, that getting out of the head and into the breath. It's an art and a meditation and a sanctuary, this.)
I read this the other day and was touched by how real it felt. For this writer, "solitude in a cottage-of-one's-own came to her with its own unexpected challenges."
It's easy to romanticize the most ideal setting for us for be creative, whether that means designing or writing or painting or composing or whatever — particularly for those of us who fancy ourselves maybe a little bit of an artist (which would, ahem, mean EVERYONE, or at least it should). I've long had this fantasy vision of escaping to a little cottage in the woods, a la Henry David Thoreau or Annie Dillard, wherein I'd promptly scribe the most incredible book of philosophy-cum-urban-narrative ever. That perfect space for creating is always just.....over.....there.
(Which is how a lot of us view our lives in general, I think. That perfect space for loving, for living, for working, for relaxing, for finding that elusive capital-H "Happiness" and "Contentment," is always just.....over.....there.....just beyond that overdue bill and this stubborn to-do list and that obligatory commitment and this bad lighting.)
It's easy to find an excuse for avoiding the vulnerability/labor/struggle/delight of actual creative work when we have all kinds of good reasons that it could be imaginarily so much better done somewhere else.
Like, if I just had a cabin in the Pacific Northwest all by myself with a wood-burning stove and no cell service and comfortable pants and a big bottle of vodka and a little bottle of Kombucha, I'd get that shit done in a heartbeat!
Funny. That's not how it works.
And that's why I loved this article so much. Courtney Martin writes, of "Life in Lady Writer Heaven," of the ways in which her little funded woodsy writing retreat forced her to realize that when she was actually finally smack in the middle of the Ideal Working Conditions For An Artist, all her shit came up.
Ha. Isn't that the truth?
"It can be the most romantic time of year to be a writer. A few of the luckiest among us head off to cabins in the back country corners of America to finish our novels, memoirs, and manifestos at much-coveted writing residencies. Book dreams that we incubated all of that busy winter are finally going to hatch in the light of a hazy summer day with a picnic on our doorsteps and all the time in the world to be indulgent about our words.
I’m lucky enough to be at Hedgebrook Farm on Whidbey Island, off the coast of Seattle. I can walk through the northern part of the estate, covered in thick woods, and count little plumes of smoke wafting above the trees. The plumes come from the cottages—places with names like Waterfall and Willow, Owl and Oak, Cedar and Fir. Inside the cottages are writers. Ostensibly writing, but quite often not.
While in residence here, each woman gets a “cottage-of-one’s-own” that would make even Virginia Woolf giddy. Each little wooden house has a wood burning stove, a big generous desk, a cozy loft bed, a French press for coffee—everything necessary for a dedicated writer. A resident’s days are her own, too. The only requirement is that she show up for a communal dinner at 5:30 pm, prepared by a round robin of local chefs who know just how to make a pie crust that does the just-plucked raspberries justice. Then you are ordered to leave without clearing your plate. They call is “radical hospitality.” At home, most residents call it “lazy teenagers.” Either way it feels outrageously luxurious.
The funny thing about this freedom — all day, every day, for weeks to oneself — is that it is both blissful and sobering, about writing and not about writing at all. You face the blank page and all the outlandish expectations you had for what you would get done in your time here, but you also face something even more vast and unconquerable: your internal life.
All those pesky heartbreaks and jealousies, regrets and disappointments, long drowned out by the fever pitch pace of modern life, are suddenly audible. The man you once loved, the friend you once trusted, the woman you once were—all return to take residence at your residency, where you were supposed to be all alone and writing the next Joy Luck Club or Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions.
Suddenly it’s like you’re entertaining a crowd of ghosts in your little cottage — each one with its own unresolved issue to discuss. You study the hand-drawn map of the grounds as if there will be a test later. You start playing Fiona Apple and dancing like a banshee. You almost wish you had a sink of dirty dishes or a strategic planning meeting.
It turns out that the outside world and all its demands aren’t just distractions from writing, as most writers tend to think, they are also buffers for our bruised psyches. They pull us away from our muse, to be sure, but they also protect us from our own demons. When there are phone companies to fight with, deadlines to meet, aging mothers to be nursed, eyebrows to wax—who has time to schedule in soul searching? ....
One morning, I woke up pickled in melancholy. Why am I so sad? I kept wondering as I wandered around the cottage. I’m supposed to be in lady writer heaven. I’m supposed to be productive as all hell. I’m supposed to be ecstatic, my fingers dancing across the keyboard.
I ate the most delicious, locally farmed egg of my life—the proud orange yolk put pale Brooklyn yolks to shame—and I still felt sad. I flipped through the crackly, thin pages of The American Heritage Dictionary (who knew they still had those?!). I crawled into bed, frustrated with myself, and fell back asleep.
I dreamt of past lovers, old mentors, college friends. I realized that it wasn’t such a mysterious thing at all: I missed people that I loved that were now lost. I still had some grief hiding in the less-traveled corners of my heart. I felt sad. I didn’t solve it; I just noticed it. And then I realized I wanted to write again. Suddenly my fingers were dancing across the keyboard, tapping out a deeper story than I would have been able to write before."Read the whole thing, ending with Virginia Woolf's (speaking of muses!) brilliant and poignant understanding of
"...a woman’s experience of finally being alone: 'All the being and the doing, expansive, glittering, vocal, evaporated; and one shrunk, with a sense of solemnity, to being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of darkness, something invisible to others…it was thus that she felt herself; and this self having shed its attachments was free for the strangest adventures.'”Yes.
I have long struggled with the push-pull of the desire for solitude versus the joys of company, which is a reason, of course, that Stephen Sondheim's music has always spoken so intimately to me. I love his ability, throughout the body of his work, to describe the tension between wanting that human experience of connection versus wishing only to escape into the solitude that allows for mindfulness and artistic creation.
Carson McCullers was a mid-century Southern Gothic-style writer. I discovered her first book, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, as a 21-year-old recent college grad who'd fled the fullness of 5 years' spent on the East Coast for the blank slate (and the excuse to be quiet and bookish and alone) that living in Europe promised me. I spent days on end in silence, lost in used bookstores in Paris and Edinburgh and Berlin, devouring books (this was a time pre-ubiquitous-internet, kids, and definitely sans cell phone), and the upshot of that time spent reading and writing and sitting quietly on benches was that I discovered soulmates in pen, muses whose similar cravings for music and silence and space countered their (very human, very fundamental) desire for connection. And though I'd crossed oceans and left my own relationships, my own world behind, those people, those lovers, those friends, those memories lived, perhaps even more vividly than they had in "real life," in my mind, which had so very much time to wander and wonder and muse.
We can cross oceans but still bring our lives along in our minds. And this, my friends, is why the power of yoga, of meditation — to detach from our thoughts, to know that, in fact, we are not our thoughts, and that our minds have the potential to create our own placid heavens or our own torpid hells — is so transformative.
"They change their sky, not their soul, who run across the sea." — Horace
I was up reading late last night and ran across this old piece of McCullers' (below). The power of good, honest, raw writing, of course, is that even when it expresses sentiments like loneliness and fear and isolation, that kind of authenticity, expressed decades, generations, miles, lifetimes ago, rings true — and it makes us feel less alone. I have often thought to myself, in moments of doubt, in moments of wondering why the hell I keep this little blog, why I bother to think about writing, why I struggle, yes, sometimes to revisit these 900+ pages of manuscripts that yeah dude, swear to God, I am actually gonna get organized and revised and sent to agents one of these days, as soon as the plants are watered and the big moving decisions made and the car is bought and the windowsills are dusted and the bills are paid and fridge is cleaned out — well, that's why I keep at it, even in those moments. Because if these little words, little like Carson McCullers' felt little to her, make one person out there, even just one, feel a little less alone, then they're worth something. Then I have done my work.
Because I do believe, yes, that art and writing and song and spirit are all about just one thing: making us feel connected, supported, seen, a little less alone. Which is, really, when you think about it, yoga, right?
See you on the mat.
But maybe the last part of the symphony was the music she loved the best — glad and like the greatest people in the world running and springing up in a hard, free way. Wonderful music like this was the worst hurt there could be. The whole world was this symphony and there was not enough of her to listen.
– Carson McCullers, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter .