Thursday, October 26, 2017

Writing in a Hostile Environment

By Cheryl Oreglia

Writing in a hostile environment is difficult at best and on occasion impossible. I'm talking about the unnecessary eye rolling, impatient pacing in front of my work space, audible sighing, words muttered under the breath, even enticements to the local wine bar (seems unusually cruel) while I attempt to polish up a new piece. It's maddening. I blog, what an atrocity, sue me. I consider it my work but that is not how everyone views my writing practices, especially since I don't make a dime, and I spend an astronomical amount of time honing my craft. I don't care one iota. 

The words quick blog is an oxymoron, although my posts may appear spontaneous, they are created with blood, sweat, and at times tears. I usually start with a "really, really, shitty first draft," as Anne Lamont would say, and then I work it over as if pulling toffee, until it is smooth, elastic, full bodied, imbued with interesting flavors. It has to have texture, bulk, leave the reader with something to chew on. That's the objective, not always the result. It's purely subjective and I'm leery of unwarranted opinions so let's not go there.

Simply put, writing takes an enormous about of time, and there is just no getting around it. I have been known to linger over a single word for an hour. I'm not a fanatic, but the right word is like pulling a hair-ball out of a clogged drain, it creates flow. When it's right it's right, when it's not, it's a hair-ball. You do not want to leave your reader with a gag reflex. It's counter productive.

Once a general idea begins to sprout, I pull together a few body paragraphs, and as if a miracle a summary starts to surface, then I go for the fill. I'll research some aspect of the writing, add a quote from a recent article I've come across (it is uncanny how often the perfect article, quotes, current event - finds me just in the nick of time), and if I bump into an applicable Seinfeld clip, that's just topping on the cake.

By the way, I have a real job too, one that deposits a pay check into my account every two weeks, one that lacks flexibility when it comes to my time. I teach high school, I absolutely love this work, but it is work. When I write it's like I'm suspended in some kind of time warp, I'll look up from my screen, and three hours have passed. I'm not kidding. I totally lose track of time, I don't feel a single pain in my body (at my age it's more like a collection), and the room around me kind of fades away. It's like taking a mini vacation from life.

Speaking of vacations, Jonathan wrote a great piece on writing while on the road, I can not possibly add to that masterpiece except for one notation, writing in a bathing suit, sipping a pina colada, poolside, adds a whole new dimension to my skill set. I'm not sure it's a good thing. I can't seem to put down the taco that some half naked woman delivered right to my lounge chair, the screaming children are distracting (miss my grand-babies), and the ocean to my right is more mesmerizing than the words trickling down to the keyboard. I'm in Hawaii this week, can you feel my pain? I didn't think so, but I'm scheduled for today, and carrying my computer all over the resort has not resulted in a post. See, you have to open it, sit down, and actually write. 

My sister says she has a hard time constructing a text message? Which reminds me of a passage in Anne Lamott's book Bird By Bird (I read it every year). In responding to a students inquiry about how you actually write Lamott says, "You turn on the computer and bring up the right file, and then you stare at it for an hour or so. You begin rocking, just a little at first, and then like a huge autistic child. You look at the ceiling, and over at the clock, yawn, and stare at the paper again. Then, with your fingers poised on the keyboard, you squint at an image that is forming in your mind -- a scene, a locale, a character, whatever -- and you try to quiet your mind so you can hear what that landscape or character has to say above the other voices in your mind.” So poolside writing is not a total bust but the rocking part is concerning a few of the guests. Hostile decides to take a dip in the ocean. 

The other malady is the wicked "perfectionism, the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people," warns Lamott. It is the Felix to Oscar in writing (if you are too young to remember the Odd Couple, see clip below). It is why many aspiring authors quit, pull their hair out, and drink. Oh shit. Lamott says, "I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won't have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren't even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they're doing it.” 

So there you have it. Hostile is surfing the waves, I have free reign of my workspace/lounge chair, half naked serving staff, and my own tunes blaring from pandora. I ordered another pina colada, found a worthy Odd Couple clip, and I'm calling it a wrap.  I'm not going to worry about misspellings, poor word choices, or run on sentences. I'm going to die anyway. Cheers...

Where, how, and when do you enjoy writing? 

I'm Living in the Gap, drop in anytime.


Kimberly G. Giarratano said...

I go to the library to escape my house because my house feels like a hostile writing environment. If I see clutter or dirt, I lose focus. Also, my kids are hostile. Great piece!

Cheryl Oreglia said...

Thanks Kimberly. I'm sort of at the empty nest stage of life so I don't have to escape for quiet. This is good except when my beloved spouse would prefer dinner instead of a wife who is off on a mini vacation. Finding a balance is key and not one of my strong suits. I too am distracted by clutter and such so I often take my computer outside, to the blessed patio, where the dirt is part of the landscape.

Unknown said...

Great read as usual Cheryl ! Those pesky spouses that want to eat on a daily basis are a challenge to us creatives :)

Cheryl Oreglia said...

Haha, thanks Melissa! I totally agree, I can’t be bothered with food issues when I’m in the zone, call Door Dash! Hey I’f you’re not cooking dinner let’s do wine next week, we need to catch up!

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