So you see the imagination needs moodling—long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling, and puttering.—Brenda Ueland
Our coach in college used to give us two weeks off between seasons. You’d finish cross country on, say, November 8th—toenails gone, hips achey, shins splinty— and on November 22nd you were starting to sharpen up again for indoor track. It was really up to you what you did in those two weeks. She recommended a full week off to do nothing and really recover and then, if you were feeling mildly refreshed, a week of active rest— unstructured, playful easing back into a routine that was supposed to feel rejuvinating (pick-up hoops, easy run, going for a swim, going for a hike, hitting the gym, really anything that wasn’t intense but got you moving if you had ants in your pants). The first week, I’d catch up on homework and sleep and TV. The second week, I’d start itching to get on the track.
I finished school two weeks ago and have tried to have a similar transition between writing seasons. The week after the semester ended, I wrote nothing. Nothing. No journaling. No brainstorming essay ideas. No people-watching-observations riding the T. No bad puns (okay, some bad puns). I wanted to get bored. I wanted to become creatively restless. I went on long walks and runs without headphones. I read a lot: Saul Bellow and Gabriel Garcia Marquez for the first time; Rob Sheffield’s infectious love letter to the Beatles; Ursula Le Guin’s wonderfully cranky and lucid collection of essays; Anne LeClaire’s book, Listening Below The Noise , which had gems like this:
The Sufis say that, if we’re to speak well, our words must pass three gates. At the first gate we ask: are the words true? At the second: Are they necessary? At the third: Are they kind?
After a week of no writing, I was dying to dig in. And like Mr. Styles, I realized “I had so much in my head that I wanted to say and wanted to write down” (15:49-16:27): http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x5s4212 (If you have time, watch the last 15 minutes of this to better appreciate my love for Harry.).
Week two became active rest. I joined a group “accountability” thread with two awesome classmates where, every morning, we text “MP” once we’ve finished our “Morning Pages”—Julia Cameron’s term for journaling three pages first thing in the morning (You wake up and jibber-jabber your thoughts on the page before you do anything else. It’s great for decluttering and clarifying what you actually want to write about. I can’t recommend it enough.). After three days of Morning Pages, I started crafting some big, goofy, scary essay ideas for this coming year. I’m already giddy.
* * *
In September, on my first day of school, no one showed up to my Copyediting class. I waited 10 whole minutes for someone to show up. And when no one did I started wandering the halls looking for where the class might have moved to without telling me. I got to the next classroom over, poked my head in, and asked, “is this Copyediting?” It wasn’t. But there was a big name card on the one empty seat. The card said WILL.
The empty WILL seat was my empty seat. Because I was in the class. Because it was Wednesday. And Wednesday was my workshop class. Not my Copyediting class. Which was on Tuesday. The day I thought it was. (The next week, I dropped the Copyediting class which makes this story even more pathetic.)
On my last day of school, two weeks ago (before the week of nothing and the week of active rest), I did what I did every Wednesday before class: eat in the dining hall with my good pals, Juana and Maria, the 70+ year-old dining hall staffers from the Dominican Republic and El Salvador who speak little English but who are more my speed than the mostly loud, mostly undergrad contingency (more evidence that my life is, in fact, the living, breathing script for the Harold and Maude sequel: Will and Juana/Maria).
I told them it was my last day. Juana gave me a big hug—and a piece of paper with her phone number because of course.
I walked to class. The right class. On a Wednesday. Not a Tuesday.
The security guard outside our building, who I talked books with every day before class, gave me a list of book recommendations.
I told him I was pumped to get to it—after a little break.