I am defining “place” loosely. The coordinates are invisible to everyone but me, a place where the compass needle revolves in tentative circles because an internal North is harder to find. Right now, I’m situated in a world where I filter everything through the successes and failures of my daily task lists for both BACKWORDS Press and my other full-time gig. This isn’t a complaint. This is just what’s happening.
I love what I’m doing. I’m so lucky to be working with two friends on bringing the dream that was BACKWORDS from concept to reality, and likewise to be working at an organization whose mission (and mine) is to build community through writing. But turning your dreams into reality is hard fucking work. And when your dreams are reality, it’s still hard fucking work. You’re plugged-in all the time. My tuning fork is pointing toward BACKWORDS and my job at all hours of the day.
Doing what you love isn’t for the weak-hearted or undisciplined. It’s a lot of working even when you’re tired. And what’s the alternative? Not doing it? Working at a shitty job just for the paycheck? Keeping your hobbies on the sidelines? Not living a fully-engaged life? That feels (and has felt) boring to me. And to me, the state of boredom is inextricably linked to death. This sort of focus takes sacrifice, and sometimes the sacrifice is one’s own internal space. I’m afraid the writer-me has currently been arm-wrestled to the ground by the current-me who is only concerned with thinking in percentages and checking off tick-boxes.
In Mary Ruefle’s Madness, Rack, and Honey she quotes the poet, John Ashbery, in an interview with Poetry Miscellany: “I waste a lot of time. That’s part of [the creative process]…The problem is you can’t really use this wasted time. You have to have it wasted. Poetry disequips you for the requirements of life. You can’t use your time.” Then Ruefle asserts, “In other words, wasted time cannot be filled, or changed into another habit; it is a necessary void of fomentation.”
For me to write, there has to be time for daydreaming. Awe needs the possibility of the horizon and a clockless day. Our patterning brains need room to make connections between things that are otherwise missed because we’re so preoccupied with our schedules and To Do lists.** I’ve been feeling that desperate pull, the want of sinking into the deep end of a cool and buoyant body of water, so I can float on my back and make shapes out of the clouds, then I’d towel off to come back to write about the color blue and a brown house with dying Asian pear trees in the back, where a little girl played animal tag with her cousins.
Maybe this post is about a yearning for that place and the space to do so. It feels like a soft scratching, sounds of intermittent, barely-audible morse code, that tells me I want to go there now— but, there’s still a lot of work to be done—dreams don’t just happen, and those boxes aren’t going to get checked off by themselves.
Jenny M. Chu
**The day after this post was published, I received an article in my inbox from PsyBlog about how our executive control-centers inhibit our creative thinking. Feel free to read the short article "The Creative Secret That Most People Don't Know" to help contextualize the reflection above.