The Vagaries of Writing

I have been procrastinating. It is a well-known, but little understood phenomenon of the writing process.

Every writer procrastinates differently. My method is cleaning and de-cluttering my work space, and finishing up little tasks that distract me. Having a clear, open space, and no little worries helps to clear my mind, and then the ideas that are spinning around my head in an inchoate mess suddenly coalesce into plot lines and sometimes into complete scenes. I know this process, but it is very hard to accept that I need to do it when I feel a deadline looming, and time slipping away from me.

The other night I was driving home from some evening event and suddenly an entire sequence for the new book entered my mind, and I couldn’t get my coat off fast enough to write it all down. It is an odd sequence–a departure from my usual style–and after a few days of musing over it I put it down. It was risky, and it didn’t fit the book. Maybe another book.

Then everything stopped. I couldn’t write much. I couldn’t catch the wind that sails me through my writing. I sat at my desk, restlessly, unproductively, staring out the window, looking at YouTube videos, researching mammals and explosives (not together), and periodically going downstairs to see if I could alleviate my boredom by eating.  Spring snowFortunately, knowing myself, I have purged my kitchen of these kinds of foods, and even though I am a novelist, drinking in the middle of the day does not normally appeal to me. I consumed a lot of tea, and far too much coffee.

So, finally, I gave up. I stopped worrying about it and just got on with other tasks. I cleaned out a closet in the kitchen. I rearranged my office, and made plans for new bookcases. I dusted under beds. I threw a small dinner party, and took the dogs for walks.

This morning I began my day pre-dawn standing barefoot on the patio, loudly and frantically calling my dogs in–no doubt to the amusement of my neighbors who were recovering from their New Year’s Eve revelries–while a fairly large contingent of coyotes barked and yipped and howled somewhere very nearby.

Dogs safe, I sat drinking coffee and watching the turkeys begin their new year from their treetop berths, their big bulbous shapes silhouetted against the pink and orange sky.

All at once, the spinning stopped, and the words began again in my head. My refusal to accept the strange sequence as part of the novel had shut me down. I suddenly knew that it did belong, and that it had to be the beginning of the book. And then everything began to fall in place in my mind, like the tumblers in a lock falling into place.

There it is. Not all of it. But the main points of it.

Time to write.

 

Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics

I was honored to be able to introduce Dr. Charles Krauthammer at the Milwaukee Public Library in 2014. I feel fortunate to have met him on several occasions, and found him to be soft-spoken and kind, and best of all, a dog lover. The world is a better place with him in it. He and his family are in my prayers today.

In this age of tweeted selfies, twerking and Miley Cyrus, Charles Krauthammer is that rare and essential thing: a public intellectual.

He is, by most estimates, the nation’s leading conservative commentator, noted for his insight, his wit, and his clarity of mind.

An alumnus of McGill, Balliol, and Harvard, trained as a doctor, along the way he re-invented himself as a writer. He has described his life story as improbable and characterized by serendipity and sheer blind luck.

He is the originator of the phrase “The Reagan Doctrine”, and he has been a keen observer of, and indeed, a profound influence on American foreign policy for over three decades.

He is distinguished by being, in his own words, “the only entity on earth, other than rogue states, that has received an apology from the White House.”

And he is a fierce opponent of the errant comma.

His most recent book, Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics, is a collection of his columns. It is a wide-ranging demonstration of the breadth of his interests and the fluency of his thinking, all built on the fundamental premise that politics is just a means to an end; That it exists only to make possible the things that matter: friendship, love, art, philosophy, baseball, science, chess, nature.  Politics, for all its banality, is the essential platform for these real things. And if politics goes wrong, all these things—the things that matter—are destroyed.

In reading Dr. Krauthammer’s book you will learn—if you hadn’t already known it—that he is a man of deep feeling. The ringing simplicity of his eulogies to his brother, his mentor, his friend, the subtlety of his humor, and his relish for the ridiculous make his writings both companionable and engrossing.

And if the underlying compassion of his essays is not evidence enough of his character, Dr. Krauthammer is a dog lover. At the passing of his son’s black lab, Chester, he wrote:

Some will protest that in a world with so much human suffering, it is something between eccentric and obscene to mourn a dog. I think not. After all, it is perfectly normal, indeed deeply human to be moved when nature presents us with a vision of great beauty.

Should we not be moved when it produces a vision—a creature—of the purest sweetness?

And should we here tonight not be privileged to encounter a man of such depth and fundamental humanity?

March 6, 2014

Centennial Hall

Milwaukee, Wisconsin