Monday, January 3, 2011

Making Old New Again

Over the last three years, I've made it a tradition to post a New Year's story.  I intended to post one this year--recently beginning a vignette with this goal in mind--only to discover that I didn't have the heart to complete it.

I've been feeling this a lot lately, regarding writing.  And, strangely enough, I'm not feeling it as a negative development.  I like writing; I mean to keep at it.  But I cannot stake my happiness on the fickle waves of inspiration and word count. Or on validation's thin ice.  I've recently been experiencing a more precious, if less exercised, peace of mind.  I'm knee-deep in novels again, and reading as much poetry as I can get my hands on, thanks to a Christmas bounty from my husband.  Motherhood feels more than ever like a gift to me, in spite of the daily trials.  I've even organized the house a bit.  And while it may be argued that contentment is the death knell of creativity, I prefer to think of it as a slow drip of sustenance into the overly heated pot.  Quiet minds need not be still; they run true and deep enough.

I wrote Plum Blossoms in Paris in a bit of a bubble.  I didn't share that novel with others for quite some time.  I understand that this insulation is anathema to most contemporary writers' processes.  And I can see how that give-and-take with readers and other writers secures their larger goals.  Yet, even while I've been an obliging beta-reader for many, a purity of vision is still, for me, an essential part of a writer's worth and self-expression.  It's what separates art from craft.  That time of my life was a sacred education.

I've been sheepish to argue this perspective in the past.  I recognize it sounds self-aggrandizing and preachy.  But I want to know when I put something out there that, in spite of its influences--and with all of its summits and fault lines--it's still mine at the end of the day. That's my true goal now, in lieu of more ambitious, commercial aims. And that old bubble feels worth slipping into again.  For all that I've gained since Murmurs' launch in 2007, I've lost some of those sweet and honest pleasures.  I don't write as much for the characters anymore; I write with the concurrent hope of eliciting a reaction.  I'm sure that this is normal--we all like to be petted and praised.  But I can't help but wonder where it leads.  Or maybe I know too well.

My little book's publication was a thrill, if also a disappointment, as most realized dreams turn out to be.  I found myself caring too much what people thought of it...or what they thought of me.  I experienced the discomfiting contradiction of not wanting people to read what I'd worked so hard to put out--going so far as to apologize for its relative immaturity--and yet feeling hurt when many who mattered to me chose not to read the book.  I checked my Amazon sales rank with the frequency of a lab rat pushing for its pellet.  I promoted myself, with the helpful generosity of so many of you, like a dutiful, if doubting, author.  Meanwhile, my ego felt a kid run amok, constantly hunting for the next scrap of validation, the next great, or small, distraction.

Which brings me to Facebook and Twitter.  Man, those places can be easy and fun.  Even when not actively participating, the passive voyeurism is delicious.  I have frittered away countless hours checking people's tweets and status updates.  I've free-stroked to the flow of banter, drama and good cheer.  Not being an extravert, social media feels like a safe harbor for connecting with people, while still maintaining that desired distance.  But I also firmly believe that--for me again--these places can dilute my focus on work and family, priming that age-old restlessness for instant gratification and attention.  Did someone re-tweet my little poem?  Was that last comment clever enough?  Embarrassing to admit--well, sure--but true.  If I had a greater talent for self-discipline and moderation, I'm sure it would be a different story.  As it is, I don't want to have something cute my kid says immediately triggering the thought: is this Facebook-worthy?

I don't know.  Maybe the greatest act of narcissism is to take yourself too seriously.  To endlessly dissect and confess these motivations and actions, in the belief that there's some future reward for self-awareness, regret, and its more mature sister: growth.  I'm ridiculously lucky to be able to wrestle over such airy matters.  And the truth is, I'm far from feeling like I have it all figured out.  These qualms have been with me for some time, but they are mine alone.  I would not presume to know which fuels propel others' dreams and happinesses.  So many of you are brilliant and funny and good.  If I had my way, you'd all be published or feted, the world taking proper note of your talent, vision and work.  I've smiled at your skill and I've prized your friendships.  I'm glad you're out there.

So. The practical outcome of all this rambling is that I'm detaching myself from the computer in some meaningful ways.  I'm deactivating my Facebook account (not deleting it; let's not get crazy here), ignoring Twitter and Google Reader, and putting the much-neglected blog on indefinite hiatus.  I know--big whoop, right?  This kind of proclamation has become a common, and often comically short-lived, refrain as people struggle to find the right balance between an internet life and, you know, that other one.  Recording it here is really for my benefit.  It's the permission slip for a solitary field trip.  And it's the click of the door behind me, so that I might really hear and mind it.  

In spite of my New Year's tradition, I've never held much stock in making resolutions.  To me, the start of a new year feels like an artificial line in the sand.  Change and evolution happen through an accident of steps and missteps, and rarely with any single, mythic leap of faith.  But it is the new year.  And right now, I have a lot of faith.  In my family, in my deep gratitude for our good fortune, and in the patience to pursue happiness in a sustainable way I might also be proud of.

Happy New Year.  I hope 2011 is just what you make of it.


Richard Levangie said...

Best wishes, Sarah. Shall I tell you about one fan who will miss you a great deal?

Aniket said...

I came here looking for the new "New". They've been among my favourites along with many, many others. I've rambled enough on multiple platforms as to how much Murmurs means to me. I've been on an indefinite hiatus with MoD, but I'd never say its dead. We'll be out here and we'll keep looking for that next post when you decide to come back. I've a lot of reading, writing and work in that other life to keep me busy for a while, but I'll miss you 'smart comments' over bloggy-land and facebook. Take care, friend, and enjoy your time with family. As long as you're not moving away from gmail, I'll survive. :) Much love.

Catvibe said...

Wrapping you and your family up in my love Sarah my dear friend.I had to go on Twitter to discover this because when I went to find you on Facebook, you were no more! I'm here when you want and need. ♡

Stephen Parrish said...

I know--big whoop, right?

Yes, it is a big whoop. To me, anyway. It was this blog that made me fall in love with poetry again. It was you who introduced me to all the right poets. I hope, if you continue writing poetry, that you continue posting it here.

Plum Blossoms is a beautifully written novel. If you can write that, you can write anything. In an ideal world, a work of art wouldn't be judged by how many copies it sells, rather by how deeply it affects the people who buy it, however few they may be.

the walking man said...

Do you know what the last words of Siddharta were?

He looked at all them who chose to be his disciples and adherents and said,

"Find your own path" then he died.

Sounds about right to me.

Have a good journey.

Charles Gramlich said...

Ultimately one has to decide how much is for you and how much for others, and the "you" has to count the most. Sometimes I wonder why I keep at it, and in truth I don't work as hard at it as I once did. But sometimes it's all just the right thing to ease my needs. Hope things go well for you and maybe clear up a bit.

Sarah Hina said...

Thanks and hugs to all of you. I love the friends I've made here.

Karen said...

I applaud you, Sarah. I think you have your head on straight. Just don't sell yourself short. You're a great writer. Hugs!

Margaret said...

You'll be greatly missed Sarah but I understand you competely.

Happy 2011!! Hugs.

Jennifer said...

Is it okay to be happy for you and sad for me at the same time??

I have LOVED this blog, dearly. I know I've tried to explain how your writing feels to me, how it dances across the skin so seemingly effortlessly, but then so damn hauntingly. It's an extra treat the the writer is such an amazing person. Not all are, you know. ;)

You sound mature beyond your years in this post, Sarah, but I've always known that you had your head screwed on right. It's in the quiet dignity with which you carry yourself and the generosity of spirit with which you approach others.

I re-read Plum Blossoms over xmas--I haven't been on google reader in weeks as my family was visiting, which is why I am late to this--but it still made me cry at the end.

You take good care and I hope you'll keep in touch.


raine said...

I didn't come here for the New Year, nor am I a regular blog visitor.
But I periodically check the sites of those with talent I've admired to see how they're faring.
While I hope you'll return, I'd say you're faring well, Sarah, and I don't worry for you.

Michael said...

Wow, Sarah, I just happened upon your blog for the first time, and in reading this, your latest post, I was enormously impressed by your intelligence, wisdom, self-awareness, and voice. Such quality in a blog entry! As a fellow INFP, your thoughts, insights, and writing style resonated with me deeply.

I hope--for the selfish interests of people like me--that this is for you, in matters pertaining to this blog, only a fallow time before your next prolific blossomming. From what I've seen so far, you're a remarkable writer.

Still, you're probably a very good mother and wife, too, and there's much to be said for devoting oneself to domestic and primal functions, to the ones closest to one's heart...even to the regeneration of greater solitude.

May you find the right balance and authentic rhythm for your life. But know that if you should decide to come outside again to play, many--I among them--will break out in smiles of welcome.

Margaret said...

Sarah, it's wonderful to see you back and with such a lovely post.
Nature certainly teaches us a whole lot more than books ever can.

Welcome Back!!