I've been singing Over the Rhine and driving all around downtown Coventry this morning, collecting passport photos and money orders and standing in the sluggish line (twice) in the bleak corrals of the Coventry Postal Service. Thinking helplessly, beneath all my motion, that I have no ambition, and am doing miserably at finishing my summer credits, stopped up in my writing as well as in my spirit, the remaining days pressing in miserably, suffocating me.
A year ago I was dragging my heels, pulled closer and closer to a return to school. Today I am counting the days and the pages to the completion of my project and my true release from academic demands. But finishing credits won't release me from the burden to become. And I think that is what weighs on me now. Who am I becoming? I am so disillusioned about who that is supposed to be. I remember a conversation last fall with Dr. Mitchell.
"You do realize, he asked, that the life of a writer is hard and often sad?" I nodded.
Is it worth being a writer only to posses the moment of vision, the sharp instant in which your potential creation hangs in the air before your eyes, rotating in perfect completion? Is the vision a curse or a gift? Glimpses of what ought to be, do they discourage or encourage me? Is the vision my torment or my hope?"Is it worth it?" is the wrong question. If you have the vision it will burn you until you release it.
This week I set up study in the library basement at a round table that I scavenged from the storage room and placed behind a broad chimney pillar. It is quiet underground, pulled back from the street, beneath humming fluorescent lights and blowing air conditioning ducts. I sit between the yellow walls and green-painted shelves, surrounded by tables covered in trays of discarded romance novels and the uneven bindings of donated hardcovers. I feel like a secret down here, because the door at the top of the stairs is locked and sometimes they forget about me. I am hidden like the tiny shelf of twenty-five cent paperbacks in the literature section, forgotten in a basement. The windows are above my head and ankle high on the sidewalk, they blink dustily out into the daylight between the overgrown shrubbery.
I feel almost guilty when people do come down, because no one can see me immediately. I shout out my presence the instant the door opens. But most of the time they lock up the library while I am still downstairs, I emerge into the blue light of a closed library.
I complain about these credits, but they are purchasing me one last summer of freedom. They justify a six-hour workweek, teaching swimming lessons at a private pool and riding jetskis afterwards. They're the reason I can take off for the ocean late at night, to sit on the rocks with my friends, sharing bottles of wine and conversation. The writing can be forced out in library basements or drawn out reflectively as I sit in tea shops and coffee bars. After I have written myself bleary-eyed, I can stay up in Providence for rooftop dinners and spontaneous dancing.And the people here are wonderful. Come up and meet them.
The journals of my favorite authors, Plath and Camus and Hemingway, all said that it is best to write out of the midst of life. It is best when you are exerted on every front, watching real people live and living yourself, spending time outside watching both the night and the sunrise. I think I have that this summer, more than any other time in my life.
I am excited, and a little bit afraid, that I know there is more to pray for...