On Becoming A Writer Again

On becoming a writer again

-simone spilka

 
 

In January, I rise from bed at 7:45 A.M. 7:45 is earlier than I would yank myself away from the duvet in hotter months, say June or July. I tend to the tedious and necessary things first: I brush my teeth, wash my face, stretch my body, quiet my mind. I take the water that I have chilled in the fridge and drink it down in two or three large gulps. I refill it and carry the fresh water back to my bedroom, to my desk, which is deliberatively barren save for the literary journals that rest next to my left elbow, a note that reads ‘decision’ and another that says ‘trust your instinct,’ and a pen that fits most particularly in the curve of my hand. I sit down and I light a candle. And then I write.

 

I should preface that I am not a particularly capable nor encapsulating writer, though my boss and my parents might argue otherwise. But for whatever reason, the desire to write -- to be known as ‘a writer’ -- consumes me. Of everything that I am: a traveler, a meditator, a bike rider, a dinner host, an ‘innovation expert,’ a bookclub member, I am always a writer first. You, too, probably have something that makes you feel the most alive. If it is language, cooking, art or music, I envy you. If you hold a day job and manage to protect your time to develop your passion -- this thing that is so deeply a part of you -- I am confident there are many people, in many fields, in every country around the world, who envy you, too.

 

I find a challenge in becoming employable is that our ability to protect windows of time to recharge is inherently lost. We exchange purposeful hours for walking aimlessly to empty, wander and refill with new ideas for health insurance and benefits. To prove our worth, we expel brainpower into absorbing the headlines on a screen or requests from a paying client. And then we pour our ingenious ideas into the day of work as a means of feeling a sense of purpose. The tension is that feeling invigorated and uplifted by our work is critical to the creative self while feeling we have given up a part of ourselves in exchange is not.

 

In January, I decided to reclaim what I had given up on without even noticing, the core of my identity that got swept up by simply living. I decided to become a writer again. Not a copywriter nor an interviewer nor a technical writer, but a storytelling type-of-writer. The descriptive, curious, proactive, all-consuming writer. I would meditate on my thoughts overnight before I acted on them like we used to do before the Internet took over. (Remember those days When media slept and we could mull over ideas?) I would read all of the articles that fascinated me in print. I would look up words I didn’t know and use them in sentences. I would make observations outside of the deliverables of a SOW or break deadlines because I could. Mostly, I would soak in the movement happening around me, knowing that it would actualize in the dialogue of a story later.

I decided to reclaim what I had given up on without even noticing, the core of my identity that got swept  up by simply living.

To begin this experiment, I wake up and write the first the thing that comes to mind. Then I keep at it for 31 more days. One morning it is about the plutonic French companion who entered into my life six years ago and left it four after that, and another it is about learning how to navigate New York City on two wheels. I make feeble attempts at metaphors, knowing that the candid thoughts are locked away for my own safe keeping; no Editor’s watchful eye will ever reach these pages. I test out words I’ve never used before and steal prose from authors like Murakami and Didion. Sometimes I write in lists, but often I craft long, melodramatic sentences by hand so that it feels more tangible, so that I have something to leave behind that’s not traceable on the World Wide Web. I write and write until I am empty, or until my alarm rings its incessant ring: go to work. Like most other creative professionals, without the alarm, and without the bills, I would stay at my desk all day and see where my inspiration takes me. But always, there is the alarm that sounds and the bills that flood in, so I get myself dressed and I walked two blocks West to the subway.

 

I depart from the Bedford L train, chaos underground. Often, I can’t find my wallet buried in my purse straight away. I mumble fuck as the black dashboard flashes “Manhattan: 2 minutes” until I find my metro card and slide underground. This is the most unpleasant part of my day because among the sea of victims to the daily grind, all creative thoughts escape me. The MTA man, hired to protect busy humans rushing to work from other busy humans doing the same, wears a large and infectious smile. He compliments my hat, or my jacket, or my shoes. I think he loves his job because it gives him a place to talk to women he wouldn’t meet in ordinary circumstances. He channels his own creativity through kind gestures, and serves as a gentle reminder that everything is going to be OK.

 

I take one of three routes to the office, but prefer to plow down 1st Avenue with its many curiosities that are grimier and more aggressive than its neighbors. When I reach work on Bond Street, I do not attempt to blend these two intentions (developing my passion and developing my professional self) in one environment; I find it to be unhealthy and overwhelming. Rather, I send my emails and I skim the news and I do my research and I work with my head down. Everyday I fear I am going to absorb so much information that I will drain myself of the extraneous creativity I require in the evening. I fear this because it happens frequently; we are all susceptible in this hyper-stimulated world.

 

At approximately 3:30pm, I slide 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 flights down the elevator. I move one block East, four short New York blocks North and half a block West, past the taco shop, the UPS store, the new Juice Press, David Bowie’s apartment and subsequent flowers, the tourists and every single other person in Soho. The people matter less than the destination, which is McNally Jackson, one of the city’s homiest bookstores. I admire their ‘On Writing’ collection, although I know nothing new has been added since standing in the same place the day before, and the one before that. I don’t particularly like their selection for what I’m looking for, but it’s the only bookstore I can reach by foot on my lunch break. I sit at my stool in the back corner and devour words. Book lovers browse the Classic American literature titles while I wonder why it is so damn busy on a Tuesday at 3:45pm, or a Wednesday or a Thursday. Much like any place in the afternoon, McNally Jackson leaves the observer curious what all of New York does during the work day. Twenty minutes later, I carry myself forward, back to the office.

 

The end of the day leaves emails unanswered and newsletters unread, haunting me from behind the screen, across devices. But still, I power down and travel to the comforts of home. I let busy thoughts sink out of me by breathing out loud, stretching and cooking, in that order. My housemates arrive home; they are a journalist and copywriter respectively. We do everything but talk about media. They humor themselves with television and I fall into a book. I find reading in the evenings to be a cathartic solution to mental block: it allows us to dream all of the waking thoughts we struggled to formulate. Reading opens gaping holes for us to react, to imagine, to remember and to feel whole again.

 

I will say the creative exercise made for the most unsocial and tumultuous of days. Who knew that getting in touch with yourself could be so lonely, at home with only your thoughts and a notebook. I hadn’t recognized how much I traded in to dedicate myself to prose: my mornings, of course, but also my evenings, my exercise habits, my relationships and my other identities. Am I a better writer because of it? That’s questionable. But deep down I know that’s not what I set out to achieve. I was searching for a reminder that writing is me, and I am my writing. And that’s a good enough reason to pull back the covers at 7:45 a.m. and get out of bed.