Getting Out of My Own Way

One reader had this response to the comments I made last week about the impact of aging—and the inevitable awareness of mortality that accompanies aging—on my work as a writer.

11_18reductionI know exactly what you mean about now being more fully into my work. In the past, juggling all my responsibilities was more of a priority than the actual work itself. Nothing like a few tragedies and setbacks to blow away the dross. I’m not really all that different inside than I was at 20 or 25—but I am more intensely “me” now. Sort of like making a reduction when cooking. What I have to draw upon internally feels more intensified and vital. And reaching across time is not a barrier—it all seems immediate and interconnected.  Steve

I agree with Steve entirely. I am more intensely “me,” and his analogy of making a reduction when cooking is perfect. That’s how I reached this state of “me-ness,” by simmering over a long flame. And yet in that intensity is a paradox, because I both write more deeply out of that intensified self these days and think less of myself while I’m doing it.

Many years ago I had dinner with Madeleine L’Engle and her husband in their Manhattan apartment. A friend, a professional actor, was at the dinner, too. (All of these people were a generation older than I.)  The friend said, “I enjoy my work so much more now that I can get out of my own way.”

I must have been in my early 40’s at the time, and I was intrigued. But I didn’t have a clue what she meant.

I know now.

When I sit down to work these days, I’m not thinking about what my readers or editors or agent or friends might want from me. I’m not even thinking about whether this particular project will be published. Instead I’m simply reaching into myself, into that place where language begins, where story resides, and pulling out whatever I find there.

It’s for others to judge the worth of what emerges, for others to decide whether my career is ascending or declining. What I know for certain is that this work satisfies me more deeply as year follows year, that as Steve said, it feels “more intensified, more vital.” And I ask no more.

What about the rest of you out there?

How has growing older changed what you bring to your work?

And what has changed about what your work gives you?

I’d love to include more of my readers in this discussion.