I’ve been thinking about it for a long time, noticing the elements of my day that bring me joy, that wake me into aliveness.
The waking isn’t automatic. I don’t open my eyes each morning to say, “Wow! Another day!” Rather, I wake into an ordinariness I treasure. (How aware I am of standing close to a time when I will, inevitably, look back on this very ordinariness as golden.)
I wake, get up, dress, meditate and exercise, then gather myself a lovely breakfast. A spinach-bacon omelet this morning with homemade guacamole tucked inside, grapefruit topped with a sprinkle of granola, and a chai latte.
Then I settle into my study, surrounded by books, by reminders of Vermont College of Fine Arts where I once taught, by photos of my family and beloved friends, and I dive into my computer.
That’s what it feels like most days, this thing that happens when I sit down to the computer, a deep dive.
And in that immersion I come most fully alive.
Sometimes the dive is into very cold water. Can I do it again? Is what I’m doing even worth the attempt? What in the hell is wrong with this manuscript?
What in the hell is wrong with me?
In the balance between sitting down to do again this thing I know for certain I can do and tiptoeing out over the abyss of something I’ve never tried before, I tend to favor the tiptoeing. Which sounds nice in the telling of it, but the living of it can be as eerily uncomfortable as the language of this analogy.
It is, however, the very tension that comes with stepping out over the abyss that keeps me knowing I am alive. I have encountered people who thrive on the adrenaline that comes with jumping out of planes. That kind of rush does nothing for me. When I went whitewater rafting to research a long-ago novel, I spent the entire three days imitating an oily puddle in the bottom of the raft.
But the challenge that comes with learning something new, struggling to put it into words! That is a whole different kind of adrenaline. And a whole different kind of aliveness. At least for me.
Recently, I have been trying to create a picture book that could be a worthy companion to my most recent The Stuff of Stars. I have been working on it for months.
My first attempt turned out to be too like the original.
My next couple of attempts bemused both my agent and my editor.
This attempt . . . well, this attempt . . .
A friend recently passed a quote on to me. It was Kim Stafford quoting a jazz musician. He said, “Creative people are comfortable with not knowing . . . yet.”
I would say that “comfortable” is too strong a word for me, much too strong. I’m not the least bit comfortable with not knowing where this attempt will land, but I’m committed to finding out.
I’m tiptoeing over this particular abyss because I read a book called Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli. I read the book three times, in fact, and still keep pulling it out and dipping into it again. Because I fell in love.
I fell so hard that I set out to write something to be shared between an adult and a very young child, words based on the mysterious excitement I draw from my first real encounter with quantum physics.
I know. I know. Of course, I don’t understand quantum physics. I don’t pretend that I do. I have no meaningful background in science at all. But the description of a universe that comes into being through interaction, in which reality is a happening and we are a happening too, in which we are part of everything and everything is part of us thrills me.
It’s that kind of challenge . . . and that kind of excitement that wakes me into aliveness each day.
And keeps me writing!