July 22, 2007

Life is Busy, Art is Short. Focus on the Art.

Ὁ βίος βραχύς, ἡ δὲ τέχνη μακρή, ὁ δὲ καιρὸς ὀξὺς, ἡ δὲ πεῖρα σφαλερὴ, ἡ δὲ κρίσις χαλεπή.

Life is short, [the] art long, opportunity fleeting, experiment treacherous, judgment difficult. - Hippocrates


Last week was difficult -- trying hard to focus and shut out the world long enough to work. I have gotten good at ignoring the world around me {EDIT: that's an outright lie, incidentally, but we post what makes us look good. Maybe I can say I have gotten *better* because I resigned from a Committee... right before we found out we were leaving the country. Progress. Of a sort.}, but now that my time here among family and friends is dwindling, I've begun feeling guilty about shutting people out.

Many, many people never really have understood that writing requires time to stare out the window and doodle on sticky notes before lucidity sifts through the morning haze or inspiration suddenly strikes, and so they have started to push a bit, chiding, "well, you don't have to do that all day," and suggesting archly that I pop over and bring them the contents of my cupboard ("well, what are you guys planning to do with your garden goodies?") or meet them somewhere for coffee. As much as I love everyone {EDIT: HAH. Again. Isn't this girl nice? Is she getting on your nerves yet?}, I am beginning to think that I should commit this poem to memory, and begin reciting it under my breath at opportune moments.

"The Art of Disappearing" by Naomi Shihab Nye from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems. © The Eighth Mountain Press.

The Art of Disappearing


When they say Don't I know you?

say no.


When they invite you to the party

remember what parties are like

before answering.

Someone telling you in a loud voice

they once wrote a poem.

Greasy sausage balls on a paper plate.

Then reply.

If they say We should get together

say why?


It's not that you don't love them anymore.

You're trying to remember something

too important to forget.

Trees. The monastery bell at twilight.

Tell them you have a new project.

It will never be finished.



When someone recognizes you in a grocery store

nod briefly and become a cabbage.

When someone you haven't seen in ten years

appears at the door,

don't start singing him all your new songs.

You will never catch up.


Walk around feeling like a leaf.

Know you could tumble any second.

Then decide what to do with your time.



Hippocrates meant that the art of medicine is long -- and broad and deep and full of questions which he in his short life could not hope to touch. I think writers -- even, and perhaps especially young adult writers -- need to take ourselves and our art and our perspectives just as seriously. Unplug the phone. Set aside time from spouses or students or dependents, and give yourself time to dig into that which you dream - whatever it may be. It's not harsh to make time for you.

{EDIT: These are the bits I edited out last night; I a.) begged Himself to phone the couple back, twice, and say "forget it, we're on," - fortunately they had gone out, and he refused to call their cellphones, b.) woke early this morning prepared to mail them an apology card - no email, thanks, this is etiquette, and I'd blown it, c.) apologized all day yesterday for going upstairs and refusing to put on company clothes for the person who dropped in ("well, we're just in the area") to introduce their perhaps future spouse, c.) felt miserable and mean and petty and small for my soul's objections, that no one would like me or think I was nice, that the Beeyatch Patrol was going to come for me because I was deliberately flaunting the Nice Girl Law that says you MUST do what everyone wants or be thought that b-word, that I was digging my own grave and would be miserable and alone (despite the fact that I am an introvert with a public persona, and a writer, and alone time for me is usually... good)

But then. I found out that Robin has the same disease, except her Inner Child is a lot more mature than mine - it still listens to the Older Wiser Child. Mine needs a time out. Bless you, Robin, for articulating this, and doubly bless you, Jules, for breaking your own blogation/vacation to point our Robin's thoughts to me. It's a lifesaving kind of daisy chain, and today we both may keep our heads a little higher above the water and actually get something done.}


Ezine'Bread & Circus' has a few words on YA authors - mainly, that it's time to just leave them alone... hopefully to write.

Another week already. Be well.

7 comments:

jules said...

I LOVE LOVE that Nye poem!

jules said...

By the way, you and Robin Brande are thinking alike today (http://www.robinbrande.com/writing/diagnosis-guilt). I just sent her this post in a wild cross-blog-pollination kind of way.

TadMack said...

I am really discovering how much I love Nye's poetry -- this one is such a gift. And so are you, dear, truly, THANKS for cross-blogination-ing Robin and me. I *needed* someone else to be thinking this. Seriously.

Robin Brande said...

Isn't it crazy that we're both having the exact same problem at the same time? I think that means something. Maybe we're supposed to solve this issue for everyone once and for all, and then lead our people out of the wilderness.

You take the horse, I'll go on foot. Let's move it, people! Time to leave the writer's guilt behind.

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

Thank you for this poem. There is one piece of advice I can't take though: the one about singing all the new songs. I have to sing the new songs! Hey, you gotta sing when the spirit says sing...:)

HipWriterMama said...

Great post! Wishing you the best as you concentrate on yourself and your work.

DaviMack said...

And as you squeeze in breakfast - at a 45 minute drive from your house - with the wife of a college professor ... whom you haven't seen for years ... because that professor died years ago.