Wallace Stevens used to wake up at six a.m. and read for two hours before departing for work on foot. He’d walk the two miles between his home and workplace, the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company. On the way to work, he would often compose poems. I don’t see Stevens stopping every five minutes to sit at a bench and write furiously in his notebook. I see him strolling and letting the ideas roll through his imagination.
Maybe Stevens was on to something. Perhaps, we sometimes serve our subjects best by going for a walk and leaving the notebook at home.
I don’t believe in writer’s block. I do believe that writers lack patience. Putting our creative egos in the fulcrum our prayers can be humbling and challenging. Yet, if by denying ourselves the “rush” of our next project, we might stop confining our imagination within the poem, painting, or song we always produce. And this is where we can break new ground.
This might seem like disengagement. It’s not. Most of us are keenly aware that obligations require us to work at our version of the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company. If you don’t have time to write because you are busy with work, family, or other such responsibilities, don’t fall to pieces and question your mettle.
Stevens didn’t see himself just as a poet. In fact, he didn’t really want people in Hartford to know he was a poet at all.
We have to recognize that such leisurely meditations are the catalyst of new works. You can’t just turn on the entire operation, the whole factory of your poetic mind and being, with one flip of the switch. You’ve got to find some perfect storm of words, experience, and motivation just right. To do this, all artists must ask, “Where am I going to go for my next poem, story, or painting?”
The distance of the next project doesn’t require us to travel across the world, though. A simple shift of our normal routine might awaken a glimpse of all that is possible each and every day. It could be doing something slightly off your regular schedule.
As a college student working a summer job at a restaurant, I used to cling so closely the idea of myself as a writer. I would carry expensive pens and notebooks and I even had a satchel. My “tools” often just reminded me that I did not have time to write (while busy making money to pay for books, etc.) and that would just start the whole cycle of doubt and anxiousness over my future profession.
On one particular day, I broke from my schedule and traveled light. No “artist” gear. I took a walk. I used to work near a park where Thomas Edison would vacation in the summer. I began to take lunch breaks without the fear of having to produce something. I would just camp out under a tree and eat my sandwich and drink a Coke. Staring out into the lake, I wondered if the idea for electricity came to Edison many times and if many times he let it go into the twilight of the trees. If, while pouring tea in a glass and listening to the ice clank against his glass, he just knew what he could and would do.
Whenever I am overwhelmed by lack of production as a writer, I think about my version of Tom Edison. I see him touching his wife’s hair, sitting in a wicker chair, reclining back as the bats emerged near dusk. I think about how I want to live fully as a husband and father before I think of myself as a writer. I want to enjoy the tea. I want to enjoy the breeze and trust the quiet confidence the Lord instills in me to do the work I love.