Monday, October 15, 2007

Dewey's Read-a-Thon: I'm In




I debated for a long time whether to commit to this or not. When I first learned about it a month ago, I was instantly intrigued, but when I realized that it was scheduled for the Saturday right after the second round of 70 Days of Sweat and only ten days before NaNoWriMo, I backed off, thinking that I couldn't risk loosing ground that early in the challenge or getting distracted. But I couldn't get it out of my mind. The concept of spending a whole 24 hours reading! It is something I used to do frequently mostly because staying awake for 24, or 36, or 48 hours was also a regular habit. My personal record for being awake was 75 hours but I wasn't doing much of anything constructive in the last 24 hours.

Anyway. Back on topic. I have been doing a lot of reevaluating of my commitments to the writing challenges, 70 Days and NaNoWriMo and the ways in which I managed my time when participating in the past. I have a tendency to get hyper-focused on whatever I'm doing and have great difficulty switching to another project or topic or state of being. By state of being I mean things like: from dry to wet; from indoors to outdoors; from active to inactive; from solitude to social; from awake to asleep. And to each of those add visa-versa. Difficult is not a strong enough word. The transitions are painful, like a psychic tooth-pulling.

I'm sure my insomnia and anxiety disorder are connected but not sure whether they are the cause or the result of the difficulties in transitioning. I'm also sure that many of the behaviors that result are impairing my health in many subtle and not so subtle ways. It definitely impairs my quality of life. And, although this hyper-focusing ability has occasionally resulted in a brilliant breakthrough in a creative project it is always more likely to result in a burnout and/or illness that forces me to stop and then, of course, it is anybodies guess as to when or if I ever return to the project.

I did end up ill for three weeks during the first round of 70 Days and spent over two weeks too exhausted to sit up for more than minutes at a time. I'm still not back to where I was in mid July and early August. This shook me up because I had just rediscovered my passion for my Fruits of the Spirit story world and was panicked that there would be another months long or years long hiatus.

Anyone who followed last weeks posts beginning with last Sunday night's Monday Poetry Train witnessed an example of this hyper-focusing in action. I set out to find an image online to illustrate my poem's primary metaphor, blood. Twelve hours later, after encountering several thousand images depicting the myriad ways in which the blood metaphor is expressed in our culture, I was finally able to choose one to feature at the top of the post and half a dozen more to link to each occurrence of the word blood in the poem. The following night I decided to try the same search on YouTube and after fifteen hours had collected more than enough for a Thursday Thirteen list.

I shudder to think what might have happened if the news of the local libraries immanent re-opening had not broken through on Tuesday morning.

All of this was on my mind this past week along with the frustration incurred during the last round of 70 Days by my denying myself permission for fiction reading for days on end and even then limiting it to YA so as not to risk influencing my own voice and style. I apparently have an ear for language like musicians have an ear for music and can be an excellent mimic without consciously realizing it. A professor reading one of my rough drafts when I was in college pointed out that my prose style changed dramatically several times within the twenty pages or so. After he pointed it out, I was able to match each distinctive section with the novel I'd been reading the day I was writing it.

From that point on (late eighties) I began to put strict limits on what I allowed myself to read on the days I was writing. This has repercussions that I like even less than rough-drafts that switch willy-nilly between the prose styles of Joan Didion, John Barth and Joyce Carol Oates. It forces me to choose between my passions for writing stories and reading the authors that inspire me the most. Or at least my solution has that result. Since reading is one of the ways I feed my muse, this self-imposed restriction has probably had unknowable blowback on my development as a writer and storyteller.

I suddenly realized that if I wanted to maintain the daily discipline of engaging with my own story worlds I simply must find a way to fit the reading of the best prose and stories available into the regimen. With the long awaited library opening coming up next week, I simply can't imagine waiting until January 15 to go after some of the novels I've been hankering for for over six months already. So I'm going to give myself permission to read whatever I'm drawn too along with the permission to write rough drafts of patchwork prose. I may discover that is not inevitable. But even if it is, I need to learn to trust myself to be able to fix it on rewrites; to identify the needful voice and style for the story and make it consistent throughout.

So I am going to participate in Dewey's Read-a-Thon this Saturday and I'm going to make sure that every week from now on contains at least one large block (at least 4 hrs) of time devoted to reading the best quality stories and every day at least 30 minutes.

3 tell me a story:

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