Beyond FUNDAMENTALS: Serendipity and Self-Reliance
Lisa Kenney has been immersed in Proust this winter; I opened a December 2007 issue of The New Yorker last night (an issue I'd saved for a Raymond Carver piece I still haven't read) to see this terrific David Sipress cartoon. Enjoy, Lisa!
The middle-school Junior Great Books group I help lead discussed Emerson's Self-Reliance essay earlier this week; my review of this challenging but ultimately rewarding piece revealed nuggets I need to hear over and over again, especially now as I'm finally reworking novel #2, the first draft of which I finished three years ago this spring.
"We but half express ourselves," Emerson wrote nearly 170 years ago as he struggled with various mighty misgivings of his own, "and are ashamed of that divine idea which each of us represents." What novelist hasn't been ashamed at some point to assume he or she's worthy of such a noble task as writing a novel? What novelist hasn't arrived at a point in at least one work-in-progress at which he or she questions the worthiness of the project and the sanity of pursuing it?
As a novelist who's also a part-time freelancer and stay-at-home mom whose daily tasks in between computer work include doing laundry and cleaning house, shuttling kids all over town, figuring out what the heck to have for dinner, and cleaning house some more, this Emerson quote also struck home: "Too often 'duty' hides a lack of responsibility in taking up a unique path. We can push aside a calling for some years, choosing obvious sources of money or satisfaction, or a more comfortable situation, but it will eventually make its claims." So my long list of daily duties is nothing more than a list of excuses. I've always known that, but lately I've become more anxious and eager than usual to lock myself into my writing room (which I've just (finally) cleaned out and organized) and get to work. Yet, you might argue, I'm writing this blog post. I reason that's because I know I won't have an extended chunk of time to myself until later this weekend; so I'll chalk this post writing up to a bit of further organizing as I try to sort through what I learned and want to cherish from Emerson's essay, and what in fact I need to do now that serendipity has led me to a point of determined angst regarding my unfinished book.
"The voyage of the best ship is a zigzag of a hundred tacks. See the line from a sufficient distance, and it straightens itself to the average tendency. Your genuine action will explain itslef, and will explain your other genuine actions." I'd hate to see the line of my second novel's voyage circle itself into oblivion, ultimately sinking due to my own lack of self-reliance. So I'll finish this post (a shout out to let friends know what I'm up to? An SOS call from the middle of a stormy ocean that hopefully will calm to a navigable course...once I get to work?), convince myself the laundry and housecleaning can wait, ask the husband to bring home dinner, and dive in. Look for updates on a (fingers crossed) monthly basis...and feel free to tell me to get the heck back on track whenever I stray off course. I'm pretty sure Emerson would agree it's okay for even the most self-reliant among us to ask for a little help along the way.
Photo credit: Photographer extraordinaire Madelyn Mulvaney of Vancouver at Courage My Love. Just finding this piece of art (and ordering a copy for my writing room!) was a serendipitous journey of its own.