To kick off the month of March – when Spring Break hits us hard here at the beach and we all get a touch of work-aholism – poet S.P. Johnson has been so kind as to write another missive on his Writing Process while I am buried in inventory and purchase orders. Looking back on February, S.P. comes to some pretty hard-fought conclusions about the act of “doing” vs “not doing” — thank you, S.P.!
A beautiful frantic passion.
I appreciated it for the effort that went into my fourteen poetry submissions in January. Far from perfect, but at least I was “doing”, as a friend put it. Those were comforting words of support as I ran, not in circles, but in roundabouts.
Then February came.
It brought slothful days that turned into empty weeks. Only a paltry 3 submissions. If January was a forceful step forward, then February must have been three leaps back. Maybe that step forward overstimulated me to a point far past exhaustion. A typical pattern for me. Always such the hurdle.
I’m too far behind them.
Cobain never had this issue. Langston Hughes was his own perpetual force of unrelenting creativity. Hemingway — the icon, ‘nough said. When was Flannery O’Connor ever at a loss for words? Van Gogh’s brush strokes — delivered by unending strokes of genius.
Unhealthy pressure? Perhaps. But my idols have always been my competition. I’ve always needed the validation that is measuring up to the best. That’s why this is a race to catch up to the greats.
They came from five publications in February. The 1st was delivered to my inbox on the 3rd — my birthday. Best. Gift. Ever.
“I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.” — Sylvia Plath
She always had such a way with any word she desired. But Plath’s rejections came because she had enough finished works to submit. I took some solace. Those whirlwinds. That legendary flurry that we followers always adored in her, came after an extensive uninspired period — fruitless in her work and lost in the wilderness of normalcy.
Those periods. I can never cease my fixations on Sylvia’s immensely creative periods when she was touched with fire. By comparison, those legendary episodes made my frantic and passionate January look like what I feared it to have been — amateurish.
But there’s a lesson in it, somewhere. Maybe the moral of her story is that it doesn’t matter how you come out the gate, but how strong you finish the race.
On that day it’ll be a day too late for meeting an all-important deadline. I used to welcome any race against the clock. I even found it quite sporting to procrastinate. But I’m too old for that now. Thirty-six years. A long time here. I am weathered. I am ancient.
This project must be submitted before July 1st, though I’d prefer it done sooner. In my old age, finishing early tends to be my thing [insert “that’s what she said” joke here]. But February only yielded one written scene. One horribly written scene. In fact, the roughest of rough drafts that I’ve ever seen.
But there’s an explanation for it.
The 1st half of the month was spent in the malaise of daily life. The laundry. Washing the dishes. Snooze fest. No more fun creativity in my mind or my world. Such uninspired mediocrity.
I cooked several healthy meals. Bean soups, roasted lean meats and fish, and my daily five to six servings of veggies and fruits. I was going to get back on track.
Then I stored them in the freezer, for a rainy day. I’ve a lifelong record of seeking instant gratification.
My poor impulse control has always served as a formal invitation to poor choices — an exclusive soiree.
“Please indicate your preference of entrée: Fish, Chicken, or Pork.”
Well I do believe that I shall have the double bacon fast food burger.
Large fries. But no soda, only water, because I’m getting back on track.
A healthy choice.
The snowballing was dreadful. I would look to my laptop from bed and know that I should’ve been “doing”. I’d just glance to it every few hours for motivation that never came. Then frustration and self-loathing over the idleness. I’d sooth myself by promising to “get back on track tomorrow.” Tomorrow always came, the cycle continued. “I’ll get back on track tomorrow” became nothing more than a bit of mother’s milk. The placebo. The lie I knew that I was telling myself. But none of it could save me from my familiar ennui, no matter how hard or fast I tried running from it.
Then something happened.
The rainy day came. It was brought in by the same storm that visits each month. Tropical Storm “I’m Broke”.
Apparently, these fast food joints want money in exchange for food. So I was forced to dig those healthy meals out of the freezer. Properly fueled, I naturally found my way. Laziness and a blank mind gave way to daily exercise and proper sleep. Then, the ideas returned — in a sprint!
The structure and the themes. My style and my voice. The overall concept for the project. All were made clear in a sudden flash of inspiration. Yes. I was up and running. I was back on track.
I didn’t see it then but I’m grateful to see it now.
Those weeks weren’t so fruitless. I was “doing” — even when I wasn’t.
That’s because those weeks of not “doing” were far more productive than met the eye, including mine. It turns out that things just needed to happen organically as I simply lived my, albeit bland, structured life.
Maybe the frantic and passionate whirlwind of January won’t be the strategy that sees me to the finish line. Instead, it’s the slothful, bland, normal February that may be my best bet. Just slow and steady. Afterall, that’s what wins the race.
Those are indeed sage words.
And I know that it must be true because a turtle said it. Maybe Leonardo? Or it could have been Donatello. I think that it was after they beat B-Rabbit from 8 Mile in a race or something or other.
Either way —
S. P. Johnson is an emerging poet from down South. Sharing insights on his experiences, he offers glimpses into the world as he sees it — rather than as it has been shown to him. Follow him on Instagram @SPJohnsonWrites for updates and to stay in touch!