My writer friend Kobbie Alamo asked me a few weeks ago what project I’d begin after I finished working on Jacob Wrestling. She looked a little shocked when I told her that I wanted to do nothing. That I was planning to block out a day, maybe a week or longer for an intensive program of staring-at-the-wall.
Throughout March and early April, I was slammed. I had several presentations and proposals to put together for various meetings and conferences, classes to teach, manuscripts to critique for friends, a manuscript to finish for myself, a house to clean compulsively in preparation for its sale, slush to read, and managerial duties to take care of for the magazine. All of these were great things. Fantastic things. Things I wanted to do. (Except the house-cleaning. My credentials as a domestic goddess come entirely from my cooking, not my love of toilet-scrubbing.) But they were things nonetheless, and when I realized I hadn’t had time to hit the gym or grab a cup of coffee with a friend in two months, I started fantasizing about how great it would be to do exactly nothing, or at least as little as humanly possible. Not that I wanted to pull away from the writing life entirely; I just wanted to subscribe to the Carrie Bradshaw school of writing–lots of lolling around, the occasional rhetorical question dashed onto the laptop, and then cosmopolitans with my girlfriends.
But I should have known that I’m not really built for doing nothing. It was on my thrice-delayed flight back from AWP that I really could have taken advantage of the staring. There were some pretty monotonous looking cloud formations that would have given me three hours of airtime worth of good mind-numbness, and the extra time on the ground spent waiting for “minor maintenance” to be performed gave me some good space-out opportunities. But it was in my cramped seat (the guy in front of me, incidentally, had broken his seat and yet continued to stretch gratuitously, banging the seatback into my knees with alarming regularity) that I started to get a little twinging in the psyche. It’s this little bother, this fluster that so often accompanies my setting out on a new creative task. And as we sat on the tarmac, then lifted into the air, the character that had come glimmering into my mind a few weeks before started taking quick and steady shape in my consciousness. Before I had much time to think about the ramifications for the next, oh, few years of my life, I’d essentially committed myself to a new novel.
And I’m very excited about it. I don’t know how I’m going to pull the story off, and I don’t know the steps of the entire narrative just yet. But I’m in the rather thrilling phase of getting to know my character, and just like the rush of a new relationship, the buzz my character’s (I’m going to call him “the man” for now) emergence is creating keeps me up at night. And the way the mind barrels along in its story lines at two in the morning, sketching out scenes I feel I have to jot on the sticky notes by my bed? I’ll take it over wall-staring any day.