Monday, May 27, 2013

New Starts

My title seemed appropriate, since I’m returning to the blog at last.  Not that I ever intended to abandon it – I’ve even had this topic in mind for two weeks already! – but life (read: grading) got in the way and stole my time and my energy. 

Luckily, I’ve been recuperating during the Memorial Day weekend, plus one of the grades I teach has headed off to France for a school trip, so I suddenly have some free moments again.  Of course, I’ve not been solely working for four weeks, but even when a spare hour popped up here and there, I decided that it should be given to editing rather than blogging.  One of my goals for this summer is to send out agent queries again, so I need to have The Art of Dying completely ready to go.  

The good news, though, is that now I should have the time to edit and blog, and so my writing life can return to its normal balance – always a pleasant thought.  I appreciate the usual structure of my days and feel discombobulated when that structure gets sabotaged somehow. 

Another thing that has been contributing to the business is my kitten.

Even grass is new to a little kitten!
One just can’t ignore the existence of the small, plaintively mewing creature, after all.  However, I can’t blame her too much, because she gave me the inspiration for this very post.  A couple of weeks ago, you see, I was finishing my Pilates routine in the garage.  Due to the allergies of people in the house, Spinoza has to be an outdoor cat, which means that I’m suddenly moving a lot of activities to the garage, so that I can keep an eye on her while she plays in the yard.  Exercise is no exception.

Well, Spinoza is at the stage which all young animals, even human ones, pass through, where they feel the need to touch and smell and sometimes bite everything that comes their way.  I was exercising on an old pink sheet, cushioned with a towel, and Spinoza was bouncing around the corner of the sheet, batting at the loose threads and jumping six inches in the air to escape the possible dangers of pink cotton.  She would dab at it, shake it in her teeth, leap away with her back up, dash back to attack again.  Obviously she was discovering at once what the sheet was and how she herself should react to it as a cat. 

It occurred to me, watching her, that we all spend much of our lives reacting to things in a similar fashion.

We get as bored as this donkey!
When new ideas and activities and hobbies pop up, we dabble and get interested, get discouraged and run away, drift back and try again, until finally the new thing is old and comfortable and part of us.  The process is inevitable.  In a way it’s a bit sad, because we have a desire for novelty built into our human nature, and to have the new thing which once disarmed and delighted us transform into old hat is disappointing.  On the other hand, if we did not go through the cycle of discovery and mastery, we’d never be more than will o’ the wisps, with nothing to ground us in our own lives. 

The problem, however, is that we can become jaded.  A new experience beckons and we say, ‘Well, it will be a lot of trouble to get involved in that, and then it will eventually lose its excitement, so why even bother?’  It’s easy to stick with what you’ve already mastered.

This complacency becomes a temptation for many creative people, I believe.

For example, I remember reading the Redwall series when I was younger and a fantasy fanatic.  I ate up the adventurous stories with gusto – even read every book several times.  Even then, though, as just a normal, inattentive 13-year-old, I noticed that each book had the same basic format.  The hero was always unexpected; the villain was always utterly over-the-top; there was always a liberal sprinkling of idyllic feasts interrupted by betrayal, followed by terrible battle.  Obviously that format worked for Brian Jacques, but it also meant that I ran out of interest  in the series within two or three years.  They became too predictable. 

Of course all of us would say that we would rather die than be predictable, but sometimes, in the end, it’s simpler to settle back into our usual creative routine.  Sometimes we’ve got to let the young side out, though – the part which is like my kitten and dashes around in a frenzy of discovery, at once intimidated and triumphant, coming to terms with the huge world in which we live.  Each project we undertake should be a new experience in some way. 

Nature renews the old each year!
Of course, that doesn’t mean that we have to abandon hobby after hobby, job after job, idea after idea. 

Instead, it’s my thought that we have to cultivate a new way of approaching the old things.  Don’t lose them to familiarity, in other words.  Avoid the contempt and boredom that come with too much of the same-ol’-same-ol’.  Each thing we do can be rejuvenated and renovated.  If you’re a writer like me, perhaps you can write a poem instead of a short-story, or a 1st person narrative instead of a 3rd person.  If you’re a cook, perhaps you can use all the ingredients from Italian cooking for a Thai dish instead.  The options are endless.

It’s a sort of art form in itself to transform the old into the new and to conquer the danger of boredom.  Everyone fails occasionally, and gets stuck in a rut, but if we at least cultivate a point of view which warns us of impending complacency, we can always catch ourselves before getting lost in ennui.  A life of weariness with everything is a dreadful prospect, so the extra energy spent in continually reviving our actions and habits seems very worth it.  


  1. I wondered where you'd been! nice to have you back again! I enjoyed reading this - know exactly what you mean by the Redwall series... loved the descriptions of Spinoza jumping high! Pilates is so good isn't it? to stop myself getting bored, I write different things - at the moment, it's either a clipping (small stone) or a haiku or an elfje or a cinquain or maybe a couple of each every day. makes me think in different ways...

    1. Thank you for the comment! I'm glad to know you're a Pilates fan too :D

      Really being a writer is about learning to think in different ways, I think. Your method of writing something small seems to work marvelously for you. I always enjoy reading your offerings.

  2. "Instead, it’s my thought that we have to cultivate a new way of approaching the old things. Don’t lose them to familiarity, in other words."

    I think that's very true. There's an infinite number of things to see just outside our nearest window – but we generally see only the *same* things. If we can adjust our view just a little, often we can see a whole new world. In a way, that's what I see poetry and creative writing in general as being about! :)

    1. I totally agree - I think that it's part of the poet's vocation to give others a chance to see the new world.

  3. I have seemed to have dived head first into Flash Fiction 100 or 150 word stories and am having a blast. Thought I still write poetry. Prompts help, but the dailies are just observances that everyone has...just that I put them in different poetic forms, like Freya.

    Busy...yeah. Living gets in the way of writing. Grandchildren, older relatives. But life goes on :)
    Off to catch up on your latest post...I haven't forgotten you - just behind on my 'mail'.