This Writer’s Life

I’m finishing my second-to-last term in my grad program this week; after a one-week break (ten days if I push and finish up faster) and then another ten-week term, I’ll be the grateful recipient of my Master’s of Fine Arts in English and creative writing with a nonfiction concentration.  

I. Am. Burned. Out.  I can’t describe it and I can’t explain why I wake up in the morning and open Blackboard (the platform for my online program) and feel nauseous.  I use Facebook for two reasons, and the main one is a chance to write and connect with people through that writing.  I get nearly buzzed at the chance to put words together on that screen, and yet, click over one tab, and the guttural disgust returns.  I put out 10,000-12,000 words a week in coursework alone, and that doesn’t take into account blog posts, Facebook posts, editing work, magazine articles, work at the nonprofit center, emails… 

I love to write, and it is the most natural form of communication I know.  My most natural form of understanding the world is synesthetic experience, but that isn’t communicative, so, writing it must be.

I put together a 30-page final project today, and tomorrows will be closer to 60 pages.  Then it’s ten weeks.  One term.  

I love it, but excuse me while I go throw up.

It’s a funny thing, and I’m not sure where in the cyclical process to start my explanation of what’s funny.  I wrote the bulk of my thesis in this term, and early in that course, we talked about the transition from “student” to “writer.”  I thought to myself that surely I had made that transition sometime around when I published my first book.  And then I thought that I actually did the whole thing bass-ackwards (what else is new?  Hi, I’m Lydia, and I don’t every do anything the normal way…).  I published books before I ever took a post-secondary writing class.  Leave it to Lydia, and I say that with both a bit of pride and a hefty dose of eye-rolling.  I appreciate the ways in which I’m different in terms of personality and education and talent and vocation and identity, but I wish my body would be a little less different and at least have a disease that made sense to someone.

The other element in the cycle is that the idea of connection and intersection and greater meaning was a huge theme in the last few months.  My thesis started with that very idea, precisely stated.  I only had two classmates (minimal enrollment course), and one of them is writing a memoir piece that aims to subtly show the ways in which every life experience contributes to a greater meaning.  My thesis ended up veering in a different direction, but it started with intersection and, with that note in its conception, it will always have ties… because everything does.

I thought I was a writer and that the thesis process was a formal recognition of that status by the academic community.  Yes, you write, and we can verify that you have sufficiently completed so many credits of graduate-level work and produced and defended a worthy thesis and, now, we proverbially knight you with this piece of paper and allow you to teach undergraduate students about writing.  I get it.  And I don’t.  My mom often says, “It’s the spectrum in you,” when explaining any one of my innumerable quirks.  And, in this case… it’s the spectrum in me that makes it difficult for me to recognize societal practices that don’t always make sense.  But, I acquiesce without any argument in this case, because I so enjoyed the coursework and thesis process.  I did the first year of it from the nursing home, and it gave me purpose and direction and hope that I had a future.  That’s pretty invaluable, and so, whether I objectively improved my writing ability or not, I am ultimately grateful for the journey.

But, now, here is the funny thing.  I’ve written countless (okay, not really, because there is no such thing is truly countless… but, in this case, I use it to mean “I’m too lazy to technically count”) times on this blog about the fact that I can only truly process my experiences and my world when my hands are on a keyboard.  Until I’ve sorted through it in black letters on a white screen, sufficiently enlarged so that my eyes can actually read the font, life feels a lot like chaos and overwhelming sensory and emotional input and relentless, anxious expectation of the other shoe dropping.  

In the last weeks, I’ve found myself thinking, but not in my usual sensory impressions… I think in language.  I think the way I write, in that, just as I sit down to type and my brain begins to make connections from various, unrelated experiences, now, in quiet moments, my brain has begun to see those connections but without a keyboard.  I always thought it would be akin to painting with no brush… but, to take the analogy further, it might be somewhat like finger-painting.  I don’t have fantastic control over the linguistic swatches that run through my brain, and I don’t yet have the ability to compose in my head and then transfer verbatim on a keyboard.  I feel a bit like I’m replaying pieces a conversation in my head, only, they’re totally novel ideas.

What this changes is that writing has essentially invaded every corner of my existence.  When I make the bed or take out the trash, I weave together this experience and that one and find that words, actual words and not just sensory recollections, are popping up in relation to the connection between the two.  The result is that everything I do, I do with an eye toward writing and understanding and connecting, and, well, where is the separation between those things anymore, anyway?  Without consciously thinking about it, I live with the questions of what the thing means, what it has to do with what I already know or have already experienced, how it fits into my worldview, and how taking in facts or nuances about the new thing might affect my overall perspective on other things.  

Because that–THAT is what I do when I write.  Connect.  Intersect. In short, process.  

There is nothing we do or know or see or experience that isn’t woven into everything else.  Personally, that immediately drives me to worship the God who has control over all of it, from the kings of ancient Babylon to my kitty’s sore ear (which, thankfully, is better), from the heart-breaking situations the world over to the number of hairs on my head.  

I wonder if, now, I’m really a writer, or whether–much more likely–my experience of being a writer will change over time.  It is both cause and effect, as my identity changes in response to my life, while my life changes in response to my identity.  The holiest of hands weaves it all together.

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