8/27/2006

Fighting Procrastination

This is the part of the writing process I hate the most - the cycle of procrastination, fear, and more procrastination. I'm in it, so I'm here trying to break it.

“I believe that the so-called “writing block” is a product of some kind of disproportion between your standards and your performance ... one should lower his standards until there is no felt threshold to go over in writing. It’s easy to write. You just shouldn’t have standards that inhibit you from writing ... I can imagine a person beginning to feel he’s not able to write up to that standard he imagines the world has set for him. But to me that’s surrealistic. The only standard I can rationally have is the standard I’m meeting right now ... You should be more willing to forgive yourself. It doesn’t make any difference if you are good or bad today. The assessment of the product is something that happens after you’ve done it.”

— William Stafford, poet

**************

On Sunday afternoons after church in summer, my father would take us on long rides. He had no specific destination, at least not one he shared with my mother and I.

"Let's get lost," he would say as he headed out of the St. Vincent de Paul parking lot. Once he hit old 99 and 320th we could head south to Tacoma to visit cousins or north to Seattle to visit my grandparents, but we would most likely head east toward Auburn.

During the week he worked in an air conditioned office at Weyerhauser, comparing invoices to shipping receipts, keying database entries onto servers as big as refrigerators. He compared his days to his early ones at Werehauser when he was a keypunch operator, creating code on pieces of cardstock, stacking them neatly into a hopper, then pressing a button and hoping that his code didn't fail. He liked his routine during the week, but the steady predictability didn't appeal to him like being outside, driving with the windows open, and letting the breeze and sunshine fill him back up.

He was a traveller by nature, a son of a wanderer who left the family farm and took a job as a ferryman. His dad had moved from one island of the Philippines to another, settling in Mindoro and raising a family of 8 boys. My dad would later join the US Navy and find himself travelling the world, from pole to pole, across the Pacific and around the Horn, through Drake passage, until he too settled by the seashore, this time near Seattle.

Winding down Peasley canyon into the Auburn floodplain, I'd begin to wonder where we were headed. At the age of nine, I already had developed a need to know destinations and purposes, and usually by the time we crossed into the downtown area of Auburn I was asking "Where are we going?"

"We're getting lost," he'd reply.

"But are we /going/ someplace?" I'd insist.

My mother would turn to me from the front seat and murmur reassuringly "We're going to find some strawberries."

And this would appease me, as we wound our way through Auburn's back streets toward Black Diamond. Two story business buildings and low slung ramblers would give way to stretches of dairy land. Clustered metal silos would reach to sky anchored by outbuildings housing quiet harvesters. Rolls of drying alfalfa would dot the fields, green and gold. Dairy land would turn to fields of strawberries in early summer, low and green, the promise of juicy redness with every "U-Pick" sign we passed.

We never stopped at the first strawberry field we came across. "Too near the highway," my mother would declare. "Don't want to eat berries with exhaust all over them." We would wind down sideroads, over bridges covering rivulets that fed the Green River and cooled by willow trees. Still we wouldn't stop. "Too dusty," my mother would pronounce as we passed the wood and clapboard strawberry stand.

I suspect my mother was making excuses for how my father continued to drive without stopping because eventually she would murmur something in Tagalog and he would give a deep sigh, and click his tongue in irritation. Clicking the AM radio on to his favorite station, he would turn the car and find the highway again, then turn northward, taking the highway that paralleled the Green River.

In a section of the valley where the highway bent upwards again into the mountains, my father would steer the car down a narrow driveway toward a battered, two story white house overlooking a large truck farm. Rows of corn and beans bordered tomato plots and squash beds, while the wind rustled the deep green, tri-leaved strawberry plants. He'd park the car near the edge of the driveway and we'd walk a short distance to a small fruit stand.

I never knew her name, the old Filipina who manned the booth, but I remember her big smile and her excitement. The Tagalog would flow freely then, from my mother and father, to her and back again. I'd kick at dirtballs at the edge of the field crushing them into dust with my tennis shoes. I wanted to walk between the rows and start picking strawberries, but I felt my mother's eyes on me and never wandered far. Sometimes we would just get a few baskets of berries, other times we would take the time and fill a bucket ourselves.

Berries in the fields always startled me with their warmth and softness, accustomed as I was to eating refrigerated berries. My mother would scold my father when he sneaked a taste and warned me with a glance to not follow his example. "Germs," she'd say. "Wait until we can wash them." Their pungent sweetness was hard to resist without her stern warning, but resist I would, for I feared her anger more than anything.

Eventually, strawberries and tomatoes in hand, we would leave the farm and head back home, my father having confirmed when to come back for the sweetest corn he had ever tasted. "She married an American," my mother would sometimes comment as we drove away. "Puti" And I sensed that meant something sad and regrettable. Or she'd say "They never had children" and somehow the two were connected.

Other afternoons we would head to Seattle, and usually on those trips, I would doze in the backseat of the car, the sun and air making me sleepy even before we hit old 99. I'd awake to the color blue, my eyes adjusting to the brightness of the day, until I was awake enough to sit up and gaze out the window, to find that we hadn't stopped at my grandparents house, but an old craftsman with a narrow porch. Unlike my grandparents house which had large windows to let in the light, Auntie Dora's house was dark and close, shades drawn to keep the heat out.

Again the rise and fall of greetings in Tagalog, and stories to fill in the time since the last visit.

***********

Okee, that's an hour. Word count: 1,010

A start. Still feeling the procrastination on my shoulders because I didn't get to the heart of the story this session. The story of Auntie Dora's house was proving more difficult than the story of the Black Diamond farm - I couldn't access the details as easily.

This is a dual experiment - one: to see if I can prewrite a story for performance and two: to see what a NaNoWriMo session might look/feel like. I'm pretty brain dead after only an hour of writing, but 1000 words per session will make it difficult to make the 50k word count for the contest.

But still, a start. It's also an exercise in transparency, to show both my writing and my process, inspired by the success of Dean Alfar and Salamanca.

While this gakked from Neil Gaiman

"All writers know that on some golden mornings they are touched by the wand—are on intimate terms with poetry and cosmic truth. I have experienced those moments myself. Their lesson is simple: It's a total illusion. And the danger in the illusion is that you will wait for those moments. Such is the horror of having to face the typewriter that you will spend all your time waiting. I am persuaded that most writers, like most shoemakers, are about as good one day as the next (a point which Trollope made), hangovers apart. The difference is the result of euphoria, alcohol, or imagination. The meaning is that one had better go to his or her typewriter every morning and stay there regardless of the seeming result. It will be much the same." --John Kenneth Galbraith

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