∀ Pasolini in his film Decameron
¶ Prompt from Julia Cameron’s The Right to Write.
Julia Cameron mentions in her chapter Practice that the consistency of writing everyday makes the writing life worth it, empowers us to live for the page, enables us to connect to life more readily. Consistency is constancy is connection is divine. She mentions the Buddhist understanding of “practice” as something that improves us, as something that we can strive for, for the better, for some higher purpose, perhaps even for perfection. In a sense, this isn’t too far from the western notion of “Practice makes perfect,” in that “Practicing is perfect.”
When we write, we tune in. It isn’t so much a self-interest, as it is a total interest in the world around you. When we live, we live out habits and routines and negotiate with or against our inner voice. But when we write, we record not only our inner sounds, but the sounds around us, and we observe, and we hone in on and describe, assimilate, create new patterns of speech and vision. Writing, like any art, bridges the I You He She We They and It and Those and These, the That and the This in concentric circles upon a page or canvas — you get the picture. (As you will note from my example below, a life lived without our nagging inner voice can feel empty, but to some could also be considered “pure,” as pure as Pasolini’s cinematic realism.)
Today’s initiation exercise asks for forty-five minutes of writing, long-hand, on the ebb and flow of a day in your life. View your day as if through the frame of a quiet documentary — cut out the inner voice that accompanies you, and instead focus on the world that surrounds you: silent, intense, and holy. Then, for fifteen minutes, write the insights and reflections that you have about the day. Below is a transcript of what I wrote:
A day in the life of Iván Brave — interested in the WORLD — Spring 2018.
A dream of family makes me question… when my 6:01 AM alarm goes off. My pillows crinkle. My alarm — “O say can you see!” — turns off. The ladder of my loft creaks with my steps — one, two, and the third step is on the black and brown floor boards. My phone accompanies me to the restroom — past the bedroom door with my towels hung on the back, past the living room — dark — with Bear — our dog — looking up at me. He rests on his back with his hind legs kicked up. The lights to the restroom come on by pulling a quiet string hung from the pale yellow light fixture overhead. A tinkle later, maybe I wash the burning eyes of mine, or not. The bedroom meets me. I place my laptop to the side — the high school graduation gift — old, dinosaur aged for a laptop — going strong, but in need of assistance — I help it off my desk and draw my current notbook to me. The cover, a drawing of a snowboarder’s mountain stylized, opens. I check in there yesterday’s date: then turn to a new page. The lines asking about that odd dream that had asked me questions now wants answers — the date of today goes on top. I begin the morning pages.
Thirty minutes later the notebook is closed. Breakfast time. First the bronze or brass teapot is filled with tap water, making sure the water fills just to where the holes for the spout are covered. Heat on high. Toaster out. Two slices of not yet stale Polish whole grain black bread. While that cooks, yogurt and Kellogg’s protein fiber cereal. I put up last night’s clean dishes from the dish rack. Everything in its right place, the toast pops up. Bear looks at me. I shake my head. By the time I am done spreading the creamy dulce de leche, the water is ready. Earthy yerba mate in a wooden gourd. Hot water in a black thermos. The toast is warm and crunchy — juxtaposed to the creamy and cool spread. The bitter mate adds a third dimension. I hear my roommates shuffle awake. Bear goes to his papi’s door. I finish the cereal now slightly soggy in the strawberry and banana yogurt. Light enters through the only window in the living room slash kitchen.
Teeth brushed, mouth rinsed while washing the breakfast dishes, my morning hour concludes when I take the thermos and mate into my bedroom — climb my loft’s white hand-cut wooden creaking ladder, make my bed, and I stare out of my window. There are five to ten minutes before 7 AM. Today it rains — a careless drizzle. The brick building across from ours is made a tender shade of red. The aluminum plated rooftops between are made to a soggy mud puddle color. The Freedom Tower hides behind a blanket of fog. A cool draft enters from below the bottom window sill behind my desk.
The next four hours are dedicated to the current writing project. This week I am dedicating the mornings to Julia Cameron’s word play and writing initiations. I wonder about her name as I write or type out these exercises. Cameron is close to camarón, which is shrimp in Spanish. Decameron is a Pier Paolo Pasolini film. I think, dang, would like to see that film.
Around 11 I pull myself from my computer. I stretch. I do push ups, sit ups, planks. I go for a fifteen minute run to the Pulanski bridge or McCarren park and back. If I need groceries, I stop to buy them on the run. Many folks are out despite the drizzle. Cars honk at green lights. Trucks take wide right turns. I avoid collisions. Ideas come to me. Posture reminds me to breathe. Breath reminds me to run with my center of gravity. It stops drizzling.
Shower. Lunch. Nap. Hot herbal tea. My phone stops flying airplane mode. Messages land. Instagram strolls through friends’ lives. Gmail takes up three different tabs. This is the administrative block of the day, email and social media. The yellow of the message “sent” box makes me happy. The undo button appears for the allotted time, five seconds, every time. If I finish early a red blanket spreads across the floor of the bedroom. A new album plays. I read friend’s blog or of my stack of books, or printed magazine articles. Hours go by. An incense is lit to remind me of the passing of time and to be grateful.
Evening. Songbirds sing. Leftover dinner. Tortilla de papa heated for four minutes while a tomatoe is cut and dressed with spicy bell peppers pickled. Bear is out again — his nose on my lap as I finish reading a page before taking another bite of the potato, egg and onion combo on my metal fork.
There is an event today. Some center for fiction is holding a reading at a new bookstore in Brooklyn with a goofy name and a short tempered store manager. I will meet a friend there, or someone who is more than just a friend. I try to resist the urge to rush or run, I have plenty of time, but it is more fun to keep pace with the other passengers than to get in their way.
The subway feels like the end of the day, but this event…
We say hi. We sit together. There are more books on the walls than all the dialogue we could possible have in a lifetime, and yet ours by quality and by far is more important and valuable. Nine readers present their work. Some speak as if through a tin can — others as if to a lover in their bedroom. The director offers us a wine reception in the back. I know I will wake up in the morning with a headache if I drink this free wine. We pour ourselves a few cups. The chatter in the reception reminds me of the songbirds. The networking is as tedious as the rain, where every other person feels like a bolt of lightning and I am enthralled. So many smiles, handshakes and hellos. Some people look nervous when I speak to them like I were holding a knife to them. I try to tell a silly joke to make myself seem less threatening. Others square their shoulders with me and ask me more questions than I do of them. My chest pocket fills with business cards and promises. My notebook gets more love.
I am reminded to not beat myself up for not making a dazzling impression on every single person by the end of the night, by the woman who met me there. We walk along downtown Brooklyn, no umbrella needed, though the drizzle is back, but careful now. We don’t mind if our glasses get a little wet. I look at her as if through a porthole, dashes of raindrops between us. And she asks if I would like to come over.
Reflections and insights:
I noticed my writing had to wake up, the way I wake up, as I wrote it. Also, I noticed something about myself that was put to me the other day. After lunch with my aunt and uncle this week they asked if I would join them for dinner. When I declined their gracious offer, a cousin told me “not to go back to my cave.” Writing my life as if through a lens I realized how true this statement was slash is. I do live in a cave. Most of my day is spent indoors. Except for the mandatory run and exercise I am confined to a small bedroom in a tiny apartment. I wonder how much this affects my psychology. It definitely does to some degree. I wonder often how much of my life is lived in my own little world. A large part of why I do what I do is to connect to the bigger picture. My window is like a postcard of the World Trade Center — so too I have this dream of integrating with a community, but now that my MFA program is over and currently I am not teaching English, I am completely isolated, except through machines, cellphones, literary events, and the metal of New York City subways. It takes tons of kinetic energy to haul myself around. I have no complaints about my life. For this reason, I feel it might be a little boring to read. (Another reason why I like to make up stories and write more interesting “fiction.”) I only want to contribute and to grow. Finding ways of how is my life right now.
Mostly I am grateful for cultivating the above routines. Mostly I could live each day as if it were my last. Mostly… mostly… I am practicing, practicing for that something at the bottom of the next page.