I sometimes do things backward.

I do a thing, and then I learn how it should be done. I guess I could say that I like to learn by doing. That’s an odd thing for me to realize, given that I spent years in traditional education (learning by learning….and later, learning by teaching….).

I’ve finished drafting my second novel and finally, FINALLY, I am reading Katharine Grubb’s lovely little book, Write a Novel in Ten Minutes A Day: Acquire the habit of writing fiction every day.

I’m using her prompts to activate my morning pages, as I did for a year with Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the writer within. For another long time, I used Ann Lamott’s Bird by Bird; Some instructions on writing and life, whose chapter on writing shitty first drafts probably saved my life. Or at least saved my writing career from an early demise. Both books came to me through other people, and that means something to me. Actually, Katharine’s did too, by recommendation from my daughter, who also writes.

I spent two years writing morning poetry. Pretty terrible poetry, but drafts are meant to be that. Morning pages are practice, and the practice of poetry in the morning was how I got in touch with myself before the busyness of the day overtook me.

I’ve not written poetry regularly in a couple of years now, and I realize I miss that process of looking deeply at, well, everything, and noticing how the sensory experience resonates with my somatic experience. I used to take the dog for his walk, and because he was arthritically slow, I was also slow. That deliberate tempo gave rise to contemplation of what was right before me: weather, soil and plants, insect life, birds and flowing water, falling leaves, whatever it might be.

Because I was writing a poem every day, I tuned in to my sensory world whenever I was outdoors. I could feel my body shift gears from busy doing to sink more deeply into being. I would switch from hearing the noise of traffic to hearing the sound of bees in the flowers right next to me. From the broader sight of the sky to the blades of grass, still holding drops of water from last night’s shower. From being entirely focused on the outside world, to orienting to the tender interface of my immediate surroundings and my sensory field.

I don’t enter that space as readily now, and I think it is entirely because my poetry practice has given way to other writing. Now I think in broader narrative arcs: what would happen if I were floating on a raft in the middle of that icy cold river, calling for help from the dark forest where there was nobody to hear? What if this huge boulder hid the entrance to a cave full of …..some kind of mystery? This is hugely entertaining. Sometimes, I even come up with an idea that can become a story. But I miss that sensory focus that was almost like meditation while walking the dog.

Of course, I also miss the dog who died a couple of years ago. Part of missing him is missing my morning perambulations at the speed of dog, wandering through a garden of sensory delights, no matter the season.

Maybe I don’t do things backward, really. Maybe life is just a series of repeated iterations. We curl deeper and deeper into the labyrinth, twisting and turning and perhaps not really feeling our direction, but the center is always there.

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