The Simple Act of Showing Up

by Pari

It started as a blog about assumptions. About Christmas and how the dominant culture in our country assumes that everyone is celebrating the same holiday. As I typed, the piece turned into a ponderous post with an overinflated professorial voice.  And who’d want that the week before holiday fever overtakes us all?

Because of the season, the blog then moved to latkes and Hanukkah. I even found this really fun video.

But I’ve written about latkes before (sorry the pix don’t seem to be uploading).

Then it moved to
conversations with adolescents
my old haunts in Ann Arbor
Googling old friends
the joy of looking at Christmas lights . . .

And that, in a nutshell, is the the wasteful, but interesting, side-effect of being a true pantser.  I write to find story — or topic — rather than outlining and finding flaws before making a creative commitment. That means that pages of prose will have traveled from my fingertips onto the computer before I know if an idea that seems good really has legs.

Often, as evidenced by the journey of writing this particular blog, the projects fizzle out quickly. This may have less to do with craft than the fact that when I delve into the meat of the subject, it turns out to be too boring, depressing or weak for more exploration. Sometimes, in the writing, I discover that a thought deserves attention and that I’m not quite in the place to make it come alive yet. I usually put those pieces of stories (or blogs) in a folder for later consideration.

I used to think that writing was almost spiritual in nature. The mental image I carried was of a woman in a 1920s garret in Paris, her hands gloved in scratchy gray wool, an espresso near her fingertips, the heavy smoke of a home-rolled cigarette coloring the darkened room’s air a bluish gray. So rapt in creativity would she be that nothing could distract her from her task. (And, of course, she’d never outline!)

Alas, in the decades I’ve been writing, I’ve never lived up to anything resembling that woman. In childhood and adolescence, perhaps, the act of penning a short story or poem carried a certain romantic aura. In adulthood, however, my creative life has been about simply showing up.

Today, as I went through the 10-15 ideas for this blog, I realized that while showing up may be more oatmeal than éclair, it works for me. It has forced me to produce and produce some more; it has nourished the commitment necessary to keep going even if inspiration falls flat.

And because I show up daily, I always — eventually — stumble upon something truly worth the effort.

18 thoughts on “The Simple Act of Showing Up

  1. PD Martin

    Simply showing up is important! I usually refer to it as 'bum on seat' – way less classy and Parisian than 'simply showing up'. And I think it's particularly hard at this time of year, as I'm sure we can all relate to. The end of the year (whether you celebrate Christmas or not) seems to bring with it a sense of closure and of new beginnings.

    Not to mention a million birthday and Christmas parties. And the beginning of the wonderful and frustrating parts of Christmas. As I type my husband is trying to get the Christmas tree straight…which seems to be an impossible feat this year. So impossible that even offers of help have met with steely glares and discussions about why bother with a Christmas tree anyway?

    Phillipa

  2. Sarah W

    I figure if all those monkeys can hammer out Hamlet, I'll eventually come up with something good if I just stick with it. And turn off the WiFi.

    That video is priceless—I'll be humming it all day and smiling. Thanks, Pari!

  3. Alaina

    Even for those who do outline, nothing would get done if they didn't ABC. (Apply Butt to Chair).

    Sometimes, that's hard to remember.

  4. Richard Maguire

    Pari, I think it's obvious that every writer has his or her own rhythm and process and nothing can be done to change it. Gar recently bemoaned the fact that he is not a fast writer. And Stephen, I think, doesn't write anything until he's outlined his story in detail.

    I certainly don't believe there's anything spiritual in nature about writing. My meagre output so far has been a bunch of radio dramas that were produced by a national broadcaster, a screenplay that got me an agent, but didn't sell, and a novel that said agent passed on. I cannot, for the life of me, describe anything in prose and make it interesting, and I don't believe it's possible to change that.

    What you say about just showing up every day is very true. I discovered it was the only way to get anything written.

  5. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    My image of the perfect writer has been the male version of your 1920s vision. It's always been so romantic to me. I used to write in a cafe on the Santa Cruz pier, back in the 80s, with a croissant and a cup of English Breakfast tea, listening to the classical music on their stereo, watching as rain battered the windows, sending seagulls and pelicans shooting past against an ocean backdrop. Man, that was the way to write, and I thought I was doing brilliant stuff because of it. As it was, I was just showing up. Paying my dues. Getting better every day, over the course of many years. But what a way to do it.

    Oddly, while I outline the hell out of my screenplays and novels, I don't outline my blogs. And there's an in-the-moment freshness that comes from that. I think that's why I need to write the blogs. They ground me and keep me centered. They allow a different side of me–perhaps a truer side–to emerge.

  6. Reine

    Stephen, I love writer's blogs for just the reason you mention. Not that any of your "sides" are any of my business but it makes the whole reading experience more enjoyable. Once or twice though, it has turned me off to an author, like the one who posted a notice on his blog: Do not ask me how to get published. I had to find out for myself. I don't have time. I loved his books, but after reading the nasty comment on his web page, I was never able to read his books again. Probably childish of me, but the comment ruined the fun.

  7. Pari

    Phillipa,
    Good luck with the holiday mayhem. I'm going to be doing very little this year due to life circumstances, but it'll still be distracting.
    BTW: "Bum on seat" works quite well.

    Sarah,
    I'm glad you enjoyed the video. I found a bunch of fun ones — all take-offs on other songs — but liked this one best.

    Dana,
    Woody should know.

    Alaina,
    Of coures you're right about that. I guess b/c I don't outline, I just assume a level of efficiency that, in truth, I envy!

  8. Pari

    Richard,
    "I cannot, for the life of me, describe anything in prose and make it interesting, and I don't believe it's possible to change that."
    I found that comment really interesting. Do you have my personal email? If not, pls. send me one to my website because I'd like to ask you a question about that.

    Stephen,
    Interesting about the outlining and writing the blogs. I, too, have found them centering in a similar way.
    And I love the image of you in that cafe. I did something like that in college, in Ann Arbon, but not consistently — I think I was just going for the image and not for substance at all.

    Reine,
    Isn't it interesting about that author's nasty remark? I often wonder about the benefits vs the disadvantages of connecting with readers in a truly personal way. I think for a long time, it was only the bookstore owners and live audiences that knew writers' personalities. Now there are so many ways to reach out . . . and, I think, to misstep.

    Fascinating topic.

  9. Judy Wirzberger

    Well, talk about connecting in a personal way. It seems like I relate to you and all the life changes that have challenged you this past year. I think of you often and hope you still talk to your friendly pig. I see you as one running to rather than running away. I hope for you a peaceful holiday with bursts of bliss.

  10. Reine

    Pari, it is interesting. Yes.

    Wise, probably, to be more like Alex than me – regarding privacy, that is. It's often too easy to feel closer than we are to people that we don't really know. You once mentioned n a previous blog, that a fan showed up on your doorstep, and you invited her into your house. I have to admit that startled me.y next thought was to hope no one would read that and see it as an invitation.

    For myself I am sure I often feel closer to people than I am, but I pretty much really do get that. And while I would sometimes like to meet someone or talk about something interesting they written, I am socially inept enough to avoid it. I think many of us feel strong connections to others. That's probably a good human quality that might also be destructive. Connections are interesting, and I love them. But that's all they are– connections.

  11. Pari Noskin

    Judy,
    Thank you so much. I'll take those bursts of bliss! And poor Petunia (the hippo), she's out in the cold rain this evening, but the garden continues to be blessed with her presence.

    May your new year shine, Judy, and be filled with everything your heart truly desires — everything.

    Reine,
    True on all accounts about connections.
    And regarding that one fan that showed up at my door — it was a man and his wife. I did invite them in, though it felt awkward. But at this point, I mostly trust my gut and it told me everything would be fine. As it turned out, the man died within a couple years of that visit. I feel blessed that he stopped by, that his wife holds that good memory too.

    However, only a few people could do that and get away with it. And we had a personal — in person — history that had been at conventions for several years.

    If a stranger showed up without warning like that, I wouldn't have opened the door . . .

  12. KDJames

    Sorry to be "showing up" so late, Pari. πŸ™‚ I got final cover art tonight and I'm trying to keep the squeee-ing down to a minimum so I don't wake all the people in blogland who are already in bed. As I should be.

    I have many such blog posts, half written but saved anyway for some future date when I might figure out what on earth I thought was compelling enough to start them. I don't plan blog posts either, but I do edit the hell out of them. Because very often what I thought I was trying to say is not at all what it turned into and I need to take out the part at the beginning that was more a springboard than anything else. And I trust that process. If I waited until everything made sense beforehand, I'd never write at all.

    Your mental image of that ideal writer is interesting. I've never had that, never romanticized what a writer should be in terms of where when how. Then again, it's probably a damn good thing I didn't, considering the first articles I wrote for publication were done on scraps of paper while sitting in the elementary school carpool lane. Scratchy wool gloves and home-rolled cigarettes would have had someone calling Child Protective Services.

    Enjoy the holidays, Pari. Nowhere is it written that you can't take all the old well-loved things that are meaningful to you and shape them to fit new traditions. I do it all the time. And I'm happier for it.

  13. Pari Noskin

    KD,
    It's funny that I just assumed that everyone would have an image of a writer tucked in their mind's eye. Cool that you don't.
    As to holidays, yes, they will be different this year . . . but that's all right. I do plan to find new traditions that will make them special for me and mine.

    Joyous holidays to you, too.

    Theresa,
    You're welcome. Glad you enjoyed it.

    May we all show up — again and again — in the new year!

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