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January 2018, vol 13 no 4

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Ray Rasmussen

The Immeasurable Bliss of a Writing Life

In the beginning . . . God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
                                                                     ~ Excerpt from Genesis 1

My beginnings at creation aren’t quite as straightforward as the deity's. The urge to write is triggered by a strong reaction to something – positive or negative – and since I write in the haibun genre, strong feelings can lead to good material.

The initial burst of energy gets me composing, often against my will, in the early hours of the morning. While lying in bed, enjoying that precious, cocooned envelope of warmth – I call it mind-writing in a blanketed hot tub – the energy pours out. With that hot-wired mind, there often comes an increasing enthusiasm for the idea, words and phrases flow in and . . . yes! . . . Yes!! . . . YES!!! This is gonna be good.

When I get up, I have a quick bite, and do the writing first, before reading email, or reading yesterday’s dismal news, just as I wrote this, one morning a few weeks ago as a first draft.

But the words and phrases don't flow as easily onto the page as they did in my near dream state. Still, I push and pull, cut, add, tinker ... and finally get something that seems okay, and again my enthusiasm builds.

And I impulsively send that draft out in an email to a few friends. It seems good enough to share, like a personal letter, and I’m thinking, “They’ll like this, maybe even offer suggestions.”

They did offer some. Yes, sometimes I get honest feedback – you have to encourage friends to say what they really think – and sure enough, they’re iffy about my wonderful creation. While simple “attaboys” can pump me up, suggestions with likes and dislikes pump me up more, because through others eyes, I see things that aren’t working, issues I can’t see myself, even though I often feel wounded by the feedback.

Next begins the polishing: change, add, cut . . . again and again . . . until . . . I lose heart. At some point it strikes me that the piece is the new Crapola, a flawed, breakfast cereal, a sub-genre of haibun called Yukbun . . . and I feel kinda sick about it . . . I don’t mean aches and pains . . . more embarrassed . . . more like I’ve eaten the whole bowl of stale breakfast cereal even though I knew from the first bite it had gone bad . . . more like “I shouldn’t have sent it out.” And so, instead of tinkering with it a bit and sending it off to an editor, I want to forget about it, dump it in the electronic trash basket of no return.

As I write this, I’m thinking surely this happens to others. This type of writing experience must even have a name. So what’s it called? Coming to mind are kitschy phrases like, “The Trough of Despair,” and “The Slough of Despond.” And so I Google the terms to see what others have said.

Try it and you’ll find charts like the one below suggesting that people involved in a creative process start with high expectations and then hit dramatic downs. It implies that if writers don’t understand that this is a necessary part of the creative process, they’re likely to quit. Instead, stick with it and in time ideas will come – the slope of enlightenment – and finally a resolution, something that can be lived with, maybe not that big YES!!! I imagined at 2 a.m., but at least a "yes."

And, in this Vast Sea of Vapid Internet Advice, all of which seems, well, impersonal and chart like, I find one tiny, personal life raft of inspiration that works better for me . . .

And sliding quitely from a remote tropical island in my mind, Issa's snail haiku appears:

O snail
Climb Mount Fuji,
But slowly, slowly!
~ Trans. R.H. Blyth

Inspired, I begin the agonizingly detailed process of redrafting and slowly approaching a version that offers a good enough view, if not the view from the ultimate peak I'd expected. Each fresh attempt (this is my 6th – I hate to admit that because you may be thinking, “Geez, if this guy hasn’t got it right by now, maybe the Pit of Doom is where he belongs.” – inches me closer, although I often zig-zag en route to the waste basket's rim, where escape is possible.

There it is, my personal journey of ups and downs on the great roller-coaster of writing en route to something better or the electronic trash basket in which it will find lots of slug-like companions.

swamp critter –
old monk and cartoonist
my gurus