“The first thing that comes to mind when I think the writing life: space. I just think of space. Time to daydream. Time to notice things. It’s that connection with yourself and wanting to connect out and be intimate with the world. Because we are the world, we’re not separate. That’s what a writer does, we receive the world.” ~Natalie Goldberg
Today I received hummingbirds.
Today I also sat in conversation with my spiritual director and to my complete surprise I heard myself tell her that I need space to write. What?!?! How could this be? Just two days ago, I was describing how much that open space scares me. I thought I had it all figured out: too much space in my day and not enough structure equals fear and no writing. This is true. But, it is also true that my productive days are days where the only work I have is writing. No emails, no blogs, no phone calls, no appointments, no classes, no work. Only writing. My productive days are twelve hour stretches of writing. Often on those days I have to force myself to leave the page in order to eat or use the bathroom. When I am writing productively I just keep going. Into long stretches of open space.
I need that spaciousness and that time because writing is equal parts mind meets paper (or keyboard) and mind meets hummingbirds outside my window.
Take today as an example. I sat down this afternoon to write my chaplaincy application essays. I had my cup of tea, my application questions, Maude (my laptop). I began writing. I wrote a few sentences and looked out the window. The sky was blue. Winter blue. Cold blue. It’s a blue that is different from a summer blue. A hummingbird came to the feeder and sipped that sugar-water solution I prepared last week. I thought, “I really need to give them fresh nectar.” The hummingbird flew away. I wrote a few more sentences. I heard two of my three cats make clicking noises toward the window. The hummingbird was back. The little bird flew from one red plastic flower to another, then flew away leaving the feeder rocking back and forth on its hook. I laughed. Hummingbirds make me happy. They remind me of my mom and my grandmother – two women who love to watch birds. I grew up with women who took so much pleasure in the simple act of watching birds at feeders through windows. Aha! That needs to be in my application essay. I wrote a few more sentences.
This spaciousness helps me write. In a twelve-hour writing day I spend most of it looking out the window or googling images of indigenous art or signing online petitions all while I am writing. Write a little, daydream a little, write a little more. It is in the beginning that the suffering arises. It is in the beginning that I feel pressure and stress and deadlines and guilt and vulnerability. But, as I write and daydream and write now, I remember Natalie Goldberg telling her students as we were hesitating to jump into the cool waters of the Rio Grande on an August afternoon, “Don’t think, just jump!”
She also says, “Don’t think, just write.”
Because when I stop thinking about writing and just start writing I am free. Free to fly through the spaciousness of the blank page and the spaciousness of an open mind.