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by Tiffany Q. Tyson
I always learn so much from the poets.
Last year I spent a week in Grand Lake with some of Lighthouse’s finest fiction writers, essayists and, yes, poets. Among them was Chris Ransick, amazing poet and fiction writer and all around wise soul. At Grand Lake Chris talked, as he often does, about building a bliss station for writing. A bliss station is the place where writing happens, a sanctuary filled with everything you need to do the work, a distraction-free zone that welcomes the muse. Bliss stations might be static–a particular room or corner or desk or chair. Bliss stations can also be mobile–a laptop or notebook and favorite pen that you carry with you so that you are free to write in cafes, at bus stops, or the lobby of the DMV. Kudos if you manage to bring bliss to the DMV, by the way. For years, I had a static bliss station. With a door. And bookshelves. And watercolors on the wall from my favorite Mississippi artists. Then I took an office job. I no longer have the luxury of sitting around in my pajamas drinking coffee and staring at a blank screen. Instead, I am forced to write on a tight schedule. If I’m lucky, I get a couple of hours each day. In some ways, this makes me more productive. I cannot sit around and surf the Facebook feed with the idea that I’ll write later. There is no later. For this reason, my bliss station is now mobile. It’s an adjustment.
Mark Doty addressed the idea of writing on the fly this weekend at Inside the Writer’s Studio. He talked about how his process has evolved over the years, and even how it differs if he is writing poetry versus prose. I felt a tremendous relief upon hearing that. Something about knowing that flexibility is possible, even advisable, made me feel better about my own evolution. Maybe change really is okay. Maybe my own creative impulse doesn’t live in a room, or come alive only at a particular time of day. I hope that’s true.
Another thing Chris talks about when he talks about a bliss station is priorities. The writing should come first, he says, unless it can’t. Sometimes life intervenes. You get sick. Your spouse has a medical emergency. Your kid needs you. There are legitimate reasons to put the writing aside for a time. This idea weighs on me. With new commitments and a new schedule, I have fewer free hours and hardly ever a day without obligation. When I carve out a bit of time, I want to hoard it for myself and shut out the world. I don’t care about parties or dinner engagements or having coffee or lunch. I have developed strong antisocial tendencies. It is not my nature to ignore invitations or beg off of social gatherings at the last minute. People are important to me. My interactions with friends and family and even strangers fuel my writing. I need to live in the world and not solely in my head. And yet, recently, I’ve skipped parties, left invitations unanswered, and begged off lunch dates at the last minute, all in the service of creating a little more space for me. I think that’s okay. Except when it isn’t.
This weekend, I dragged my antisocial self out of the house to attend the Writer’s Studio event and then, though I should have gone home to write, I went to dinner with a group of friends. One of these friends is currently dealing with a major health crisis, and I wanted to spend time with her. I also wanted to write. At first, I felt guilty for going out rather than going home. You should be writing, I told myself. You don’t have time for this. And then my friend began to talk about her prognosis and the decisions she was making day by day. She talked about her decision to set her own writing aside for now, to create space for people and life and recovery. Writing can be so isolating, she said. I could hear in her voice how difficult this decision was for her. And don’t think I didn’t understand how petty my own decisions are in comparison.
Life is a struggle for balance. All of us push and pull to create the space we need to do the things that matter. Sometimes it means saying no to social commitments. Sometimes it means making space for people. And, like my bliss station and my writing schedule, priorities shift. The thing that is so important one day can be rendered insignificant in an instant. That phone call from your doctor, that tornado on the horizon, that friend in need; all of it deserves your attention. Writers must write, but we must also live in the world.