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March 6, 2014: The Writing Life: Honoring the Process

I sent my proposal (via email) to the University of Alaska Press a few days ago. I sensed that it wasn’t done. But like I said previously, I began thinking that perhaps I was being overly obsessive about revision. It was, I thought, time to move on. But deep down, I knew that it wasn’t done.

I sent James Engelhardt an email and told him to hold the presses. (Of course I knew that he most likely hadn’t even looked at the proposal. But I pretended otherwise). His response didn’t indicate that he had or hadn’t looked at it. Rather, he just said to send it when I was done with it.

Yesterday, I dove back into it. And today I picked up where I left off yesterday. Right away, I knew that I’d made the right decision. Yesterday I dinked around minorly with the proposal. And today I dinked around majorly with the proposal.

I made some major conceptual changes along the way. I originally billed myself as a composting and composing process specialist. Now I’m billing myself as a composing process specialist. And the obsession with composting – I now see it for what it was, a way of practicing writing avoidance. For, once a writer, always a writer.

I also realized that to this end that I needed to write more about the writing aspect of my life. I could not, in talking about writing avoidance, say “I stopped writing,” because I really never did. I continued in my first ten years here to keep a journal and to write poetry and prose poetry. And I also, via letter, kept up in touch with my correspondents, the most important of whom is my biographer, Christopher Benson. I also continued to work on stuff in my head. This complemented one of my later composing process claims, which is the importance of process.

I knew I needed to make this clear in my book. The question that I’d tried to repeatedly slip under the rug was, how? I came up with at least a partial answer in working on the chapter annotation entitled “Free Association.” This early chapter was originally to be about Pete and my coming up with a workable manure management plan. However, I decided that perhaps I could extend the comparison, and write about planning as this relates to writing. With this in mind, I returned to the already written chapter, and began expanding on it, as is my habit, writing the next few pages out by hand. My realization was that I hadn’t gotten much writing done in the past ten years because I hadn’t come up with any kind of plan. I write that I began to free associate off the word list, moving on to listing, then writing a prose poem. This led to my drawing a cartoon.

I then decided that I could incorporate my handwritten free association page into my typewritten draft. It then occurred to me that I might later include a cartoon with each chapter. (Each chapter title alludes to one aspect of process, some of these being “Sustainability,” “Belief,” “Affirmation,” “Imagination,” and “Organicism.” And so say, for the chapter entitled “Affirmation” I could include a drawing of Mr. Lightbulb. And so say, for the chapter entitled “Self- Reflection,” I could include Mr. Bird and his reflection. Mr. Bird would be saying “Sink or Swim, Baby.” And his reflection would be saying “Swim or Sink, baby.”

My belief that I’m not an artist has kept me from envisioning the above possibilities. There are so many out there that are better at this than I am. Those who immediately come to mind are my friends Jacqui Welch, Fran Bundtzen, Chris Romano, and Nancy W-D 40. And add to this list Vickie Talbot. She recently began working on a children’s book about a reliable Icelandic horse. I have been fortunate to see this whole project (from its inception) evolve. Her drawings, which unlike my one dimensional renderings, are three-dimensional. And by comparison, my work seems quite primitive.

Primitive or not, I like the idea of including my own drawings in Piled Higher and Deeper, for this furthers my claim that some of us are so into the process of creating words/images that coming up with a final product takes an inordinate amount of time. For example, it took me several hours to write this dispatch because I took time out to draw cartoons for the two chapters that I’m going to submit with proposal. Tomorrow I will redraw the sketches for “Free Association,” and “Imagination.” Slowly, it feels like this project is starting to come together.

Next: 66. 3/7/14: End of the Road