15 July 2008


There have been rumors that there is a shadow blog, another place where I write down what is really happening, what I really think about it, etc. While I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of such a document, I can assure you that most of what is happening is going into this epistle. I have at times excluded things that are embarrassing to me or would embarrass my poor mother, who reads this. But this doesn't actually in the final account amount to much self-editing. I hate editing of any kind. I do a lot of freewriting exercises with my American writing students with the goal of getting them to turn off their internal editor. Most of our best ideas come from an uninhibited expression. If we sit around saying, "who is going to believe that" or "what if my poor mother reads this" it becomes very hard to "get in the zone" where the sub-conscious can take over and let the brain riff on reality. One workshop coordinator I read called it the "monkey mind": when your mind keeps monkeying with your flow.

I guess I kind of wanted to write tonight about writing, about how fun it is and how it helps. I haven't really had a blog before this, and I have never been a serious journal-keeper. I have done my fair share of writing in other situations, however, and it all seems the same to me. When you are going and the words are coming out and you don't really have or need a plan, that is the best. I have gone back over some of the pieces for this blog several times and made serious revisions, but the first draft I like to try to get down as quickly as possible without going back and changing things. If I am really flowing I won't even fix spelling and grammar mistakes. When I am in that place it feels really good.

There is a shadow blog, of sorts. I have a small notebook that I use to write down things that I think of to put in here and things I think of that I can't put in here. At first, before I had one I would write blog entries and then agonize over whether to publish them to the web as is, publish them to the web after editing out the iffys, or not publishing them at all. There have been some entries in each of these categories. I have not been vetoing as much since I got the little notebook.

One of the things I wrote in there recently was a bit about memory. I have been here three weeks today. At first I was living in two places, here and back home. The memories of things like smells are the first to go. I held on so desperately at first, and then, when I was sure I could feel things slipping away I started to panic. There were things that I just couldn't bear to let go. Then last week I was reading a novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime (which I highly recommend) and one of the characters talks about how when she would get down she would think about when she was younger and going to Cape Cod and taking a sightseeing boat out into the bay and watching the humpback whales feed. So I was feeling a bit down and I tried it. I thought about a particular stretch of dirt road I am intimately familiar with out in the Salisbury/Tallula area. I found myself remembering details of the road that I don't think I ever consciously recognized while I was there. And it helped. I felt so much at home there in my imagination. I have taken to doing this periodically now when I feel sketchy. It is a simple trick of the mind and becomes easier with practice. This morning after I woke up I imagined that I was in my bed in my old apartment in Springfield. It wasn't hard with my eyes closed. I have even done this sitting on the crapper. That toilet could be anywhere. They are all the same.

I do remember thinking several times just before I left: "My God, you are going to be all the way across the world in a few days. Will you remember how you feel now? How scared you are? The looming sense of the unknown?" I wish I could have told myself what I know now: one really doesn't leave. The placement of my consciousness is an act of the will either way since I can choose to put myself wherever I want within space (and space/time for that matter). We do this all the time: stressing over the future and reliving in horrific detail the mistakes of the past. I doubt we really spend much time at all in the present where and when. I think this is essentially the great project of the Buddhist monastics: to completely abandon the past and future and the elsewhere for the here and now.

After my little experiment of mental place-shifting I thought of a quote from one of my favorite poems, "Little Gidding" by T. S. Eliot, where he writes: "We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time."