For some reason Americans are often surprised to learn that Thanksgiving isn’t observed in Switzerland. I’m always amazed by that, since I wasn’t taught in school that the Pilgrims also sailed to Switzerland, established a colony and celebrated their first harvest in the Alps with a big feast to which they invited the unruly native tribesmen in lederhosen who serenaded them with a chorus of We Gather Together on alphorns. Go figure. I know, some of you may be wondering, didn’t Switzerland have something to do with the Protestant Reformation that beget the Pilgrims? Ok, I’ll admit it’s confusing. For those of you who actually knew that John Calvin lived and preached in Geneva for several years in the sixteenth century, I’ll give you a Joker this time.
So I won’t be writing today about spending a big family holiday or preparing turkey, cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie. However as I think about America sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner and the warm memories of Thanksgivings past, it occurs to me that one of my draft posts would be appropriate to publish today, and so I’ve set about finishing it off (during the interstices in my day) as a wish to everyone lucky enough to give thanks with their families. Or not.
French author Lionel Davoust posted a series of writing exercises on his blog before summer vacation this year Des Déclencheurs Pour Écrire (Some Triggers For Writing, article in French). I found out about the series when I stumbled across his post-mortem analysis of the exercise.
Before going any further, let me say that I think the exercises are very good. In the post-mortem, he drew three conclusions about the lessons the exercises were supposed to convey, the first of which especially caught my attention:
Your writing is important. But writing, it takes time. So you should reserve this time, designate it as sacred, and your entourage should understand that then, you are doing something that means a lot to you, and they should leave you alone, no exceptions except children who are on fire and the house that has a broken arm. And even then.
Votre écriture est importante. Mais écrire, ça prend du temps. Donc, vous devez réserver ce temps, le désigner comme sacré, et vos proches doivent comprendre que là, vous faites un truc qui compte pour vous, et qu’on doit vous ficher la paix, pas d’exceptions à part enfants qui brûlent et maison qui s’est cassé un bras. Et encore.
I thought, here is an excellent description of my main problem: most of the people in my entourage don’t understand why I feel compelled to write. Furthermore, I’m lucky to have more than fifteen minutes of time to myself without interruption. Finally someone understands.
He goes on
Writing can be done during the interstices. Frequently, with daily priorities, it is difficult to get into the mood to write. Except that, according to the terms of Robin Hobb (I’m quoting from memory), “you should understand that you will never have more time than now.” If you seriously want to write, you have to take advantage of these moments. Have something to write with on you. Take down five sentences on the bus each morning, that makes a page at the end of the week. At the end of the year, that makes two novellas. Ok, it’s not a lot, but between that and doing nothing at all while lamenting you don’t have time to write, which do you choose?
Écrire, ça peut se faire dans les interstices. Souvent, avec les priorités du quotidien, il est difficile de se mettre dans l’humeur d’écrire. Sauf que, selon les termes de Robin Hobb (je cite de mémoire), « vous devez comprendre que vous n’aurez jamais plus de temps que maintenant ». Si vous désirez écrire sérieusement, il faut tirer profit de ces moments. Ayez de quoi écrire sur vous. Noter cinq phrases dans un bus chaque matin, ça donne une page à la fin de la semaine. À la fin de l’année, ça donne deux nouvelles. OK, c’est peu, mais entre ça et ne rien faire du tout en vous lamentant de n’avoir pas le temps d’écrire, vous choisissez quoi ?
Yes, you can write in the interstices, and I do. In fact, over 90% of my writing is done that way. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to tackle deeper and complex ideas and themes when you only have five minutes here and there, but the only way to do that is to ask the people who depend on me, the people I care about, the people I most want to spend time with, to leave me alone. We tend to idolize the lone writer, who seeks solitude often at the expense of family and friends because of the compulsion to write. I idolize that image too. Sometimes I come very close to it, that’s how strong the desire to write can be. How I envy those that are able to make their writing their living, while still having time to spend with their families.
However, when I think about how little time I have to spend with the people who are important to me, I realize that I cannot sacrifice that time for something as selfish as wanting to write. I know if I keep writing during the interstices, one day, I’ll probably regret that I didn’t take more time, time to say all the things I’m dying to say. As much as I’m sure of that, I’m equally as certain that if I do take that time, one day I will regret much more deeply the time I didn’t spend with the people I love.
It’s easy to lose sight of that. Maybe it’s been too many years since I’ve seen It’s A Wonderful Life on television at Christmas. I’m not George Bailey, but the people I do care about are more important to me than leaving words on a page.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not giving up. I’ll keep on writing when I can. In the interstices. And if I don’t get around to writing more than that, then so be it.