no dirt, no daisies

I’m riffing on Thich Nhat Hahn’s adage, “no mud, no lotus” of course. My creative and intellectual life is currently inhabiting a different biome, I suppose.

This morning while working on a section of my thesis—well, when I say working, that sounds far more industrious than my process tends to be. It’s sometimes a lot more of rereading, hand-wringing, and getting up to do other-somethings than it is working. But when it works, it works me, and pretty effortlessly. So I’m trying not to judge my process so critically.

I’m starting to (mostly) trust that I’m gaining more sensitivity to the intuitive recognition that I’m not yet in the zone where the work flows readily, even if I’m in the time slot of my calendar I’ve set aside to work. And I’m not often as willing to deplete my personal resources as I used to be by conscripting myself to hard labor when I’m honestly not in the cognitive/creative vicinity of something worth the effort of my focus. I’m still in the process of recovering from that kind of long-extended psycho-social conscription, and the effects of reengaging in it are increasingly unforgiving.

Often enough it happens, though, that all my getting up and all the redirected focus can counter-intuitively serve to help me get nearer the zone, near enough, far more quickly and in closer proximity to whatever element I’m wanting to render than if I’d forced myself to sit and plod on anyway.

I also have a habit of leaping back out of the zone just before I’ve found it. Breaking off from the beginning of the sentence “This morning while working on my thesis” is a stylistic example of exactly that tendency.

More often than not, my jumpiness is a sign of squirming in proximity to the zone rather than a sign of non-proximity to it. Either way, until I’m in the zone, I’m up from my desk again and again. Sometimes a productive session for me equals two or three sentences out of several paragraphs that is salvageable.

I articulate these things in part to help myself, and also to help others who may not yet appreciate the organic and natural brilliance of their own hyper-attentive idiosyncrasies in a culture suicidally determined to apply the industrial, factory-informed assembly-line model to most of human creative endeavor.

I want to discover the thesis my creative spirit has lined up for me to write—my reading professors likely want that, too—and that is a different creature than I’ve often known very well in my adult life.

It is uncomfortable now and involves resistance I never used to know in the writing process (creative or academic). But the feeling of making those inspired discoveries is priceless, even when my drafting remains a lot more “rough” than it is “diamond.” The work that comes out of that inspired flow is so much more actually valuable.

I’ve learned the hard way through many relationships that it doesn’t matter how much of something I can generate to say, how consistently I can maintain saying things about it, nor how thoughtfully I manage to say the things: it can’t *ever* be enough if there isn’t something more of what’s true, what’s real in me in the conversation that stirs what is real and true in others. Most of us keep such secrets about our inner worlds well-guarded.

And since I couldn’t possibly make everyone happy no matter how much I wanted to, and often enough couldn’t seem to make anyone very happy for very long at all, it became more and more vital to focus on acting, speaking, and writing in ways that made me truly, really happy. But I had to learn what that kind of happiness felt like, for me, first.

Back to this morning: this morning was of the hand-wringing, rereading, lost-feeling, reluctant focus variety. Not quite ready, not quite aligned to diving back into my work. But in near enough proximity—having begun to hone in enough to be increasingly sensitive to the particular gravitational focus of the section I was working on; one that has surprised and surpassed me over and over again.

It’s no wonder this thesis has taken me so long. Sometimes it’s like being a chihuahua sent out as part of the party on a fox hunt: trembling and tail-tucked, dodging the baying hounds, shrinking from the coat-bearing, horn-blasting riders astride living, breathing, snorting beasts barreling through the brush—scrambling out from under the heavy drumming ground-churning hoof-beats of their horses.
(oh, there’s the flow.)

But this fox is definitely worth finding, and this chihuahua aspect of myself is the one most keenly oriented to the objective. Someone brought it along on the hunt for a reason that was probably more than absurdist amusement.

The section I’m currently working on digs into the dirt of discourse and treats the words very specifically themselves: that being the primary archeological work of literary analysis—playing with the bones. I’m needing to sort out how and what I want to say about artistic concepts that exist in stable tension with both future (unknown) and past (already known) discourse, because as literary artifacts, even though they are rendered in the medium of words, they cannot be named—even when named. They exist in that realm of the symbolic and preverbal, unutterable: the field of creative quantum possibility.

So instead of trying to write more today (the chihuahua needed to duck back into the bushes and tremble for a bit) I went back to Bahktin and his Discourse in the Novel. I’ve loved it, even found kin in its dialogic positioning of physics and linguistics: a sense of being at home, albeit a somewhat confusing and disorienting home—well, that’s almost the only sense of home I’ve ever known, so it’s familiar at least.

Do you remember when my main reading professor told me that my science/humanities thesis proposal was too interdisciplinary to continue? No? Well, I was there and I remember. I remember the way it set the brakes and veered my life course into a trajectory of thinly veiled creative self-sabotage. It turns out that no matter how kind or how loving the purpose and intent, one can use marriage and procreation in the same way others use alcohol and drugs.
But I did have the opportunity to fill in a lot of my own gaps in the process. Apparently that was a detour my spirit needed me to make.

And it turns out I was right on the trail with that failed thesis proposal, after all—something I didn’t figure out until I read Discourse In The Novel over a decade later. And my professor wasn’t completely wrong in her assessment, either. My ideas then were too unfocused, too disparate, and not yet integrated enough to direct successfully. She was helping me. Even when I haven’t been able to articulate what I’m trying to accomplish well enough for her to understand and advise me beyond the sometimes effectively blunt delivery of her own instinctual reaction, her discernment is always impeccably spot on.

Back in the underbrush of this morning, I reread and noted some underlined sections and passages to reorient myself in Bahktin’s essay, lost some time to fretting about how much more I have left to read and how will I ever finish and get a full enough grasp of it to really truly summarize it comprehensively—a different task than riffing along with my own personal ideas budding off from it—with the kind of grace and elegance I know my professor expects of me because she’s witnessed me do it over and over no matter how much dirt I kick up in the process or how unwieldy the topic seems. She takes my success for granted more than I do. And I can’t thank her enough for that.

So I shook my little self off and forged on ahead, reading where I had not yet read before: a chihuahua dispossessed, on the hunt, nose to the ground, tripping and stumbling over Bahktin and myself and in short order picked up the scent and found my way onto the pages where his words are really uttering the stuff I’m wanting to work with just now.

But I can’t make sense of it yet. I mean, I sense it. I am sensitive to it. My nose is all over it. The fox has been here and the daisies are held in dialogic tension (stratified metaphors?).
But my brain is thick and preoccupied still with dirt.
Tomorrow is another day.