Walking from the Hynes stop to Fenway House is always rich with sensory overload to step back from. Puffs of tobacco smoke strain into automotive exhaust and vents, creating an olfactory tour with abrupt temperature gradients. Buses whine and Sox fans travel in packs, waving cigarettes and low halter tops or gelled hair and collared white shirts on top of cosmetically-grunged tees. Crossing lights chirp out no-cross warnings as Sox shirts wade between taxis, parting a sea of yellow chrome, neon Budweiser signs, and old Hondas packed with college kids. A trio of out-of-towners stand on the wrong corner, giggling as they try to flop down a taxi with a folding umbrella. I round the corner at the Historical Society building and skip down the sidewalk, stomach buzzing with caffeine.
I'm acutely aware that I'm not in my own voice right now. It's the residual awkwardness of having read great writing - Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down The Bones, in this case. When I soak in a book like I just did on the train, I speak with an accent for a bit afterwards. It's been seven years since I first read Bones in Chris Kuhl's English class my first year of high school, and I still remember drinking in the passages about allowing yourself to write, and the late-night essay I pounded out (assigned title: "I Am...") and how Kuhl stopped me after class a few days later and asked permission to read it in class, and the stunned silence that followed the reading with the class at a loss for adjectives. We let the silence sit for a while - no verbal dissections on the "meaning" of my work, for once - and then we took a collective breath and continued with our lives.
But that pause, that pregnant pause - I was so terrified by the silence that I forgot to breathe, gasping in a draught of air only when the silence ended. It was one of the greatest moments I've had, all the better for being barely acknowledged - classmates trickled up to me for days afterwards with quiet variants on "that was... wow." And the best part was that I didn't feel that it was extraordinary. That the clarity I'd been able to tap into while writing was something I could always reach in and do.
Anyway, after that essay, Kuhl said I really ought to keep developing my writing and would I like to do some out-of-class work with her on it. I did for a bit and it was wonderful - the odd little books and stories she'd lend me had a grace and clarity of phrasing I'd never seen before, and I would just wash the raw honey of the words over me, turning them about, slowly unraveling them, sitting down to write and finding I'd absorbed a tiny bit of them.
Eventually my parents got upset when they discovered some of the fiction literature she assigned as reading mentioned sex. (Never mind that Shakespeare continually brings it up in his plays; those are "classics.") So we stopped the independent work. I took Kuhl's one-week writing seminar during Intersession that year, wrote some short stories. And then... I slowly stopped writing. I'd still fire up on papers, and I still write parodies and little plays, and this blog - but the sustained effort of raw writing, repeatedly digging deep into a storehouse of words for hours at a time, no particular formulae or point of conviction or function to display, just sheer expression - I haven't done that for a while. I feel rusty when I do.
That's why it was so hard for me to start my sci fi story, and why I didn't make it through NaNoWriMo last year. It's like a former marathon runner trying to lope an easy 26 miles after a decade of eating potato chips on the couch. I don't practice now. It's not a part of who I am at present, but the residual memories say it should be. Maybe it can be again. I'm not going to plan for it or try too hard, since that's a surefire way for me to block myself, but I'm just going to watch a little closer, maybe tip the probabilities a little more. In this case, I do something by doing nothing.*
*I may be reading the Tao Te Ching and Tai Chi books a wee bit much. But hey, that's what writing is for - snapshot of your thoughtstream at the moment. Thoughtstreams can change.