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Thursday
Aug112011

"To Come This Far..."

I have made approximately eleventy billion crucial mistakes since starting this book. They begin with basic structure, continue with wardrobe, continue further with location of choice, continue even further with worse wardrobe, and sprint straight on into a hemorrhaging of readership in a certain southern area of Michigan, for some reason. In an environment in which I should have acted as a professional, I showed up, instead, as a rather terrifying VistaVision version of myself, sometimes without shoes. 

It is one of those low-ebb moments in a major writing project in which the mood, which has previously functioned at a high wind-tunnel roar of "Well-- this is fun!" has since swung to the low mosquito whine of "WTF?  WTF?  WTFing F?"  For maximum effect this should be accompanied by one's face resting on the keyboard, forehead centered somewhere between F7 and F8 if you're doing it properly. 

Or, if you're me and it's tonight, laying in a puddle of your own sweat and remorse, staring at the ceiling after a mere 60 seconds of fast high knees to a cadence of 180 beats per minute in preparation for strut lessons with Alex Who Talks Real Pretty, reflecting on the fact that while I can field strip a Magnavox cassette for full mix-tape capabilities blindfolded, this year's incoming college freshmen have never, ever known the grim joy of cramming a Bic into the take-up reel to remedy a fast-forwarding gone nuclearly wrong, and hey, shouldn't you be able to feel your legs again after ceiling-staring for a good twenty minutes?

That's doing it very properly.

This particular kind of ebb is the worst to pull out of, because what's in the water is not just exhaustion, but fear. I forget where I've addressed this before, but I am always somewhat bothered by the well-meaning compliment "I wish I could write like you," because no... no you don't.  You don't want this existence of barging through life as an exposed nerve, pausing a perfectly lovely documentary about French winemaking with the words, "This is actually a fascinating study of human relations and how two very similar but ultimately differently structured people learn", experiencing waves of nausea and full-on flight or fight adrenaline washes upon discovering that one has been rather unceremoniously unfriended on Facebook by a bona fide acquaintance, and crying, real tears, after watching a summer practice band populated by rising freshmen and past tryout washouts play "Buckeye Battle Cry" for a smattering of parents, a gaggle of aspiring high school D-Row members, and the awkward blonde with the notebook. 

And not just little dab-dab rivulets crying; I mean multiple Kleenex crying, crying for about half an hour after the cymbal players left the field, well before even hitting the parking lot, in full sight of the current D-Row and the Head Drum Major and his Assistant and David Who Got My Purse's mom.  Yeah.   

There is only one off switch, and it is Not Writing-- or, much more truthfully put, Not Caring.  This week I watched an episode of Better Off Ted and when it was over, you know what I did?  I closed down the Netflix browser and went on with my life.  This is done?  Oh well.  I watched it, and then it was over. It was so great:  Twenty-four minutes of straight-up, essay-grading background, not caring.  

But in those twenty-four minutes, I had a notebook at my side and my book proposal minimized in the task bar, because while Not Caring things flit delightfully by on wings of Portia de Rossi, the drums of "Buckeye Battle Cry" are thrumming away in the medulla oblongata--without consciousness, without encouragement.  It has always been like this; while working on a project, I can, without issuing the mental command to do so, memorize conversations as they happen and then spit them back verbatim, describe the clothing of entire crowds down to the last out-of-China stitch, and reel off minute-by-minute unfoldings of entire days.  All without having any idea as to the current location of my cell phone.  Or keys.  Or car.  Or, more often than not, myself.

It is exhilarating, intense, vibrant, intoxicating, life-altering, thrilling, and heartquickening, and I wouldn't wish it on my mortal enemy.  For, you see, it's unsustainable.  In the past I coped with the inevitable crash by simply travelling to the edge of the hemisphere.  I assumed a ball-like position in my southern Alabama bed for a minimum of forty-eight hours while my excellent husband occasionally peered in at me to administer a breathing check or a package of Twix. 

In little more than two weeks, however, I take up residence in Columbus for tryouts and the start of football season.  It will be all book... all the time... for weeks.  I can imagine few things more terrifying.

It's terrifying for reasons already mentioned here (in particular, the Alan Shepard reason: "To come this far... and f*&$ up...", not that I've not already colossally f-ed up in many, many ways, mind you, but I mean a project-ending f-up, one involving, like, lawyers, and meteors) and it's also terrifying because I am not entirely certain how I will bear-- physically, mentally, or emotionally-- this potentially constant hypercreative state.  In the next sixteen days I have got to figure out a way to shut it off, and on command. Otherwise I will be found deliriously wandering the streets of upper Westerville some near-future Saturday, hollering "Have you seen a marching band around here?  No?  GET BETTER" at random passers-by.Thinking Like An OSU Drum Major: Which Window To Gloriously Shatter First, and Shall I Catch It Backhanded or While Doing a Cartwheel on the Downbeat?

I can manage the mental split when physically out of the space; during my fellowship with the American Antiquarian Society, for example, I happily settled into many productive library hours of, as one might otherwise intellectually put it, "a four-week vacation of staring at old s--t," but I worked on the book at night--and it was always hovering at the open notebook at my elbow during the day as well.  

One day I tipped the back of my head against my neck to stretch, studied the many, many feet from the floor to the ceiling, snapped a picture while holding my cell phone over my head, and sent it to Columbus:  "Can you manage a few aerials in here?"  In the very midst of thinking like an historian, I was applying Drum Major variables to the place in which I was doing it.  

That is also doing it properly.  Because the good news is that some of my very best work has issued from this state.  The bad news is that this state, it seems, must occur in order to produce my very best work, and many Twix will die in the process.

Here's the kicker: I don't have time for the balling-up part.  On October 1, I am due in Everglades National Park, to serve a residency there, one with a heavy schedule of presentations and ranger pairings and trying to avoid being eaten by whatever crawls out of the swamp.  I must rely upon my high-knee legs, not my balling instinct, to survive.  (This means, of course, that I will be eaten immediately.  No exceptions.)

But.

There's this twenty-year-old college junior I know who might have the answer.

In yesterday's post, I raised the issue of Jason The Ridiculously Awesome Drum Major's judicious allocation of Maximum Juice.  If he so desires, he could hit the ceiling, just about any ceiling, every single time, all the livelong day.  Because he can.  And f-you AND your stupid historic irreplaceable glass dome

And I'm no twirl expert, okay, but after all the glass is shattered and the concrete is crumbled, I'm pretty sure this would make for a crap-ass routine-- which is why he would never, ever do this (and I'm assuming that's also the only reason, because wanton destruction set against the strains of "Beautiful Ohio" is something your average American, including this one, would pay dearly to see.)  Jason could unleash havoc and brokeness.  Or he could rein it in and, with a bit of restraint, still be Awesome without leaving a single scar.

"You have to know when to put down the stick.  You have to know when to pick it up," he told me after tryouts. 

He was referring to coaching and practice and an athlete's elemental knowledge of the body... the rhythms of muscle and nerve, both physical and psychological.  In the twenty-four hour period before he secured his second year as Drum Major, Jason Stuckert did not touch a baton.  He went to class, he ate real food, he shot zombies on his PlayStation. He listened.

And when at last it was time to pick up the stick, he was ready.

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