It’s a lovely March day outside my writing window. The pear tree is in early bloom, with tiny white flowers that flutter down like confetti. Pollen dusts the windowboxes, and the lawn has erupted with blistery clumps of weeds like acne on a teenage forehead. It’s a junior high dance out there, everything tender and green. Spring has not yet sprung, but it’s coiled, quivering.
Yet, as I sit here, trying to scale the rust from my writing fingers, I find myself uninspired. I’ve been staring out the window for a good part of an hour, trying to settle down, to think of what has interested me lately, to think about what I’m thinking about writing-wise, to with any luck slide into the dreamscape.
What keeps creeping in instead are the petty annoyances of the past week or so. The details don’t matter; the key word here is “petty,” both in the sense of “of minor importance” and in the sense of my own “small-minded” attention to them. I can’t help but think of David Foster Wallace’s wonderful Kenyon commencement speech, in which he talks about our “default setting,” “which is to be deeply and literally self-centered, and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self”; his point, which he makes far better than I can, is that we must choose to work to free ourselves of this default state and learn awareness, and that “it is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive, day in and day out.” Plus, he uses the best fish metaphor ever.
I realize that I have been stuck in my default setting this last week. Guess what? It’s an ungenerous, unimaginative place, turbid and rank with grievances and resentments. Guess what else? My default water has water moccasins, which have been known to climb into people’s canoes, and piranha, which swarm and feed indiscriminately, leaving behind cow-sized skulls. When I finally come up for air, I am missing chunks of my own heart.
It’s no place to begin writing; what’s more, it’s no place to be if I aspire to live a good, meaningful, empathetic life.
And so: I remind myself to look outward, again. To look for– as Carver might say — the small, good things, but to not, in my heart, be small.
In other words, Get over yourself. And get back to work.