Bi-weekly chatter about how looking closely at some of the most common expressions in everyday life can prompt new ways of thinking about our writing.
Summer specializes in time, slows it down almost to dream. — from “Late Summer” by Jennifer Grotz
I’m gearing up. Getting ready. Bracing myself.
Very soon, there will be an onslaught of variations on the following:
I can’t believe it’s already Labor Day!
The summer flew by!
How is it already September?
Grotz’s line suggests that summertime manipulates the pace of time itself and I guess I’d agree. Afterall, I do have a habit of sinking into what I’ve come to call “the slower pace and vibe of the summer months.” Yet, I know I’ll probably be one of those poor souls spewing these banal remarks come the fourth of September this year. Can’t believe! Flew by! Already?
I do it, too. All the time.
Speaking of time, Kai Winding, Jimmy Norman, Irma Thomas and, perhaps the most widely known music makers, The Rolling Stones, crooned and harmonized Jerry Rogovy’s “Time Is On My Side”, reminding us, in a make-it-a-double sort of way:
Time is on my side, yes it is
Time is on my side, yes it is.
But. Is it?
With so much to see, do, consume, and engage with (I use this overused banality, too) on the daily, how on earth do we get anything done? And because this is a column for writers, I’ll make it a double, once again: How on earth do we writers get words on the page? What does time have to do with it?
Last August, for this column, I wrote about food, feeding, and, as always, words. In that piece, I revealed that despite being very bad at watching shows (a fact that still bewilders me since I watched a ton of television as a kid), I had a personal breakthrough and finished all of Season One of The Bear. “It’s all food and fuck you and family wrapped up in mostly kitchen scenes that are beyond electric,” was how I put it. Fast forward to just one night ago. It was The Bear again—this time Season Two–and Episode 6, entitled “Fishes.” Let’s just say, once more, it was all food and fuck you and kitchen drama, but this time with even more heartache and heartbreak than before. (It’s a very intense episode and one that hit nerves and buttons. I am an Italian American woman who was once an Italian American girl who, like Carmy Berzatto and his siblings, watched dishes smash and shatter on walls, floors and tables during a few Christmas Eve holidays.) There was something in the Berzatto Christmas Eve kitchen, an object that turned out to be a motif in the show’s story: the kitchen timer, with its shrill sound and gravy-stained face. “Her livewire emotions are represented by a cooking timer ringing like a siren,” Esther Zuckerman wrote in GQ, referring to this episode and the qualities of the character of Carmy’s mother, played by Jamie Lee Curtis.
That kitchen timer.
Might it, or a preferred version of it–sans gravy and wine stains–be used in the writing life?
Here’s something to try:
- For one month (or any span of time that seems reasonable and realistic, some may want more than a month, some less) designate a timer, a time and a place. Think this through so it is not something that is over-the-top, pie-in-the-sky. Maybe you stay in your home and use a kitchen timer. Maybe you go to the diner and use the timer on your phone. Maybe it’s the park or the beach or your local library. You decide. You create the office space.
- Then show up. Please.
- Set the timer and write. If you are stuck, write about being stuck. If you are still stuck, try prompts. Good ones can be found in The Time Is Now/Poets and Writers and/or The Isolation Journals . Or contact me. I love them and have lists upon lists of them.
- When the timer goes off, stop writing.
- Write the date of when you will show up next.
- Then do it.
- This is an experiment. Be kind to yourself.
- When you complete the entire stretch of time, you set out to tackle, take stock and write about what worked, what didn’t, and how having the timer influenced the process.
- There is no guarantee this will be an always-joyous, rainbows-and-sunshine experience, but it will probably offer some new insights on time in the context of generative work.
There was something else I thought about when watching that episode that also relates to the writing process and time. The story covered an evening, a Christmas Eve gathering. It was intimate, up-close and on sensory overload, with particular attention paid to texture (of skin, hair, food, clothing) and sounds (pots clanging, dishes shattering, voices rising.) Yet, in the larger context of the show, the events of this episode were flashbacks.
Again, how do we use this to think about writing?
- When do you use flashbacks? Does it come natural to you or is it a heavy lift?
- How long does a life experience need to breathe or rest before you have access to it as a writer? What do you think influences this?
- How might you use the senses to recall a specific time or life experience?
Sure, this summer is maybe one or two dreams away from being a memory. At least here in the Northeast, we are just a few weeks away from breaking out those chunky knit sweaters and jeans. But writing this reminds me of something kind of badass: as writers, we get to both hold on and let go. We get to live and then live again. From the incredible Natalie Goldberg, in her classic book Writing Down the Bones:
“Writers live twice. They go along with their regular life, are as fast as anyone in the grocery store, crossing the street, getting dressed for work in the morning. But there’s another part of them that they have been training. The one that lives every second at a time. That sits down and sees their life again and goes over it. Looks at the texture and details.”
No matter the genre lane we choose, for the most part, the moments behind us, in front of us and smack in the center of our lives are ours to keep and use.
Enter Raymond Carver and his poem, “Sunday Night.”
Make use of the things around you.
This light rain
outside the window, for one.
This cigarette between my fingers,
these feet on the couch.
The faint sound of rock-and-roll,
the red Ferrari in my head.
The woman bumping
drunkenly around in the kitchen . . .
put it all in,
We can turn back time and reimagine it. We can record the present and reimagine it. We can wonder about the future and imagine (and reimagine) it.
Time, after all, is on our side.