Take Jane Goodall. Here is a focused woman. She sat there in the jungles of Africa, squatting in the fork of a tree, pen and notebook in hand, watching a troop of chimpanzees and writing down everything they did. It sounds so beautifully simple. She was all alone, no distractions, just Jane and the chimps. I admire her. I wanted to be her.
And consider Beethoven. He was a mess. You’ve seen his hair; his lodgings were no better. Papers and unopened mail littered the floor, along with half-eaten meals and dust bunnies. So far it sounds like your average teenager’s bedroom. But, get this: supposedly, he didn’t empty his chamber pot for days. It was right there under his piano so you’d think he’d notice. But either he didn’t notice or just didn’t care. He had more important things to do. Now that’s focus.
It seems that to really excel at something, you need this kind of concentration.
True, many creative types manage to juggle kids and spouses and even regular jobs. Stephen King did that for awhile. Before his first book was published, he toiled as a high school English teacher. I can vouch for the thanklessness of that job. During free periods between classes, he wrote horror stories instead of exchanging horror stories in the teachers' lounge about his students. Then Carrie got published and everything changed. He quit his day job and became a full-time writer.
According to his book On Writing, his day begins with a long walk in the Maine woods. After his walk he sits down and writes all morning. After lunch he reads. That’s it. What a life. His wife takes care of the mundane things like cooking, laundry, and housework. Not that Stephen King is the best writer in the world, but he’s a great storyteller and has made tons of money with his books.
So excellence in writing, as with so many other endeavors, requires focus. The problem with such single-minded attention to one thing is that you have to give up everything else. I would have to give up dancing and my work with animals, not to mention other favorite activities, like reading and napping.
Back to my blog problem. I feel I’ve reached a fork in the stream and need to make a decision. Do I tighten up the blog with more focus and stay with it, or do I turn to more serious writing? As I sit on the fence mixing metaphors, time is passing. Carpe diem and all that.
When I started the blog, I thought I could do both, that is, write the blog and something more serious. But I learned that it takes a lot of energy to write. I can maintain that kind of focus (there’s that word again!) for only two to four hours a day. Then I have to do something else.
It's not that I want to become rich and famous like Stephen King, although that would be nice. But I do care about accomplishing something. And my blog, I must admit, is accomplishing squat. It doesn’t promote a product or publicize a business. It doesn’t provide useful information. It doesn’t help anybody with a problem.
But to get all existential about it, do we really have to justify our existence with accomplishments? Isn’t it enough to just be? To extend kindness within our little sphere of influence? To enjoy our little hour upon the stage, with a minimum of strutting and fretting?
Maybe it’s an American thing to feel we have to be busy all the time. Maybe it’s an American idea that we must accomplish something, especially if it is recognized by the public. Is it because we want the applause? Is it just a big ego trip?
I suppose it’s human to want to leave some kind of mark, something to show we’ve been here. And what better mark to leave than a book? However, many are those who want to say they’ve written a book, but few are they who actually want to do the work of writing one. Besides, in today’s world of e-books and self-publishing, writing a book doesn’t mean as much as it used to.
Here I go meandering again.
I will end this essay by quoting Ray Bradbury in his book, Zen in the Art of Writing. He said, “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” Is that relevant? I think so.