Multitasking is another term for half-ass work.
Wendell Berry’s two Muses (Standing by Words – highly recommended – page 204): “There are, it seems, two Muses: the Muse of Inspiration, who gives us inarticulate visions and desires, and the Muse of Realization, who returns again and again to say, ‘It is yet more difficult than you thought.’ This is the muse of form.
“The first muse is the one mainly listened to in a cheap-energy civilization, in which ‘economic health’ depends on the assumption that everything desirable lies within easy reach of anyone. It is the willingness to hear the second muse that keeps us cheerful in our work. To hear only the first is to live in the bitterness of disappointment.”
Here, a different slant on work from an unabashedly Christian poet and essayist. (North Point Press, San Francisco, 1983.)
In giving Kenzie that three-day weekend once every four weeks in the new novel Pit-a-Pat High Jinks, I was leaning on a work schedule I had on a newspaper out in Ohio. I sure wish I had it when I was living Upstate New York and assigned to a typical split week like his in the story. It was brutal.
Of course, in this round of revision, I was looking ahead to his experiences in my new Subway Visions. He would now have a chunk of time to head off to the Big Apple and return home.
As I reflect on my own forays into the city and its mass-transit tunnels, I think I made as many trips during my time in Ohio as I had in a similar period when I was living only four or five hours away from the metropolis. In other words, Kenzie gets in a lot more time on the underground tracks than I ever had.
Living an hour north of Boston, as I do now, I can admit to spending far more time on its subway system that I had in New York’s. And I’ve also relied on the systems of Philadelphia, Chicago, and Washington in the years since I drafted the original Subway Hitchhikers.
Have you ever had a special twist in a work schedule that had an impact like this?
In my new novel, What’s Left, her father (Baba) has an influential role in transforming the family restaurant even though he’s new to the business. But he’s not alone.
Here are some passages I cut from the final version:
Baba is an active participant in that year of intense planning, before heading off for his focused Dharma training, those three years in the Tibetan monastery followed by his permanent return here.
My search reveals to me how much Baba contributed to the final result. As a visual artist addressing challenges beyond the kitchen itself, he’s amplified the wisdom Dimitri displayed in bringing him on board – and all of his touches fill me with pride.
Reflecting on Baba’s contributions to the project, what impresses me most is his sensitivity to the underlying unity. What emerges simply feels right and natural.
In a traditional business school case study, the spotlight would likely fall on Baba’s future brother-in-law, Dimitri.
One of the themes running through my new novel, What’s Left, is an acknowledgement of what I’ve sometimes called “guerrilla economics.”
In one passage in an earlier draft of the story, I argued:
On the other hand, he just might learn along the way that the Amish keep to their ways not because they’re entirely sold on horsepower and kerosene lamps but because of the hedge their style puts around them, enabling them to keep their families and communities intact against the onslaught that’s devouring everything else.
Well, the Amish do provide the Swiss cheese essential to the family’s signature Streetcar sandwich, but there’s more. They’re a model of community, something Cassia’s family is also trying to do beside the college campus.
You can’t have it all – it’s an essential lesson when it comes to money issues if you want any freedom. Besides, where would you store it all? Who would even dust or polish it?
Again, this subject runs beyond the scope of my new novel, but there is a question of just how much is enough. For Cassia and her parents, they’re comfortable living modestly while successfully working in their world. And, no, they don’t live out by the country club or buy a new car every year, even when Cassia might see that as the way “normal” people might live.
What sacrifice would you be willing to make to pursue your dreams? (Give up your cell phone? Your laptop?) And what would you find’s essential to keep?
Cassia’s roots included inspiration like this.
Writers work in many different ways.
Some sit down and write two hours a day. When I read that in interviews, I used to think, “What slackers!” Only later, when I realized how much other work needs to be done to sustain that, did I revise my opinion. Research, reading, and correspondence are also crucial parts of the job. For many professional writers, you can add teaching to the list – it can be what really pays the bills.
Others charge up and then lock themselves away for an orgy of keyboarding. Say, two weeks to two months of doing nothing else. There are tales of some writers in the old days who would rent a hotel room for a week or so to do that – they must have had a very nice advance and known exactly what they were setting out to do, it seems too short a time for me these days.
When I was working full-time, my method was rather piecemeal. I’d plunge into writing heavily one day a week – it helped when my four-day workweek allowed me three days off in a row, though I paid for it with that double-shift each Saturday. The rest of the week I put in a couple of hours each day for keyboarding and the supporting labor.
That schedule, in fact, led me to concentrate on poetry much more than fiction, though the budding novels typically got their attention on my vacations and holidays. Looking back, it was a rather schizoid existence.
Since retiring, a major shift has happened, and I’m just now seeing its impact. I’ve been able to immerse myself in drafting and deeply revising a work, to live with it more thoroughly.
I’m going to blame Cassia, the voice of What’s Left. Working with her was unlike anything I’d attempted before. The focus shifted from her curiosity about her father’s past to a close examination of his photos and the family he discovered to, finally, Cassia herself and her siblings and close cousins – the Squad. The spotlight went from being on what happened to the individuals themselves. It was no longer action-driven but character-driven.
That, in turn, led to a similar reworking of my other novels, often with Cassia in effect sitting beside me. Again, unlike anything else I’d done before.
Doing this, though, has involved a lot of semi-seclusion. I’m definitely ready for a change.