Heat Wave, or, a Rumination on Process
Hello, folks! I hope you are all doing fantastic and enjoyed your weekends and maybe saw some cool cloud formations or found a twenty in the laundry. I did not post yesterday in respect of the national observance of Juneteenth, so that is why you are getting this on a Tuesday, instead of a Monday. Next week, we will head back to Monday, and in the meantime, here is some blog!
I am two full weeks (and a couple straggling days) into my time at Hartman at this point. I have written approximately 8 and a half poems. I am starting to nail down my routine at the reserve–which trails to hit based on how much time I have, the best spots to sit and get some writing done, the exact amount of water bottles I need to fill and bring to battle the ~100 degree heat that has been bestowed upon us (it's really the humidity that gets ya, etc., etc.).
For what it is worth, I don't have to be trekking through the woods when it is this hot out–no one is making me. There are plenty of short hikes to nice shaded, seated areas in Hartman. Heck, I could even sit in the very nice, welcoming, temperature-controlled Interpretive Center to write. If the heat keeps up, I may do so.
The problem is, I tend to compartmentalize my writing process in a rigid way that is often, uhh, bad and not good. There is a strict order to the things that need to get done and that order is set in stone. It is also completely made up and arbitrary and while it has gotten me some writing done in the past, it has probably more often than not been a hindrance more than anything else.
"What is this process and what does it have to do with it being really hot outside?" you may ask. Well, the first step in my process is what I call the "throw myself at a wall and see what sticks" step. This is likely akin to the "research" stage for many people, but I like my name for it better. It is not to be confused with the "throw a bunch of other stuff at the wall and see what sticks" stage (which I will surely talk about in more detail in a future post), though they often overlap a tiny bit.
Throwing myself at the wall means that I am trying to really absorb everything I can about the topic I am writing about. Which means that what this stage looks like in practice can look very different from project to project. For an academic paper I might have done in college or grad school, this stage might be spending a bunch of time on Google Research or JSTOR, finding any bits of information I can about whatever it was I was assigned to talk about for a few pages. For a past creative project about my relationship with superhero media, I read a bunch of comic books and watched a bunch of movies. For the project I am setting out on this summer at Hartman, this stage involves spending as much time as possible out in the reserve and writing as many poems as possible that center my immediate experience in the reserve.
And so, the woods is the proverbial wall, and I am the not-so-proverbial me throwing myself at it to see what sticks. Which little creeks or thickets or bluff-top views will stick with me as I progress through this project? Will the beads of sweat and the gnats they attract forever be a damp, smelly corner of my current life as I will someday remember it? I don't know. Maybe. But even just a couple weeks in, I do find myself, and this experience, beginning to recalibrate the way I look at my writing process.
I am very fortunate to have the time and resources to spend some time at Hartman every week and write poetry. I like Hartman. I like poetry. Getting to fill your days with things that you like is a privilege, and a fantastic one at that. I do not know when or where I developed the urge to grind any creative opportunity down to horrific metaphors like "throwing myself at a wall." I don't know about you, but I think that sounds like it hurts!
In the simplest terms, this project is largely about balancing the (often crushing) responsibilities of modern American life with the things that make you feel nice. And while my "process" has probably helped me get things done that needed to get done in the past, I think that it is inherently flawed, especially when it comes to a project all about trying to disconnect a bit from the Big Scary World of Sad Stuff.
So I guess what I am saying is that I will continue to hike through the woods with or without heat waves, but I will also be making the time to be still. To strive towards an experience of Hartman that is not solely based on the production of a thing (though a thing(s) will be produced), but guided by curiosity and wonder. Maybe even indulge in some central air in the Interpretive Center while saying hi to Kathy the Fox Snake.
I am going to try to be nice to myself, and I hope you have the chance to do the same on this scorching summer solstice.
Oh, and here's a poem:
I am the gnats in my ear/a doom-be-damned buzz/a body in a sweat resin/Do I move by wings or by wind?