When my kids were eight and five (ish) I wanted a fish tank. Soothing gurgly water, colorful fishies swimming in mesmerizing circles around flowing green plants and hiding in adorable miniature shipwrecks. How charming and peaceful that would be.
I knew nothing about fish. Like: the most colorful ones require saltwater. Like: you need to balance the acidity of the water. Like: you have to clean the tank at least once a week. Like: fish get a disease called “ick” that kills them dramatically. Like: a dying fish wobble-swims in a desperate side-stroke that is extremely distressing to all who witness it. Except the cat, whose joy is manifest in its swishing tail.
Before I knew all those things, I made a valiant effort, investing a fair amount of money and a greater amount of time in my fledgling tank. My dearest friend at the time was a wiser-than-me mommy who had watched me flail my way through parenting infants and toddlers and was supporting my efforts with the elementary school set (I was getting better. I like to imagine I’m hitting my stride with my now-adolescent sons. By the time they’re adults I’ll be fantastic!). This good friend asked gently, after I lamented the loss of yet another delightful fishy, why I had added “fish” to my to-do list when I claimed I reallyreallyreally wanted to write.
Uh … well …
Good point. Why indeed? And why, after the fish have been long-since flushed, did I choose, this fall, to take on not one but two time-consuming volunteer roles? Have I learned NOTHING?
No and yes, I’ve decided. No: non-writing activities take time and energy. Yes: the world outside my head sparks ideas inside my head … and then the dry tinder I didn’t know I’d gathered blazes up and my writerly self is off to the races. As S.D. Simonds puts it:
[T]he author writes as a race-horse runs, for the sake of it. He feels like it, and kindles just because he enjoys burning.
(From The Living Way, edited and published by S.D. Simonds, Volume III, 1872, referring to Joaquin Miller and his poem “Isles of the Amazons”)
Write for the burning, and gather your firewood wheresoever you find it.