I keep a Housing Works Bookstore bookmark prominently displayed on my desk that read: YOU ARE HERE. It serves as a reminder in two important ways. First of all, when I wander through the room looking for something, it reminds me that the “you” of me is most often “here” at my desk. When I lose my direction, I can find it again by spending some time at my desk with a pencil and notebook close at hand.
The second reminder of “You are here” is to be actively present in whatever moment I find myself. I’m not in the future. I’m not in the past (thank god). I’m here, and I should attend to that. Which means that when I’m at my desk, I should be attending to my writing – not lamenting my woeful acceptance rates, not planning dinner, not mentally enumerating the ways a friend of mine is a far better poet than I am. Of course attending to my writing might involve foraging through old notebooks, revising a bedraggled draft, or even staring out the window at the cloud formations waiting for a mystical transfusion of poetry. That’s okay. Any part of the writing experience (including that open-mouthed thought fishing) is permissible at the desk.
Like many writers, I often read someone else’s work to warm up. This is an exceptionally fine way to get in the rhythm and court (but not copy) ideas. It has the added benefit of inspiration. You know – wow, I want to be able to write like that! And sometimes, an incredible piece of writing will be a signpost for some other part of your life.
Therefore, I give you “The World” by Marie Howe in her exceptionally fine book Kingdom of Ordinary Time.
I couldn’t tell one song from another,
which bird said what or tow whom or for what reason.
The oak tree seemed to be writing something using very few words.
I couldn’t decide which door to open – they looked the same, or what
would happen when I did reach out and turn a knob. I thought I was safe,
but my death remembered its date:
only so many summer nights still stood before me, full moon, waning moon,
October mornings: what to make of them? which door?
I couldn’t tell which stars were which or how far away any one of them was,
or which were still burning or not – their light moving through space like a long
late train – and I’ve lived on this earth so long – 50 winters, 50 springs and summers,
and all this time stars in the sky – in daylight
when I couldn’t see them, and at night when, most nights, I didn’t look.