It was an unlikely place to learn one of the most valuable lessons in life. You’d expect an ‘a-ha’ moment for a teenage writer to come from an inspiring English teacher or from reading a book of Emerson poetry for the first time, or something like that. And, while I had some great clinicians for English teachers (Neuleib and Kelly), it was in my AP U.S. History class that Ms. Scott taught me that writing helps. She forced me to write about history in a way that EXPLAINED it, not just recounted it, and in those exercises I learned the value of using writing to explain things. You see, when you write to explain your thoughts and feelings, your mind is forced to process and organize those thoughts and feelings into understandable sentences. The result is that writing helps us understand ourselves, process our feelings, and express those feelings to others in ways that speaking cannot because of the filter of our hands on the pen or fingers on the keyboard.
So, I return to the task that Ms. Scott often assigned now as an adult, particularly when I’ve got something swirling around in my mind that needs some translation to make any sense. While I still love to read about Sherman’s March to the Sea and Roosevelt’s New Deal, those topics don’t find their way into my creative writing these days. However, when I was writing about those things I was forced to study the facts, examine the commentary, and develop my own thoughts about the how and why of some of history’s most important moments. I try to apply the same exercise to my writing now – I am usually stirred by facts (something I read, hear, or discuss with a friend usually), I examine the commentary (often inside my own head), and I try to develop my own thoughts about the implications of what is going on.
You see, I’ve been in a bit of a ‘funk’ lately. Nothing serious, just not the best me, not the me I want to be. Unlike my writing hero, Edward Abbey (pictured above), I’m not intending to set off to blow up a dam out of angst; although if you are thinking about that you should watch Damnation on Netflix and you’ll definitely want to. I digress…
So, I review the facts: I’ve had 3 straight weeks of heavy travel (like multiple flights, coast to coast, red-eye heavy travel), I’ve been out of my consistent running pattern (only 1-2 days a week the last few weeks), I’m eating like crap (on my last business trip I had back to back nights of 10p wings and beer at the hotel bar because of that crappy travel schedule), and I haven’t written anything since October 30. I examine the commentary in my head – “Wow, looks like you’re putting on some weight this morning in the mirror,” “Gee, I’m awfully tired this morning, I think I’ll sleep another 45 minutes since my client meeting isn’t until 10a today,” “It’s been a long trip, you deserve some ‘comfort food’ before bed tonight.”
Now it’s time to develop my own thoughts into something meaningful on this page. Travel is a natural part of my job, it us unavoidable, so there is no sense in taking a negative view of the necessity of some tough trips. The real thing that is going to get me out of this ‘funk’ isn’t less travel, it is a change in discipline and attitude. If I look at times I’ve felt great about myself and the world, I was actually traveling quite a bit then. Travel inspires and energizes me, it is fun for me to explore new places and meet new people. The difference is my approach to that travel and how I spend my hours on the road needs a re-start. When I leave enough room in my travel schedule to enjoy a city, sit down for a decent meal at a decent hour, and make it a priority to get out of bed for my morning run, my whole attitude and experience changes.
In my old high school ‘blue books’ where Ms. Scott made us write our history essays, she always made us leave margins so that we had room for notes and additions if we needed them. I think the same applies here – I need to get back to leaving some margins in my days; time to think, time to read, time to explore, and time to write. Because writing helps.