I am having an extraordinary week, taking an online intensive poetry workshop with Gail Mazur through the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. There are six of us studying together in our cyber meeting space, sitting at our desks in Maine and Georgia and California, getting to know each other through poems and commentary. There is Gail, with her generous daily offering of instruction and encouragement. And there are assignments which we are told to do “before breakfast.”
I. Do. Nothing. Before. Breakfast. Within minutes of rising I am at the table, paper spread out, coffee and a hearty high-protein breakfast at hand. Not this week. And the first thing I have learned is that I thrive on the immediate turning to the task of writing. It seems to be the energizing equivalent of many grams of protein and much caffeine.
Gail says (and I have a feeling those are words I’ll be using a lot with myself) that to change the work, you must change the habit. I think there is wisdom in that but I think this particular change of habit changes more than the work: writing before breakfast--even a fast first draft--is a way of telling my mind and body that this is what I do, what I value, how I spend my most important time. This is the next thing I’ve learned.
And it occurs to me that this works for more than writing. Who we are, at our most basic, is who we are from the first moment we start our day. What is important to us, what we want to accomplish, what we dream of doing, what we value doing most--those are the things we need to make time for first, aren’t they? And then whatever tiny accomplishment we have from those minutes reverberates through our day, tells us who we are and what we do. Maybe it sets the course for the rest of the day. Maybe it whispers to us while we are doing other things: this is what counts, this is what I do.
Of course we are rushed from the minute we leave our beds. There are multiple claims on our time and our energies. But they make it too easy for us to slip back into our beds at night not having done what we think or say we most want to do. My dear aunt Alice, whose wise sayings I often rely on and quote to others, used to say, “All you can do is all you can do.” Now I am thinking of another version of that: what you can do is what you can do.
Yes. Thank you, Alice. Thank you, Gail. Thank you, poets who have shared this week with me.