After being part of the Grind — a writing a something-a-day project — for most of this year, I’ve developed something I never thought I’d develop: a steady daily writing routine. I wake up when Gertrude Stein meows loudly enough, feed the cats and the fish, make coffee, then take my coffee and notebook onto the back porch. And I write.
This morning, Gertrude Stein sat very patiently in the bed next to me and meowed very patiently until I woke up. I made coffee. I fed the cats and the fish. I got my notebook and cup of coffee and sat outside on the back porch. I could not write.
This isn’t a post about writer’s block. It isn’t really even a post about writing. It’s a post about one person trying to go through the routines and regularities of her day, which happen to involve writing. It’s about that one person opening her notebook to a blank page, uncapping her pen, and then sitting and looking at that pen and blank page and having no idea what to do. What she should do. If there’s anything to do, the day after what will surely go down as one of the saddest days in American history, the day after it seemed that the worst of mankind triumphed and the best of mankind — all that children represent, their hope and innocence and innocent joy — was gunned down, with a kind of chilling efficiency that’s too terrifying even to think about.
And it’s a post about one person struggling with one question: what do you do? In the face of the horrible things human beings can do, the horrible things God allows — what does anyone do? Every gesture seems empty. Every act useless.
This morning, writing doesn’t feel right. But not writing doesn’t feel right, either. I think back to 9/11, the first day we returned to class, blindly terrified and shaking every time an Army plane buzzed the campus. None of us knew what to do. We knew that going back to class, when only fifteen minutes away there was the kind of suffering none of use could imagine, didn’t feel right, but not going back to class didn’t feel right, either. The only thing anyone can do, my art professor said, is keep going, keep living. And I guess she was right. Living, and living to the fullest, seems to be the only thing to do in the face of such faceless inhumanity. It’s the only gesture that makes any sense — to live, and to fight for what is right and good and to send kindness and love into a world that seems completely bereft of it. What else can anyone ever do?
This morning I find myself returning to this poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay, which, I think, says pretty much anything that could be said.
Dirge without Music
I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains, — but the best is lost.
The answers quick & keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,
They are gone. They have gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.