This weekend is why I came back to school. I have a story due for workshop Tuesday and not so much as an opening scene in mind. The deadline is pressing my mind flat, to which my first instinctive response was eating a much too large burrito as if to balloon up the all of me. Now I’m nauseous, I’m nervous, I’m angry at the 30-average hours I spend per week worrying about, preparing for, or actually teaching, angrier still at the twenty-plus hours I burn on speed-reading novels for lit classes, torching my mind reserves with academic napalm and leaving myself too exhausted to type, and ten hours utterly wasted trying to fall asleep, or back asleep, when my mind is apparently on loan to God, himself on a deadline for the plot of all existence to come the following day, so like the military supercomputer built entirely from PS3s, in His infinite wisdom He daisy-chains a few million creative minds together to figure out every possibly alternate reality before the sun comes up and he gets published, so to speak.
But the end result of all of that is today, right now, when I have a deadline and nothing is going to make that deadline go away. My only option left is to fucking write something. Which makes this a lucky week. Usually the only time I get to experience what I’m taking out loans and killing three years to experience is the three hours a week I spend marking and reviewing the workshop stories plus the three hours actually in workshop. That’s like 3% of my week, and almost none of that thinking is about my own writing, and literally none of that is actually trying to write a story.
It won’t always be like this. I’m in two lit classes this semester, so the time spent there is inordinate, and these will be the last on the docket. Only one class to teach in the spring, which cuts grading time in half, but since I’ve never taught that class it’ll be similar hours prepping. The classes I have in the spring are not reading intensive, almost entirely creative, so then I plan to get my money’s worth.
But nothing can live up to the deadline pressure of weekends like this, and I’ve seen a few before, written some of my best stuff in times like these. While I can stew and grind my teeth the rest of the week, I can’t afford to feel angry now, or depressed, or repressed, or oppressed, or probably even impressed. There isn’t even time to relish in the success of a good idea. I can only get it down and get on with it.
Oprah asks McCarthy how come he’s a writer, whether it’s because he has a passion for writing. He says, as if he’s never heard such a question, because he might not have, no, that’s not why he does it. Passion is such a fancy word. He likes what he does. Some writers say they hate writing, and he wouldn’t say that, though on some days it is difficult. But to hate something, to him, is closer to the meaning of passion than Oprah’s definition. McCarthy says you have to have some image of perfection in your head which you never stop trying to achieve, and you’ll never get there, but without it you won’t get anywhere.
My perfection is for every day to be like today, and my mind is only required to create stories, and I dive into my computer screen and mingle with the pixels and arrange and delete and invent. And my food is free and I never get tired and every cup of coffee tastes like the first, and I only quit when I’ve given every ounce of my brain to the task, and then my body takes over and I stand up and stretch and hit the restroom and pee for half an hour and then go make the hot sex in twelve positions in four separate locations and we sleep for seven hours and our bodies wake us up again to burn off the last of their energies and the next my mind is aware of a damn thing is right back here at the coffee shop, reading where I left off the day before.
This is my perfection and I won’t get there, so weekends like this have to suffice. But without that perfection, I wouldn’t get anywhere.
Of course he’s talking about stories, and there I don’t have a perfection yet, which is why I’m not getting anywhere, which is why I’m writing here.
Do you have a schedule, asks Oprah. She’s interviewed many writers, you see, she has a inkling of what most writers do and since he never gives interviews she’s curious how well he fits the mold, and she’s right to be curious. I don’t have a schedule, clearly. I know a lot of writers that swear by it, but I’ve never been able to get there. McCarthy says no, of course, no he doesn’t have a schedule. Faulkner, he says, was asked if he wrote every day or only when he was inspired, and he said only when he’s inspired, but he’s inspired every day. You have to take it seriously. As the work that you do. Do you plot things out, he asks himself, and answers immediately no, you can’t. That would be death. You have to trust in wherever it comes from.
I go into these weekends empty and can only hope to be empty enough not to die. To write and let it come. This is how you win a National Book Award and a Pulitzer and live in seclusion in Sante Fe never have to talk to reporters or critics, except Oprah, who stands to make you a shitload of money so how can you say no. But a readership of millions, Cormac, do you want that? Do you care? In all honesty, no. You want the people who will appreciate it to read it, of course, but just acquiring a bigger number of readers? Nah. Nothing wrong with it, but it doesn’t matter one way or the other.
You are a different kind of author, Cormac.
Read it if you want, if you don’t, so what! Ha!
A different kind of author, ha ha!