finishing a pen and working again (blog)

[Topics, not necessarily in order: the nature and meaning of “work”; pens; ballet; airplanes; writing; re-learning; figuring out what I really want; how to get what I really want]

This is not the pen I finished, but one that I thought would look good with this decorative pile of glass fruit.

As I’ve pivoted to working from home during this pandemic, I’ve been doing less of some things and more of others. In the latter group? Finishing pens. Or using up pens. Or running out of ink. I can call it many different ways, but for some reason, “finishing pens” has stuck as my favorite. Maybe because it’s the most efficient. I finished a writing course through Stanford University’s Continuing Studies department lately, and one of the students had shared a revision guide by a famous editor (think: Farrar Straus and Giroux level): the first tip was to “omit needless words.” Or, to go the opposite and maybe more subjective route, while “finishing words” is the shortest at just two words, “finishing” is linguistically appealing to me. I’m also no poet nor musicians, but the amateur in me finds some melody to the phrase, too: the musical rhythm it might correspond to could be a triplet then quarter note. Ta-ta-ta, dun. (Yep, that’s the proper notation alright.) After all, writing can be done for different purposes, and sometimes, it’s just about what sounds nice to the writer, or what gives the desired effect.

All this to say, I’ve found a lot of satisfaction in finishing pens and the rediscovering of the tactile art of writing by hand again (omit needless words!) during this otherwise shite time. I wanted to honor that feeling by going on a journey with a sentence and then a paragraph, a good sentence and a good paragraph. To me, at least. Good in that I limited the amount of parenthetical interjections (my bad habit, oof!). Good in that damn, I was able to find some art or melody in my words; there is room for neither in the emails I write for work. Finally, good in that I was able to put some of the mess of my thoughts into an organized, comprehensible form for sharing. Though if I think about it, it’s only because I know I’ll be sharing them on the interwebz that I can even make them comprehensible. If you’ll notice, I haven’t posted in a while–despite having plenty of thoughts–because I went through yet another period of asking myself, “If a writer makes a blog post and there’s no one who reads it, did the words land?” Yes, that was my rendition of the question about a tree falling in a forest.

We're All Mad Here GIFs | Tenor
Cheshire Cat art rights are Disney’s (hello former employer!). GIF from Tenor.

There is another thread here, which is that I’m going through the fits and starts of learning to work for things again.

This sounds hilarious, right? We’ve all been working this year: working from home, working in tough environments (which could be home), working to retain a shred of our sanity.

I mean in terms of working towards something I really want and that fulfills me, beyond the types of things attached to being able to keep one’s job, such as a promotion or at least a good performance rating. Something like strength, meaning, integrity, community. All those “fluffy” things that I re-realize every few years are difficult as hell to maintain. They change form, I change, climate change–you get it.

I think the analogy I’ll use here is an airplane. Specifically, the conditions required for one to fly. The explanation makes you marvel at science, math, physics, all that good stuff (though apparently there are still ongoing attempts to explain…?!). Basically, there are many forces and factors that have to align for a plane to be able to fly (and carry people and luggage and and and).

To continue the analogy, I’m at a point in my life where I’ve been able to “take off” and keep myself in flight for a short while post-college. But I am now hitting that point where I don’t know whether I want to land my plane and board another one, or keep flying in my current one. In this analogy of course, my fuel supply is limitless, a very bold assumption.

To make the choice, I have to do a lot of work. Some of it mental, some of it physical–if what counts as physical is typing a gajillion Google and YouTube searches for variations of “how to figure out what you want to do with life.” Little of it is easy. Little of it is glamorous or pleasant or Instagrammable.

And this specifically is where the work has re-begun for me. Not only working on finding my next “plane,” but learning to sit with the discomfort and enjoy the small, positive breakthroughs that occur as I’m working on that. (Like my small flash fiction win! Or getting signed to a new talent agency!)

Here we go with another analogy. I promise it’s the last one for this post.

One of my hobbies is ballet, an interest I began to cultivate after serious figure skating became too hard on my body, and I’m a total nerd about it. I watch it. I read about it. I listen to its (traditional) music; the “Waltz of the Snowflakes” from the Nutcracker suite by Tchaikovsky is a bop and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. I try to dance it adequately, nothing divine like Marianela Nunez – there’s an accent on the “u” and a tilde on the n, but I clearly haven’t figured out WordPress formatting quite yet.

In ballet, before dancers can progress from soft shoes to pointe shoes, they work to strengthen what I’ve heard called the “intrinsic” muscles in their feet. Their daily dancing already provides general strengthening, but then they also must do targeted exercises that prepare their feet, ankles, and entire legs, really, for the safe and precise technique required of dancing en pointe. But this ritualistic strengthening doesn’t end when dancers go on pointe or go professional. In fact, from what I’ve observed about ballet, and really any other demanding activity–physical or non–what separates professionals from amateurs is this constant working of intrinsic muscles and basic skills. But it’s also the mindset that distinguishes: there is a deep respect for how there is really nothing “basic” about basic skills. In fact, there is a love and admiration for honing them, if my watching hours of Royal Ballet rehearsal videos (thank you YouTube) has taught me anything.

This is sadly what I realized I’ve forgotten. I’m ashamed, honestly, because “doing the work” is how I got a ticket for my plane, got my plane to lift, and so on, but I still somehow let myself get complacent and unhappy. But I hope to keep the sadness brief because it also provides clarity on what to do or how to think from now on:

  • Enjoy the work of finding my next work or line of work, starting from the basics (researching, meditating, thinking, making lists, tearing up lists, etc.)
  • Also, get comfortable with the fact that the “work” is endless, which I am earnestly trying not to see as a death sentence (I know, #dramatic much)

Actors talk about needing to enjoy the work first and foremost. (Whoops, guess I broke that “no more analogies” promise.) Pithy motivational calendars or quotes remind us to “enjoy the process,” or “the journey matters more than the goal.” But if you’re anything like me, these words never really sunk in until you’ve had to, well, find enjoyment in a process or journey. Maybe this is what acting teachers mean when they want you to personalize the text. Maybe it’s because we’re attracted to glamour and memorable milestones in life, such as graduations, weddings, and so on. There are also so many challenges still to overcome, which I acknowledge could be even harder for those not in my position. That can easily be another post.

For now, I wish you luck in your process. Tell me about it?