My vacation week has been far less productive than I'd hoped. I have only read a couple of books, just today drafted the first new poems I've managed in a while, haven't sent out any submissions (though I did inquire about an old one, and received a prompt & courteous response, but as it turns out my poems apparently fell into some black hole and can't be found), haven't touched the book manuscript I keep claiming I am working on. Haven't cleaned house either, but that doesn't bother me as much.
Today there was a fat sparrow sitting in the middle of the street in front of my house, so still I thought he was one of the walnuts that keeps falling off the tree by my front porch and hitting the roof with a resounding thud and scaring the crap out of me. The bird was just sitting there, not budging, so I went out to nudge him off the street and into a safer place. I gently nudged him with my toe (not wanting to pick him up with my hands, afraid he might have West Nile or avian flu or something -- every time they say "avian flu" on the news I think they are saying "Evian flu" and I find myself thinking, damn, do those designer-water-drinking rich people have their own brand of flu now?) and he hopped a couple hops, still out in the middle of the street, not safe. I kept nudging him and finally he flapped and lifted off a bit, but only flew a few feet. Still in the road. I nudged him about four times with my foot and finally he got his fat little fluffy self out of the street. I couldn't tell if he was too young to fly very well, or maybe sick, or what. Let's hope he is okay.
I've been thinking about how my writing process, specifically the first-drafting stage, has changed over the past couple of years. In a way it feels less controlled, more open, more ... urgent. It feels like a very physical thing. As I learned years ago when I studied karate, when you tense your muscles & try too hard to control what you are doing, the muscular tension slows you. Relaxation makes you faster. Try it. Tense every muscle in your arm, then try to throw a punch. Tense every muscle in your legs, consciously think about the process of lifting and bending and placing, and try to walk. Slow and painful, isn't it? Now relax and try it. Another word for this relaxation is flow.
You can work in this flow when writing, too. You can tense up and think hard about what might come next. You can consciously try to make the words do what you want. But if you relax and let language have its way it is easier, looser, faster. Does a bird want to fly into your poem? Let it. You can evict it later if need be. Soften your vision, let your mind reach a bit farther into distance. Don't wait for words and phrases to come all the way up to you and introduce themselves. It's better if you grab them when they're not looking.
In tennis, you strike the ball differently depending on where you catch it in its arc. If it peaks far ahead of you and you catch it on the way down, that's one possible stroke. You can also catch it early, as it rises, which allows you to send it in more surprising directions. Words also have an arc like that, and if you relax and loosen your death grip on control, you can nab them in mid-air, catch them quicker, send them sailing in a trajectory of surprise. You have more options this way and you are less likely to settle for the same damn arc over and over, the overly familiar phrase.
Let the bird fly into your poem. Let the horses with their surprising shapes. Let your gaze soften into distance. Get the words on paper before you even see them clearly in your mind. Once you've written them down, you can worry about looking at -- or understanding -- them later. But when you're first-drafting the close focus, the concern with understanding what you're on about, is the muscular tension that slows you, that dams the flow.