Karen Romano Young

From the desk: Doodlebug: My Novel in Doodles and Humanimal Doodles, a science comic in print and on the web.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Struggle

"Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will find them gradually, without noticing it, and live along some distant day into the answer." -- Rainer Maria Rilke

This quote, scribbled on one of the hundreds of white unlined index cards that surround me, hangs over my desk. Once in a while when I pause long enough to just see what's in front of me, I notice and read it, and it never fails to jolt me into what passes for perspective around here.
Because I tend to be too frenetic to notice this card, last week I drew myself a more succinct message: Stop Struggling.

I made the Stop Struggling sign after my beloved yoga teacher Rebecca kept saying it during one of the hardest, hottest power vinyasa classes I've taken. Her notion, that there's an argument inside that doesn't have to be won, just bypassed, resonated -- as yoga often does -- with my work struggle. Cross that out. (I began to hit the delete button, but stopped myself: is this a Freudian slip or something more overt?) Maybe I need to think about why I refer to my work as a struggle! What should I call it instead: channeling yoga again, should I call it my work practice? Well, what if I did? Just for the sake of this post -- which comes at the start of a four-week planned work vortex -- I'll parse out that practice idea a bit.

To stick with the yoga parallel a little longer, I'll state that Rebecca refers to us all as yogis. That sounds a little high-fallutin' to me, but she contends that anyone who practices yoga is a yogi. Is this like saying that anyone who writes is a writer? Yes. And maybe that's the first step to any discipline (another telling word): if you do it, you're a doer of it, end of discussion. So maybe the first message is to take yourself seriously, and call it what it is. That is, call yourself a doer of what you do. Which makes me a yogi, and a doodler, and an artist, and a dog-walker, and a writer, and a goof-off.

Then there's the practice idea. With yoga this means I keep on showing up, keep on going, keep on doing it, keep trying to do it better. Same with writing. Imagine the sigh of inevitability I uttered when, in yoga class on Saturday, Rebecca quoted Stephen King when he defined writing as "ass in chair" time, and said yoga was "feet on mat" time.

Wait, all I need is my ass in the chair? No, but it's an absolutely vital expression of purpose. It's a lot easier for me to get my head into writing when my ass is already there, virtually impossible if it's not, unless I'm shouting dictation from across the room. As for yoga, it's impossible to practice if my feet aren't on the mat -- and yet, Rebecca says, the key to yoga is to keep breathing. Keep focusing on inhaling and exhaling, and from that point focus on the pose you're in, and nothing else. This sounds like Doctorow's quote about how writing is like driving at night: although you can only see as far as the headlights, you can get all the way home like that.

In the last few days, I've spent a lot of time listening to Clarence Clemons' music and reading tributes to his life and music with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. I'm so grateful that my sister Kim took me to Massachusetts in summer 2009 to hear one of Clarence's last concerts with those folks. It was a joy. And it has been interesting to hear about some of Clarence's ambitions beyond that band: his acting experience, his own bands, his contribution to Lady Gaga's "Born This Way." From his example I see that even band nirvana wasn't enough for his spirit, and he continued struggling and striving in new directions right up to the end of his life.

Some of us just are that way. Feet on the mat. Ass in the chair. That's my aim today.

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