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Willem de Kooning, Excavation, 1950
I’m back in my apartment after three weeks of travel. I’ve partially unpacked and folded my clothes. I bought a gigantic bird of paradise plant this morning and crammed it into my living room. There are snacks in my fridge—orzo salad, smoked turkey slices, blueberries. I feel like a bird happily ensconced in its nest.
I like to travel, but familiar environments enable process better than anything else. I like to walk my dog in the morning, get the same cold brew and the same trout toast, putter around and do the same domestic tasks, sit down at my dining table (which is mostly used as a second desk) and write for a few hours. The morning routine is a kind of incantation. It clears up space to think.
I think of process as the alchemy that allows work to happen, life to happen. I sit down and I write. My body knows what to expect. Some days are better and some days are worse. I’m used to that by now. Some days I sit there trying for an hour or three, and then delete it, and at the end of the day I have nothing.
What writing consistently has taught me: how to accept bad days, and how to structure my life in a way to make good days possible. That there are not only bad days, but bad weeks and bad months and bad years. That writing is the product of all the background rumination you do as you go through life sitting in friends’ living rooms, taking your dog to the park, getting dehydrated during a hike.
I was telling a friend a couple days ago that I’m not fixated on the good in my life anymore—instead I’ve become obsessed with what unsettles me. A passage, an image, an interaction that chews me up for days afterwards. I unpack those, try to slice them apart. I’m learning as I’m living, and then I write it down.
I’m trying to work out a particular vantage point. You can’t write a story if you’re too close up. You can love a person if you don’t understand them, but maybe not successfully. Good art is a matter of how you see something as simple as a chopping board and a head of lettuce. Everything is interesting if the perspective is right.
Writing takes time, and sometimes that frustrates me. I want everything to happen right now.
There is something important about developing right kind of patience: working diligently, but understanding timing. Holding on for long enough and then letting go. Distinguishing between what feels alive and what doesn’t.
I spent most of my time with friends I made years ago. When I meet a new person I pause for a moment to consider how they fit into the existing fabric of my life. When I was 17 my life was a blank canvas, and now it feels like a home already filled with furniture. There’s space, but it’s limited. This, too, feels like a kind of process.
We are always building off the experiences we’ve already accumulated. This year I am learning that I have to respect other people’s processes as well as my own. To love someone is to love their patterns, their rituals, the things that already take up space in their life. To love someone is to work with who they already are and decide if you can accept it.
My writing will change over the years, maybe even dramatically, but it will also remain the same. Writing is thinking, and the tenor of my thoughts has remained pretty consistent since I was a child. I should be with someone who likes the way I think. So should you.
If you find someone who loves the way you think they will have respect for your process. Because they understand that the writing comes from the thinking, the action comes from the seeing. You don’t get to pick and choose different parts of other people: every quality is connected with every other quality. To love a person is to love a complex ecosystem.
What am I trying to say? Something like this: how I decorate with my home is connected to how I write is connected to how I talk is connected to who I love. These things are always metamorphosing, but they also remain the same. When I have respect for my own process and other people’s, I am able to create better conditions for us to grow in. The things that stay constant are exactly what enable us to keep moving forward.