Since my last post, I attended another writing retreat (this time at Catwalk), completely restructured my novel, and started a new job as “Story Advisor” at Greenpeace International. It’s a dream position in every way. I spend my days doing conceptual narrative work, teaching storytelling to activists, and also taking part in concrete campaigning to save the planet. After years in academia, in a world of ideas and rhetoric, the thought that the work I do could actually matter and have real impact is kind of incredible.
Eager to dive in and understand the world of Greenpeace, I set my book aside for a few weeks. But about a month into my job, I started to feel anxious. A part of my anxiety came from being away from my book. But another, more worrying part, came from realizing that I could just stop working on it completely.
After all, I could be swallowed up by activism, couldn’t I? It happened to me before — when I was recruited as national director of a Tibetan activist organization straight out of college. For an entire year, I did not write a single piece of fiction. It just did not seem important. Literature, writing — all of it seemed like selfish pursuits against supporting the struggle of my people for human rights.
With activism, there is immediate gratification — in having a purpose that is public, collective, and always seemingly so urgent. Writing a novel, meanwhile, requires patience. It’s the kind of work meant for people who understand that to make art, you have to crawl into a hole for many years (six so far in my case), work quietly and diligently, and come out only when it’s “ready.”
But it has been a long time since my last hiatus from writing, and this time the stakes are much higher. Not only is there this project, the book, there is also the deeper recognition of my need to write. I know now that if I cannot write, if I am not practicing it constantly, everything else I do is — in a sense — dancing around a void.
Still, knowing you need to write is one thing. Creating a life that makes it possible to write is another. I work from home, sharing one end of a dining table in a tiny Brooklyn apartment, and I quickly found that switching gears from writing communications strategies one moment to my novel the next while sitting in the same place all day was just not going to work.
So this past week, I got myself a membership at a writer’s space fifteen minutes from my apartment. In the afternoons, when I have finished my duties at my new job, I walk to the writer’s space, a place that feels like a retreat into some older part of me, and spend a few good hours each day doing what’s necessary: writing — quietly, privately.