13: Only the bare necessities.

- October 23, 2016 -

After exchanging the bustling spontaneity of summer for the quiet contemplation of fall, I now find myself re-learning how to be still.

Mornings have had me lingering around the house, and nighttime has had me drinking tea before bed. I’ve returned to journaling, and I’m reading more fiction. I’ve silenced all of the notifications on my computer, and I no longer use my phone.

Whereas the goal was once to fill my days with as many sights, sounds, and experiences as possible, I now want only the bare necessities. I’ve been letting go of anything I don’t absolutely need so that, by the time winter is at its fullest, I won’t have anything to distract me.

. . .

If you were to walk into my workspace, you’d think that someone was either in the process of moving in or was just about to move out. That’s because I recently removed, sorted, and stored all of the little trinkets of memorabilia which had accumulated both on and around my desk over the past few months.

You see, until then, I had been intentionally surrounding myself with a multitudinous array of inspirational quotes, works of art, and personal photographs. All of these were items of great significance which, at one time, had fit perfectly into my life; they were just what I wanted to see and surround myself with, just what I needed to look at in order to elicit a feeling or remind myself of a goal.

Among them, one of my favourites was a quote from Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead: “It was not necessary to hurry. It was inevitable.”

I came across this quote at a time when I was working constantly, writing for hours upon hours each day, yet still being so energized and enthused about the work that I would stay up late writing until, eventually, I would force myself to stop and go to bed.

At the time, Rand’s words were useful to me because they were a poignant reminder to slow down, a reminder that there would be time for all things.

Since then, however, much has changed. And so, piece by piece, I took just about everything down.

. . .

Elizabeth Gilbert, in her book Big Magic, offers an insightful anecdote on coping with failure:

“I once heard the director Mike Nichols speak about his prolific film career, and he said that he’d always been really interested in his failures. Whenever he saw one of them airing on late-night TV, he would sit down and watch it all over again… He would watch with curiosity, thinking, That’s so interesting, how that scene didn’t work out…

No shame, no despair — just a sense that it’s all very interesting. Like: Isn’t it funny how sometimes things work and other times they don’t? Sometimes I think that the difference between a tormented creative life and a tranquil creative life is nothing more than the difference between the word awful and the word interesting.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald, in James E. Miller’s The Fictional Technique of F. Scott Fitzgerald, presents another take on the ups and downs of creative life:

“Shortly before his death in December, 1940, Fitzgerald wistfully surveyed his career: ‘What little I’ve accomplished has been by the most laborious and uphill work, and I wish now I’d never relaxed or looked back…’”

Indeed, how true that is.

I’ve noticed, for instance, that my busiest times are also my most intellectually fruitful and conducive to work. When I have few responsibilities or deadlines, the days and weeks simply waste away.

It is never in the midst of these busy seasons, however, that I enjoy or appreciate the experience; no, it is only much later that I am able to look back and recognize the benefit of those hectic, more muddled times.


As ever,
– J


This piece comes from Jana Marie’s newsletter, The Sunday Letters. You can sign up to receive future editions below.