Spiraling Upward

On page 4 of The Artist’s Way, which, in the company of a robust virtual writers’ group, I spent the beginning of the semester sporadically working through, Julia Cameron wrote something that jumped out and grabbed me: “In working with this book, remember that the Artist’s Way is a spiral path.” I have always been fascinated by the lived experience of the spiral. I vividly remember being four or five, snuggling with my mom and her big bed, and telling her that I thought problems were like onions that you had to un-peel. I remember how impressed she was common for years, I stayed convinced that I had come up with that image.  

15 or so years later, after my mom’s diagnosis with a brutishly hellish cancer, I returned again and again to the idea of life as a spiral, with good things and bad things occurring in reoccurring, but not in a linear way. For a long while, I gave credit to a good friend for having giving me that idea. Shortly before she died, my mom pointed out that it was she who had actually mentioned it to me first. Knowing my mom, it was probably around the time of the onion conversation. She shied away from very little with me as a child, letting me into big conversations and big ideas.

The dissertation chapter I just finished, my third, was the hardest to write, and it may be the best. In retrospect, writing it at an already tough time of year was not my best idea (that’s part of what made it so hard), but given that, I really turned out something strong. I can tell that it’s stronger than my first draft of my first chapter in part because I can see you the lessons I’ve been absorbing since the summer about how to write a book, and even more specifically, how to write a book in the ways that I think are important. One of those ways is a clear and well-integrated structure for the chapter, which helps weave it into the narrative of the whole project. And for reasons that I’m still thinking through,  

I have always loved the idea of scholarly revisitation, itself a kind of spiral, and it turns out a book is the perfect format for that. Little did I know I hadn’t written anything long enough yet to do that in the way I wanted to; even my Master’s thesis didn’t afford me the space I now have. Even though my experience of writing a book is limited, I am also writing from experience now, returning not just to the chapter format, but to the governing ideas of a bigger project. I have book experience now, something I didn’t have this time last year. And every book I write will, I hope, build on the ones before it.

In response to a tweet about how to talk to grad students over the holidays, I wrote this: “My semiannual reminder: academics are people too, and so you can ask us about other things in our lives. And academics, y’all can ask each other about other things than work. I actually think we perpetuate the problem more among ourselves. Be a whole person! It’s better!” While I’ve spent the semester working on my dissertation, fellowship applications, and my writing across the curriculum fellowship, I’ve saved as much time as possible for loved ones and friends and for boxing. And it really is better that way.

Here’s to spiraling upward in 2018.