A phrase that begins with "Once a . . ." tends to end with "always a . . ." repeating the same noun after each opening. If I open this post with "Once a Writer . . ."—and include those three periods to indicate that something follows it—I hope that most readers will automatically add "Always a Writer." At least, I suspect that any reader who is also a writer will think that way. I like the construction and hope that "Once a reader, always a reader" would also be a reliable assertion, probably for all writers and hopefully for all children who are taught to read at an early age. But as a title for this series of posts it seems particularly apt for me.
Because I'm at an age where, when synapses open unexpectedly, I can't be sure they'll stay open very long or predictably reopen at my request, I've been hoping to find ways of making myself pay stricter attention to unplanned connections that catch my attention. Writing has usually been one way to do that over the years. It may be, in fact, that my reliance on writing has weakened my habit of remembering, since I suspect that, if I can't remember something, I may find out I've jotted it down somewhere. The trick is to remember where.
It used to be that English teachers taught students about free-writing, the act of composing spontaneously, informally, to wrestle with ideas or feelings and open synapses that give you freer access to them and more potential for expressing them more clearly in more formal drafts. I have long been someone who has trouble responding to certain emails—I never get letters or even postcards anymore—and usually delay until I've had time to free-write and then revise a response. Often I take so long that I don't respond at all. Online at Facebook I tend to simply hit the "Like" button rather than comment and reacting to sad or troubling news is particularly hard—I don't want to "like" news of a death or divorce or illness but repeating standard expressions of condolences seems inadequate.
Over the years I've been in the habit of writing books and essays and at the moment I've been avoiding trying to publish the last two books I completed. (It's the writing I'm interested in—the publishing has always been an afterthought.) But I have no new project in mind, nothing on the scale of another book-length venture, and neither have I been teaching writing lately, as I've done almost continuously for fifty years. Somehow I was pretty productive while simultaneously writing and teaching; not teaching and not writing gives me too much time to think about what I'm not doing. Social distancing adds another level of remoteness and I've begun to think that I've been social-distancing from myself a lot lately.
Friends encouraged me to start a blog, as they have also done, give myself an informal place to think on the digital page and occasionally send it out into the world. I could write about writing, or write about reading, or write about thinking about writing or reading. The blog part of it makes it less fraught than an essay or an article; the online part of it makes it a little more of a communication (even if I won't know if anyone else has read it) than a journal entry destined for a box in the garage (where years of them are piled). And at least, my friends remind me, I'll be writing again.
As it happens, things surface unexpectedly in my daily life, mostly in my habitual reading at the breakfast table or in a book I'm reading aloud while my wife prepares dinner or in my bedtime reading before sleep—an idea or a sentence in an article or an essay or a scene in a novel, an image in an illustration or in a cartoon or a film or television series we've watched at night—and they haunt me long enough that I feel the need to respond to them in words, mostly to find out why they haunt me, why they made me react the way I did, why I can't get them out of my mind. I keep logs for projects I'm working on, but those are geared toward ruminating about their progress or their problems; a blog would let me just react to whatever surfaces. I wouldn't have to post that particular entry, but I could. I'd let the entry itself tell me if it feels like going semi-public. Anyway, I'd be writing.
You know what they say: Once a writer . . .