What Work Is

Another delightful piece that really shines when acted out. Philip Levine is (/was) a master.
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What Work Is

by Philip Levine

We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is––if you’re
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting from one foot to another.
Feeling the light rain falling like mist
into your hair, blurring you vision
until you think you see your own brother
ahead of you, maybe ten places.
You rub your glasses with your fingers,
and of course it’s someone else’s brother,
narrower across the shoulders than
yours but with the same sad slouch, the grin
that does not hide the stubbornness,
the sad refusal to give in to
rain, to the hours of wasted waiting,
to the knowledge that somewhere ahead
a man is waiting who will say, “No,
we’re not hiring today,” for any
reason he wants. You love your brother,
now suddenly you can hardly stand
the love flooding you for your brother,
who’s not beside you or behind or
ahead because he’s home trying to
sleep off a miserable night shift
at Cadillac so he can get up
before noon to study his German.
Works eight hours a night so he can sing
Wagner, the opera you hate most,
the worst music ever invented.
How long has it been since you told him
you loved him, held his wide shoulders,
opened your eyes wide and said those words,
and maybe kissed his cheek? You’ve never
done something so simple, so obvious,
not because you’re too young or too dumb,
not because you’re jealous or even mean
or incapable of crying in
the presence of another man, no
just because you know what work is.

June Writing Tip 2: Develop a Writing Routine

Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. Thomas Edison

Maybe most of you have already seen or heard this quote. And yet, the idea of the lonely, toiling writer persists, which is not to say that writing is either hard or easy work, but instead that it takes concerted effort. After all, writing consists of writing and re-writing. Until, what you want to say, comes out right. So why not create a habitual routine? Why not, find a way to get better incrementally? How? some of you might ask. Well, the method is clear. Develop a writing routine and do your best to stick with it.

ImageFor some, the idea may seem stifling, or even restrictive. How do I know? you ask. Well, more specifically, I’ve been there. Done that. Busy staring at a piece of paper, waiting for inspiration. Or the muse to strike. Some days it came. She came. Placing something that seemed like a grand idea inside my head. Something that would get me going hop-pity skip, along a merry trail. Other times, she remained absent. Looking back now, I can recall those ideas that were carried through to completion, while others died on the page, suffering either from a lack of clarity or overkill, where I tried to make the story do what I wanted it to do, rather than listening to what the characters had to say.

The beauty though would be those that would bear new fruit. Those that in going over, would lead me to another more skilled creation. Looking back now, I can see that in my own infancy stage as a writer that one of the most important things that I lacked was a regular writing routine. Truthfully, I would wait for the story. Or come up with some brilliant title and then try to write around it. Not that there is anything wrong with either approach, because sometimes an idea might come in stages and other times it might be the whole. But take time, write it down. Get yourself accustomed to some sort of rhythm when you create. Say you grab a beer or a cup of black coffee and then settle down to write. Say, for an hour or two, between five to seven, after you’ve come home from work. Or if you do this full time, say writing  early in the morning and editing in the afternoon.

iwriter magesEither way, let your schedule be something you create for yourself, rather than something that is imposed on you. Put aside a block of time each day, only for writing. And when that time comes, you do nothing but work. Write. Even if at the end of it you only get down one good line. A paragraph or a page. Work all the time you work. Write all the time you write. And keep it. Even if the words don’t jive with you afterwards. In a week or two, something in it may seem salvageable. Or be exactly what you were aiming for.

And finally, try your best not to think of this block of time as regimented work. Free your mind. Allow yourself to be creative. To write without qualms. Yes, open yourself up to seeing things differently. With fresh eyes. Eventually the right words will come, with or without your help and you will learn that being a more disciplined writer is about allowing yourself the freedom to create.

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So, until next Monday! Keep reading, writing and posting!