First: Take a large breath.
Do you know that moment when you are in your Bootcamp exercise class, trying not to look totally decrepit as you struggle to find the right form when the trainer commands that you do endless burpees and then the music changes to The Clash’s “Rock The Casbah,” but it isn’t The (actual) Clash but some session musicians that have been paid to convert Punk into Disco so that gyms across America can use the song as a workout track, and suddenly you plunge into a profound sadness when you realize that the music of your youth—the music that spoke about revolution, that represented a stand against capitalism and fundamentalism—is now simply the music to which you put your ungainly booty in the air, and then squat-thrust back into place without drawing too much attention to yourself, and then you think about all the time you’ve wasted in your life and how you wasted it, and what happened to writing because you believed that simply by publishing you could have an effect on a public conversation, but then you heard Richard Price, a writer for the hugely popular TV show The Wire say in an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air that the people who had once helped him with his research for the show now avoided him because they had not yet read his book, and that Toni Morrison also avoided him because she was asked to blurb his book and she, too, had not read it, and you realize that maybe the biggest revolution is not necessarily to write a book, but to get others to read the thing you have spent three years writing—three years, which is enough time to give birth to three children, or nine children if you had three sets of triplets—and thinking about this you ask yourself where in your life can you find the time to promote your work when your dayjob and cooking and cleaning take up all of your day (and yes, it is totally true that you don’t have to make your bed every day, but you do it anyway, and besides, really, how much time would not making your bed save?), and then you wonder how much time you might save if you did not cook and clean, but who would do it, and where would you find the money to pay someone else to do it (see: Nickel and Dimed), and then you realize that these thoughts are just another way to waste more precious hours, and so you try to push them out of your mind as you move from the gym to the café to write (see: Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream) and you think about the John Lennon quote about life being what happens as you are busy making other plans, and you pay for your coffee, and you want to sit to write, but you know that sitting is now bad for your body, so you force yourself to stand while you type, and you try to focus on your work and not your aching back and neck, and you know that if you were really focused on your work it is unlikely that you would notice your back and neck aching, but then you tell yourself that it is good that you are noticing these things, so that you can prevent yourself from developing the same Repetitive Stress injury that you have developed twice before . . . and now you notice that the café has its own backing track, and guess what? The Clash is back—The (real) Clash, not the session musicians; punk, not disco—and (in a low voice, which is considerate to the other café goers, but carries none of the energy of a protest song) you sing:
The oil down the desert way
Has been shakin’ to the top
The sheik he drove his Cadillac
He went a’ cruisin’ down the ville
and you realize that you never really knew all the words, so you Google them, and before you know it you are on Wiki, trying to annotate lyrics written to protest the ban on Western music in Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and you feel okay about this “research” because you are doing it without putting your booty in a chair; and even though you are losing your fight against middle-age spread, at least you still have a punk heart, which is what spurs the writing, which is what keeps you asking the questions with answers that can only be figured out by putting pen to paper.
And so you keep finding the time to write—to Rock your own Casbah. And the truth is that no matter how much time you spend listening to session musicians, it does not dilute how vital it is to write words of protest, regardless of whether they are accompanied by a punk or disco backing track—think of the revolution that came via the Village People’s “YMCA”; think of the revolutions that have happened over the length of your life and how heavily each of them leaned on the power of what was spoken, written, chanted, and sung. And? Because? (And here is where I am gesturing directly to you Dear Virtual Reader.) No matter how far we all travel from our idealistic youth, surely we can always stand up to write our own protests; and even if we are young enough to write with our booty in the chair, surely our work as Writers in the World is to do like The Clash and to write words that Rock?
(The post originally appeared on the Goddard MFAW blog.)