What Does “Writer’s Life” Really Mean?

Dealing with blog post tags is an ongoing part of my life.

I know, I know – it doesn’t count as an actual problem. Still, the labels I choose to index the various things I’m writing and talking about, provide a certain insight into how I see things at different points in my life.

See, the thing about blog post tags is that I don’t have a good system for assigning them. I’ve tried a few things, but it’s still a semi-random and more-than-a-little subjective. WordPress will suggest labels from my existing ones as I type them into a box, but it’s kind of like looking a word up in the dictionary – you have to have kind of an idea of how to start it before you can get close. It becomes a problem for me, because I sometimes want to look up an old blog post – something I know I wrote about before – and I have to play this guessing game with myself to figure out how I might have tagged it at the time. I’m right less than half the time.

So when I label current posts, I try to strategize what my future self will think of to look it up under. This means I’m playing this eternal guessing game with my past and future selves, which probably does not speak well for my long-term sanity.

I have this fantasy, you see, that I would be incredibly organized and *always* tag the same concept with the same tags. This would make the scientist in me happy.

However, I’ve recently realized part of the problem: concepts for me drift over time. They don’t get the same tags because I don’t think of them in the same way.

I noticed this on Tuesday, when I tagged my post on How Having Your Book Rejected Makes You a Better Person with the label “Writer’s Life.” Because that is absolutely a topic that is core to living the life of a writer to me. I talked about how my friend is dealing with disappointment in her writing career and compared it to recovering from heartbreak and becoming a stronger person because of it. Yes, “Writer’s Life” is the perfect tag for that.

It struck me then that this not how I used to think of “Writer’s Life.” I started writing in a more academic and literary environment and discussions about “writer’s life” were much more about art and philosophy and mindfulness. A lot of it can be encapsulated by the critical praise for Annie Dillard’s “The Writing Life.” (Yes, I have that book on my shelf.)

A kind of spiritual Strunk & White, a small and brilliant guidebook to the landscape of a writer’s task.

…a glimpse into the trials and satisfactions of a life spent with words.

Gracefully and simply told, these little stories illuminate the writing life…

Anyone hoping to see inside the process of literary artistry is unlikely to find a more lucid, sensitive or poetic view.

…as slim and potent as the Tao Te Ching, that ancient Chinese manual on the art of living…

And so on.

This is how I used to view this concept – probably heavily informed by this book. I look back to when I began my blogging life over at lovepowerandfairytaleendings.blogspot.com, where I used the “Writers Life” tag 102 times in the two-year, eight-month life of that blog, making it my most frequently used tag. I look back at those early posts and see I did a lot of angsting over things like selling out and balancing writing projects and order vs. chaos (I linked to it because that one is kind of amusing).

At any rate – I can see how I’ve changed in my understanding of the Writer’s Life. I moved from thinking about my writing process to recognizing how my day job had made me a better writer and what the corporate environment had taught me about dealing with personnel issues.

I think this is a natural progression: as we become professional writers, our lives become less about the philosophy and more about the reality.

And that’s a good thing.

Now to select some tags for this besides “Writers Life.”

You Knew I Was a Snake When You Picked Me Up

This isn’t a great photo, but I did take it myself. Not always easy to be steady when one encounters a rattlesnake in the wild.

Which I have, three different times. What I like about rattlesnakes is, they let you know they’re there before you step on them. Yes, I hear you, nay-sayer person out there. Inevitably when I say that, someone shakes their head and says, in an ominous tone, Not Always. Well, if I ever got near a rattlesnake that didn’t rattle before I got too near, I never knew it. The other times? Yeah, I heard that rattle and jumped back three feet before I even processed what that sound was. Gotta love those hard-wired protective instincts. Thank you, evolution!

We watched Eat Pray Love a little while back. No, I confess I haven’t read it. My mom gave me her copy some time ago – before we moved to Santa Fe, come to think of it – and it’s been sitting in my TBR pile ever since. In both houses. I never read The Last American Man, either, which my friend, RoseMarie, loved loved loved. I have a titch of a trigger about “finding real meaning” stories. Not that I don’t believe real meaning can’t be found out there. It’s just that…erf.

Okay, here’s the thing.

In the movie – and I totally cop to all arguments that Hollywood oversimplifies and probably made this far less deep than in the book – there’s this pervasive idea that everyone you meet is a teacher. This is a very Buddhist concept, that even the person you brush against on the street is connected to you and has a message for you. I always think of places like New York City with this one and I wonder if the Buddhists who first contemplated this idea ever conceived of just how many bodies people would eventually managed to jam onto one street.

But that’s neither here nor there.

Actually, maybe it is. Because, if you go around believing that every single person you encounter has a message for you…well, you’re not going to get much done besides receiving messages. Now, I do believe that we meet people for reasons and we do learn things from each other, but I think we have to apply a filter. We don’t throw out perception and intelligence, in the interest of receiving messages. The crazy person who yammers on about things that kind of sound profound and kind of sound nutty? Might be just nutty. Like the guy at the Ashram in India – he calls Julia on all sorts of stuff, like he’s a greater authority than she on her own life. She learns lessons from him, from his sorrows and it’s all lovely.

The thing is, sure everything in this world can teach us a lesson. That doesn’t mean you have to embrace it. A rattlesnake makes a fine teacher, carrying lessons about walking softly, paying attention, trusting those atavistic reflexes. That doesn’t mean you want to hang out with the rattlesnake.

Sometimes it’s enough to recognize the poisonous for what it is, then walk carefully in the other direction.