Protect those early mornings: A symposium with the self

handwriting-light

Kim Stafford’s father was the West Coast poet William Stafford, a man whose “rich beginnings” lay in the calm and quiet of his own sleeping house. Every morning for more than forty years, he would get up at 4 a.m., at least two hours before the rest of his family, and settle down to work. Stafford himself described his practice in terms of “just plain receptivity.”

When I write, I like to have an interval before me when I am not likely to be interrupted. For me, this usually means the early morning, before others are awake. I get pen and paper, take a glance out of the window (often it is dark out there), and wait. It is like fishing. But I do not wait very long, for there is always a nibble—and this is where receptivity comes in. To get started I will accept anything that occurs to me.

Years later, Kim Stafford wrote a memoir about his father entitled Early Morning. He described William’s steady practice as a “symposium with the self.” A particular day’s writing might include images from a recent dream, news of the family and the world at large—and a couple of poems. Often, these first drafts didn’t seem to amount to very much. Stafford himself said that they were “often so colorless, so apparently random, so homeless and unaccountable,” that most people wouldn’t have bothered to work with them. But by making time for them, by lending “faith and attention” to what he called those “waifs of thought,” a total of more than sixty books made their slow way into print.

“A good life is partly a matter of luck,” wrote William Stafford. “I can look for it and cherish its intervals. But I can’t control it.” Still, he could choose to set aside that time: to protect those early mornings. “To get up in the cold, then make a warm place, have paper, pen, books to hand, look out at the gleaming rain, shadows, the streetlight steadfast. You could stay awake all night, not give away those hours.”

~ Christian McEwen, World Enough & Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down


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