When I'm up to my knees in honeysuckle, I beat a retreat, and visit the duck pond. The duck pond is a small eutrophic pond on cleared land near Carvin's Creek . . .
Dillard has many places to which she beats retreats. There's the log at Tinker Creek. A cabin located near a dam. The woods near her own house, where she finds snake skins and cocoons. And, of course, the duck pond, "choked with algae."
I'm not sure what else Dillard does with her life besides beat retreats and write astounding reflections on life, the universe, and everything, to life, the universe, and everything, if I may borrow from Douglas Adams. Her existence, at least for the duration of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, seems very . . . unrushed. A year-long meditation. And I envy her for it.
Indeed, from what I've read, Dillard was living the life of a full-time writer at the time she published Pilgrim. She basically took her journals and transformed them into a book. The closest I've every come to living the life of a full-time writer was when I was in graduate school, getting my degrees. Even then, I was teaching all the time. There were no beating retreats in my life. Ever.
I'm not complaining. I'm dreaming. There are some people who somehow live the writing life. Getting up in the morning, sitting at a desk with a journal or notebook or laptop, and just writing for four or five or six hours. That's their job. I've read that is exactly what Stephen King does. He sits at his desk every day, taking only his birthday (September 21--don't ask me why I know this) and Christmas off. Other than that, it's all possessed cars and time-traveling English teachers.
I'm not saying that Dillard or King don't have their share of troubles. I'm sure they do. However, I would like to try the writing life for a while. Fully commit myself to writing something that I wanted to read. That would make me really happy. That's my dream.
My reality is that I'm the primary income-earner in my family. One of my jobs provides health insurance. My weekly checks are sort of necessary, even though they don't always pay all the bills. Almost, but not always. I can't live the writing life because my family needs me.
So what is the compromise? I already rise at quarter to five in the morning every weekday so that I can get to work by 6 a.m. I can't see myself getting up any earlier in order to write. I'd probably end up falling asleep at the wheel of my car and becoming a dead writer. I already stay up late, but that's to grade papers and create lesson plans (you know, the stuff that I can't get done during the rest of the day). I get between five (on a good night six) hours of sleep every night.
At the moment, the writing life remains a lovely dream for me.
Maybe, some day, Saint Marty will join Annie Dillard at the duck pond.