Madness has a song by this name. I first heard it from a cassette loaned me by my first cubemate. 1991. Ties were required, stories told of being sent home without pay for trying to get by with just a sweater. I had nothing to do. I worked hard at it, reading Stereo Review and rewriting my one column inch of blank cassette tape blowout copy over and over. I was nervous then too. I must be doing something wrong.
Keep moving, you’ve got to keep moving
Keep, keep, you’ve got to keep moving
To keep moving along
This weekend I finished a short story. Since November I had accumulated very short ideas, and in December I started turning them into very short stories. I’ve written nine. The past two were not that bad. I’ve been submitting them–the places don’t pay, but they do print on paper. One rejection already. I’m on my way.
Three years ago I started a novel. I’d first had the idea in middle school, wrote a very pulpy version in high school, early college. Realizing how juvenile it was, and how elevated my aspirations, I let it sit. I let all of writing sit for a long time. Then a friend suggests starting a blog. It helped compensate for the overcompensation three years ago when I wrote a novel’s-worth of outlines, studies, drafts, trials–everything but actual novel. I wrote two, three chapters, all too long. Two weeks ago I wrote a new outline, by hand. I got it down to just over three pages. This is an improvement.
Last week, alternating with the story, I started the first chapter. All different from three years ago: tighter, lighter, a sense of direction without the burden. I hear the voices of my improv and theatre teachers: first choice is best choice, don’t think, relax to go faster. It’s not true, not really: thought is required. But it feels like college, like things are possible.
Work is less terrifying. Ridiculous as it may seem, going back to offices, commutes, free time proscribed by the necessity of days has been deep and full of doubt. Last week something was crossed off and then it was Friday night, just like seventh grade.
My oldest friend, who I met in seventh grade, had a birthday on Saturday. We have a call while he makes a long walk, sounds of traffic and very clear shouts from children ringing out across two timezones. Things are changing: at work, his children growing up, thinking about what’s next. He asked to call me. I’m usually the one calling, grasping and uncertain, so I ask if he’s all right. I am fine! He says it calmly, but with a little excitement, like a seventh grader would. We talk about how seventh grade was thirty years ago, about changing the oil. Then he needs to do this, do that: it’s been a busy suburban Saturday in Texas. It’s been a normal call, about nothing, really. I realize the enduring normal is what sustains everything.
Me: I’m really glad you called.
Him: So am I!
Each day you do a little bit. Each day a little happens to you. Somehow it’s not the seventh grade any more. Sometimes we can choose and sometimes we can’t. Moving always feels useful, given to purpose, clean and firm. Travel light, but travel.