My gentleman friend recently undertook an accelerated program to become a nurse practitioner. He is making a mid-life career change. This decision required a great deal of consideration and evaluation of himself at thirty-six and his ability to pay off the loans and expend years of concentrated energy. The concepts of right and wrong become null during such determination. Want is everything, but will is measured.
Now that he has made the decision, there are a hundred smaller choices—whether to practice family health or be certified as a Spanish translator, etc. He has almost as many deliberations as a writer who has chosen her subject matter but is still looking for an angle. A writerʼs life manifests everywhere in relationship.
To study for an exam, he practiced a physical assessment on me. He washed his hands, asked a prescribed set of questions, took my vital signs, measured my reflexes, listened to my heart, all in a regimented order that will help him pattern muscle memory. He filled three pages with his handwritten notes. I never doubted that he would pass with flying colors. What surprised me was the awkwardness of this close examination. We are intimates, but he had not looked into my ear canal before, asked me to stretch out my tongue to note its adjectives. Of course, it makes a great metaphor for the writing process—to subject oneself to such a vulnerable position. He listened to me breathing for two full minutes. That hasn’t happened since late night phone calls with my boyfriend in high school.
But it wasn’t sweet. It was assessment. He had to perform his observations within a fixed time-frame. He had to develop good professional habits. To be scrutinized without reassurance makes me nervous. It was like editing an essay after it comes back covered with comments. Pride must be set aside for efficiency, emotions tabled for the study. It can be messy. Itʼs no wonder he didn’t ask me to practice for his sterile field exam.
Lately I have been reading essays that are so modest the writer might be shining a penlight on his own tonsils, and he would describe their coloration with level reserve. He has worked for years as an editor. The role requires distance simultaneous with closeness to a text. An editor must draw so near the material, she can hear it catch like lungs under stethoscope. One can gain a degree of objectivity—making a text a thing-in-itself rather than an extension of oneself—with time or by offering it to another set of eyes. But, more often than not the other set of eyes must belong to the writer. Plus, her role sometimes needs to change so soon after the first draft she exhibits the same blood pressure, has the same itchy bug bite on her left calf.
My recommendation is that she work out a routine for making the shift. The more prescriptive she makes it, the more automatic it will become, the fewer options she will have to consider. There will be decisions enough once she sits down with the future to craft its final-most version.
Amy Wright is the Nonfiction Editor of Zone 3 Press and Zone 3 journal, as well as the author of three chapbooks, Farm and There Are No New Ways To Kill A Man. She won the 2012 Pavement Saw Chapbook Contest for The Garden Will Give You A Fat Lip, which is forthcoming.