A girl sits at a piano, spine straight, fingers pistoning. A snarl of bodies hurls itself after a football, interrupted by the high bleat of a whistle. An actor carrying script and pencil pauses to erase one piece of blocking and scribble another. We recognize these as practice, a method of learning, of acquiring experience, of accomplishing a desired end. Yet practice also calls to mind what one does for a living: a doctor practices; she also has a practice. Implicit within the word is the sense of the ongoing—even as one strives towards mastery one understands further attainment is always possible, as in a practice of law, or a yoga practice (as my yoga instructor says: “all poses are endless”). The word descends to us from the Greek praktikos, meaning “concerned with action”; ultimately “to achieve, to bring about, to accomplish.”
It took me a long time to understand that my happiness is tied up in a writing practice. I examined a number of spiritual paths before realizing that writing is my meditation, it is my prayer. Not that I don’t engage in those practices as well, but my “happiness quotient” is directly connected to a daily encounter with words. It might be a journal entry in which I nail something for myself: the welcoming curve of the morning banana. More often it lies in engaging with a current project. And while I love that about writing, I hate it, too. On days I don’t practice—because of an emergency, because I let the time slip by, because I’m supposedly on vacation—I feel bent, unwhole, creaky. If a day without writing turns into days, life slides towards empty; I am a wastrel, a fraud. The beautiful day, the delicious dinner, the face of a cherished friend waver into the insubstantial and I stare into the maw of meaninglessness. While sometimes I wish I could prowl through a day without that mental prod, I’m grateful for it, too. When I write—even when the wordsmithing feels ineffective, the project unwieldy, hours at my desk produce one usable sentence—nevertheless, gratitude hums. This is what I do. I have a practice. And then I practice some more.
—Sands Hall is the author of the novel Catching Heaven, a Willa Award Finalist for Best Contemporary Fiction. Her plays include an adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, which recently enjoyed its tenth production, and the comic/drama Fair Use, which explores the plagiarism controversy surrounding Wallace Stegner’s novel, Angle of Repose.