I’m sending new words out into the ether for the first time in many months. Many months.
What’s been happening with you, my friends? Everything and nothing is going on with me. I simply got lost for a long while, into the ordinariness of life. Family life, work life, friendship life, inner life, life life.
The urge to write left me ubruptly after I finished the non-fiction writing mastermind I was enrolled in from January to June. Honestly, I don’t know what happened. I thought maybe I was just done. I’d said everything that needed to be said. Or else it was simply a pause, a rest.
It is Sunday morning and I am still meandering through Big Magic, a book that is counseling me not to take this creative life thing so seriously. And because most days I have the mind of a squirrel, I pick up another book I started about writing, Story Genius, by Lisa Cron which promises to deliver the magic formula of writing a “riveting” novel. Though I’ve only waded in as far as the first chapters, I’m struck with an idea to rewrite the beginning of my memoir. But the thoughts running through my head are harder to nail down than the ones I imagined writing. Something about that time my mother ran over the family dog.
Meanwhile I’m on my second coffee and need to go to the bathroom and descending the circular stairs of the loft where I read and write to the bedroom where my husband is likely still asleep presents a challenge. Can I get in and out without waking him up? Because if I can’t, the writing day is surely lost. I’ll never make it back upstairs today.
We’ll sit with the newspaper over (another!) coffee, get ready for church, and it will be noon by the time we’re home and then I’ll start to think about the family dinner later, do something with the pile of clothes that have landed in front of the hamper and get ready for the week ahead.
I know, technically it’s Mother’s Day, the mundanities of domestic life should fall away as I languish in a bubble bath sipping a cup of tea, the pages of an engrossing novel getting damp under my fingers. A nap, in this other life, might follow, with fairies (or my family) doing the dusting and vacuuming and dishwashing and ironing. This is not how life works for most of us.
I’m about to re-enter ordinary life, an assuredely very good place to be. I’ll be back here tomorrow, trying to nail down those elusive words and ideas.
In writing, I often find I’m the one getting in my own way. Letting days go by without writing much more than a grocery list and then berating myself about my own self importance, that someone would actually miss the words I didn’t write. But the point of writing, at least for me, is not to hit the publish button but to feel a sense of self accomplishment about lining up a few words in a way that makes sense of what I’m feeling.
I’m in the third part of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear, a section titled Permission. It’s my third or fourth read through of a book that can always reignite my passion about writing when it starts lagging or falling apart as it has been lately. Here is the sentence I needed to read this morning…
Keep in mind that for most of history people just made things, and they didn’t make such a big freaking deal of it.
This gives me permission to simply write, spill out my thoughts, get them down for a first draft that no one will ever have to see. I don’t have to spend thirty minutes on the right word for bravery when bravery is exactly the word to use. I don’t need to freak out that someone’s going to know all my secrets when and if they read this thing. I won’t suddenly combust if that happens. Another thing I don’t need to do because no one is strapping me to my desk, is to write. I’m doing it because I want to do it.
So keep at the writing, even and especially if you’ve fallen off for a few days, weeks or months. You know there’s something inside you that wants, needs, you to keep doing this mystical thing. There is something about it that satisfies and soothes or you wouldn’t feel called to do it. Right?
Nope, nothing to see here. Just doing a little writing. No big freaking deal.
Looking for some writing inspiration this morning I picked up Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear. Right there in the first pages she states the thing I need to hear – “living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear”.
I realize I have been living much of the time in fear mode lately. About what? Everything. Mostly my teenager. And this has distracted me from pouring myself into writing, from living in peace and joy. And most importantly, it has impacted how I’ve been relating to the teenager. It hasn’t been good.
I’ve had a few aha moments about this relationship over the past few days and why it’s so tricky. What it comes down to is I need to be more curious, less judgey, less full of my own expectations. Someone once said your kids will change from the happy, bouncy puppy of their pre-pubescent years into a skittering cat who doesn’t want to be pet or garnered with attention unless he chooses it.
We are in the muck of it now and people tell me this won’t last, it won’t be forever. Eventually the puppy will be back and the relationship will shift and heal. It’s hard to look that far into the future and so holding my gaze steadily on the present, I must look for more ways to be curious. I need to remind myself that everything is coming into my life for a reason, to teach me something, to help me grow.
And so I need to get back to writing, to myself, with courage and hope and love.
My body is tight with frustration, disappointment, worry. I stretch out from from fingers to toes, wiggling them away. They have to leave so joy and love and peace can fill their place, I am so tired of having this stuck inside me. What’s causing it is not the problem because I know that I only have sway over one person. Me.
There is a path out, I know, but cannot see it because it as though I have gone blind over time and just now realized it. I’m closing my eyes now, emptying my mind of thoughts, this is so hard to do. Quiet. Silence. Hope, where are you? I will stumble along, find purchase with each small step. Forward. Onward.
Last week I wavered powerfully on my writing project. It’s too hard. It feels too far in the past. Why would anyone want to read what I have to say? Who do I think I am? It would be easier to quit writing altogether! I can enjoy life more if only I didn’t put so much pressure on doing this thing. Short of wiping my hands clean of the whole project, I decided to shelve it while on vacation. Too much was competing for my attention, especially the warm sunshine of Florida which I wasn’t going to have for a while if I didn’t soak it up then and there.
I am now home in my empty house looking at a dreary, gray sky from the writing space in my loft I haven’t been able to visit for weeks due to a broken leg. It is so quiet and nice. Is it wrong I missed this so much? I am also a day away from having my walking boot removed and I’m hoping I’ll be cleared to drive. I am two weeks post my second Covid vaccine and life is blooming with possibility along with the daffodils in our front garden. I feel like I am once again coming alive.
We are in the 30 minute space of my Monday writing class where we work on free writing. The questions posed this morning to get us going were all about honoring this call to write. The one I latched onto was how to use a physical object to represent your project this week. Looking around, my eyes settled on a small marble bowl of rocks brought home from various journeys. Chief among them, the start of this collection, came from climbing Croach Patrick, a rocky mountain that towers above the villages of Murrisk and Lecanvey in County Mayo, Ireland.
It was late August 2012 and we went to Ireland for a Notre Dame football game in Dublin later that week. On my husband’s bucket list was to climb this mountain and I said I’d be honored to do it with him, not realizing how tough of a climb it would be for me, how the drizzling rain would make it much harder than usual, especially the last bit which is pure loose rock. At the bottom of the mountain, just as we were starting the climb, an American went into cardiac arrest and we found out later in the hike he had died there at the foot of the St. Patrick statue. This strengthened my resolve to continue the climb, that I could do this no matter how hard the climb became. One step at a time.
It took over 4 hours to get to the top and we were greeted by cloud cover, unable to see the view but there was a feeling of great accomplishment in doing something I didn’t think I could do. Remembering some of the worst things I have gotten through over the many years of my life so far are inspiration to keep me moving forward even when I want to quit. Croagh Patrick is the biggest physical challege of my life while surving my brother’s suicide is the mental counterpart of that. I know that with time and patience I will do this too. One word at a time.
My writing routine has slipped away. Getting up in the morning to read and write before the rest of my house has gone by the wayside for the last couple of weeks and I need to refocus. To that end, I decided to wake early today and get back at it, I need to read something, write something.
I picked up The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, a book I ordered ages ago when I was in a daily rhythm with my writing. Things were going so well, I thought it was advice I didn’t need, forgetting how this writing thing goes with its peaks and valleys. The first section of the book is about facing resistance, to do the thing you want most to do when every other thing in life is calling you, tempting you away from it.
This paragraph bluntly encapsulates where I am:
As artists and professionals it is our obligation to enact our own internal revolution, a private insurrection inside our own skulls. In this uprising we free ourselves from the tyranny of consumer culture. We overthrow the programming of advertising, movies, video games, magazines, TV and MTV by which we have been hypnotized from the cradle. We uplug ourselves from the grid by recognizing that we will never cure our restlessness by contributing our disposable income to the bottom line of Bullshit, Inc., buy only by doing our work.
How did I know I was in trouble? I didn’t do any new writing on my project this week. For the past 8 weeks I have produced 7 new pages of work to share with a peer in my writing group, have put my all into it, honed and edited to get the words just right. But not this week. It felt a little bit like failure. Luckily we rotate writing partners every Friday and I could give them a piece I’d already sent out. But it was a wake up to get back to work.
The War of Art carries brief snippets of encouragement with each tiny chapter, prodding me back to my purpose. It was exactly the book I needed this morning.
There have been many times over the last several weeks since I broke my leg that I’ve had to ask for help and I’ve realized how hard this continues to be for me. It is either something about my innate personality or it came from growing up in a big family where there were so many people with needs, I seemed to get lost in the shuffle. I was a particularly shy child who loved nothing more than to cling to my mother’s leg. Hated going to kindergarten and cried all day every day for weeks until I finally accepted it wasn’t going to change anything. But I was fully committed to not asking for help and it followed me to first grade where I found one friend to be my spokesperson. I would tell her what I needed and she would tell the teacher. You might not be surprised to hear this didn’t go over very well and it ended with me repeating first grade.
By the time my youngest and fifth sibling arrived, nine years after me, my mother was eager for me to become somewhat independent of her. I had made a couple of good friends but was fearful of adults and she thought if she had me call to make my own dental appointments, this would help. Aha! Maybe that’s why I have always hated the phone! Yes, I made my own dental appointments, but that was where it started. From there she made me join teams, signed me up for dance lessons, prodded me to ask teachers for help, and the summer after eighth grade she concocted a disasterous idea to sign me up to be a candy striper. These were all efforts to engage me in the world outside of my shyness where I preferred to hunker down with a book. My worlds were big, they were just fictional.
When I decided to start writing a memoir last fall, having contemplated it for many years, I knew I would need a lot of guidance. As my new morning writing routine kicked into gear, a favorite part of it was selecting books about writing to read, choosing well experienced authors as my guide. The first was a book I had on hand from one of my writing classes when I started signing up for classes in the months after getting sober. Marion Roach Smith’s, The Memoir Project, could be read in an afternoon but I chose to savor each chapter by reading just a little bit each day. The best advice I gleaned from it was to a) write every time with intention and b) always ask yourself what is this about. She incorporated bits of her own story and these tripped my own memories and provided writing inspiration without the use of prompts which she doesn’t like to use in her teaching. There is also a personal connnection to Marion because I worked with her husband for many years and met her on a few ocassions. She is personable and striking with beautiful red hair and you can tell she pays attention.
For my next book, I chose Alexander Chee’s, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel. While it is not a writing book per se, I found the biographical stories he wrote to be beautifully written. He is my age and grew up in a small Maine town which is somthing I can relate to. His stories reminded me of my own stories even though he is part Korean and gay, two things I am not. These stories were marvelous prompts to write about my own experiences, particularly high school since we were of the same era and many times it offered a contrast to my life, particulaly my path to writing. He knew early on he wanted to write and doggedly pursued it from the beginning. I had absolutely no confidence that I could be any good at it and gave up before I got started. The idea I came away with here was to write as if your life depends on it, as if you were dying. The point was driven home in a story he wrote about a barista friend who was writing a book and died of AIDS before finishing it. Chee wrote a memorial piece about the man and it was on display in the coffee shop’s window and it was a daily reminder for him to keep writing.
This was one of the initial questions the writing Mastermind teacher asked us on our first Zoom encounter in early January. I looked at the squares of women, twenty-eight of us in all, embarking on this six month quest to devlop a non-fiction project we hoped to publish. I felt overwhelmed and wondered who I thought I was to embark on such a quest.
Why do I write? It started after my brother Jeff’s suicide when I was a freshman in college. A glorious new world of freedom was at my feet and I was now facing the biggest stumble of my life. Grief. Loss. Hopelessness. The only thing I could think to do was to write about it. My mom brought me to a therapist shortly after Jeff died but I was all clogged up, didn’t know how to speak out loud the things I was feeling, the dark thoughts rolling around in my head. Pen and notebook saved me. Denial did too.