Irony has come knocking on my door. I wake up these days feeling as though all my planets are in all the wrong houses, my bad karma is coming back to haunt me (as well as some old, feckless choices), and my Stress-O-Meter is zinging off the charts. I have to make resolutions to get dressed before 5 pm, remind myself that I don’t live in Japan or Darfur right now and my problems are nothing compared to ______________’s (and no doubt anyone within reading distance of this post). A friend who knows me well, but not the recent minutia of my life, sent me, quite out of the blue, a poem by Billy Collins called Give Me A Break! I raised my fists and wailed, yes. Give me a break! Such is the depth of my self-pity these days.
Now, I hate blogs that catalog bad days and indulge in handwringing over trivial annoyances, as though Starbucks running out of a favorite bagel or something is worth writing or reading about. However, I have a reason for giving you a peek into my current malaise, reluctant though I am to make this blog too personal (the details are not important, wouldn’t even make a mediocre soap opera script). I am known to go around haranguing writer friends to just sit down and get words on the page every day despite how you feel or how cramped your schedule. Just do it was my motto before Nike peeked over my shoulder and stole it, at least about writing. Today, though, the gods heard about this blog, I guess, and my posts purporting to have the cure for writer’s block and other literary crises. They laughed and rubbed their hands together with evil glee. Oh, they said, she thinks writing is easy when you feel like your plunging down into the molten, sulfuric center of the earth. Well let’s see how easily she brushes this off and gets down to work. And so, today, after completing an editing job for a client, the universe saw fit to give me a task as heart-rending and anxiety-laced as any I can think of. It took most of the day and all my creative and emotional energy, but I finished it. Now it was time to write. So, out of habit, I opened a new page in Word. And I sat there in a state of mental paralysis.
Now I know what it is like to face a blank page waiting for inspiration, the false starts, trips to the refrigerator, obsessive checking for email until an idea kicks in. But this was different. I was in the grip of a terrible anxiety that seemed to erase the program my brain uses to write. There was nothing, it was worse than nothing. It was fear, carried over I’m sure from the difficult day I’d had dealing with a thorny, painful problem. I always feel inadequate trying to describe states of pain, physical or emotional. So I’ll just say, that it was a terrifying, end-of-the-world state of mind. I did the only thing I knew when I sit down to write, and that is to write.
And then instead of trying to be clever or uplifting, I started writing the truth of the moment and this post began to flow.
Now if you think the punchline is some bragging about how I beat down writer’s block, I am missing the mark on the correct attitude for this piece. What I felt was enormous relief and gratitude. I didn’t, don’t, feel that I won anything, as I can when I am distracted and restless and I just force myself to get over it and get down to work. That’s me winning over me and my weaknesses. But today, I felt I was given a gift. Maybe I had passed a test by the powers that be and they rewarded me with a gush of words, though if that’s the case, couldn’t they have made them of a slightly higher quality? More likely, it is something along the lines of my neurons kicking in because they recognized my pattern of sitting in front of a computer screen with fingers on the keyboard, and set the synapses in motion that release the words. I don’t know how to explain the transition from a moment of terror to a moment of release. My great relief is that it still works. The thing I have come to trust did not fail me.
This post is hardly my best writing. But it is on the page and not stuck in some morbid corner of my psyche that will strike me down with guilt tomorrow because I could not write today. The thing that gives me the courage to write this blog is my faith in the process. A long time ago I attended a conference given by a spiritual guru, a very funny guy who taught meditation and compassion. One of the participants said, “I know all the things you know. Why are you sitting up there and I’m at your feet.” The man laughed and said, “The only difference between us is that I trust the process. You’re still fighting with it.” It made a lot of sense to me. I’ve learned that if I write every day, or open myself in some awkward way to having words come through me, no matter what, the process will take over and something, however, feeble, emerges through my fog of discontent and worry. Then, I can take that feeble material and allow my conscious, analytical brain to revise it, reshape, give it form. That’s writing. But if I don’t allow it to come through, if I don’t trust what I know, then I’m at the mercy of my feelings, my fears, my doubts. And who knows when I’d get back to this blog. That may not be a problem for you, but it would dismantle all that I work so hard to build up on days when it is easy.