Archive for May 2012
There’s a certain amount of trust that goes along with putting your art in front of the public. You have to trust is that people will accept the work as your own truth and appreciate your candor, even if they don’t get it. You also have to trust yourself to weather criticism. You have to feel safe in your writing space and in your community and between your ears.
It also takes a certain amount of energy to trust. Trusting is something you can decide to do. You can create pockets of trust within an unsafe environment, if you have enough energy. I’ve been able to do this in the past, but I’m currently undergoing a massive restructuring that I can see now has been going on for a couple of years. Call it a mid-life crisis, or depression or whatever, but both physical and mental energy has been low, and the little I have is going toward figuring out more important stuff. Life stuff.
At the moment I have more energy than I have in a very long time, and I’m shocked to realize how small an amount it is.
However, even that small amount more will make it possible to start allotting a little more energy toward recreating the pocket of trust around writing. It will be a slow build, but I think I can do it. I would at least like to try.
I expect this will be the last post in this series. I figured it out. There’s always been fear and distrust and a reluctance to begin and self-sabotage, but the difference in my production has been the energy. I push and push myself, thinking I have something to prove or someone who’ll be disappointed, and when I don’t produce what I’ve decided I should, I beat myself about the face and neck and call myself a lazy slut. Yeah, that’ll motivate a person. Geez.
You can’t get blood from a turnip, and you can’t use more energy than you are producing. At least I know now that the problem is not with writing itself. That’s a relief. Instead of being angry with myself for failing, I can be compassionate and gentle, conserve my energy, redirect it from worry and concentrate on ways to make my life less stressful. I think that’s pretty good advice for just about any situation.
Hopefully pretty soon I’ll be able to blog about why I can write.
Wow. It was really hard to start this post. Even now, I find my gaze wandering around the room as I type. My defense mechanism is doing everything it can to keep me from thinking too deeply about why I shouldn’t think too deeply.
Because if I think deeply, things might change, and that makes me afraid. I might get what I want, and that makes me feel guilty. I might fail, and then I’ve let everybody down. I might be imperfect--in front of everybody, no less--which is unacceptable. Every active step is another step toward upending other people, and this is unforgiveable. So I stay where I am.
Except, to stay where I am means I must distract myself, so I actually can’t stay still for more than a few minutes at a time. I must have plenty of projects going at once. That way when I finish one I can move right on to another, which leaves no time for ponderings that might lead me down another path. When I solve one problem, there’s another waiting. Thank God I’m doing such a good job with the distractions, because otherwise I’d have to admit that writing is my calling after all, and I’m really just scared.
And you know, this is all pretty silly, because it’s nothing I haven’t figured out before. The surprise is how strong the roots around my ankles are. Why has it come to a head now? Maybe because the roots have grown bigger than I realized, and they threaten to strangle me. It’s fear, all right. Fear of success, failure, change. Fear of meeting myself, of imperfection, but most of all, fear of emotion. Fear of losing control, of hurting someone or myself with those pesky emotions that seem to always be at odds with my surroundings. Why does it have to be so hard? I know what I want to feel, what I should feel, so why can’t I feel it?
I’ve been stuffing my emotions for so long now that I can’t comprehend what I’ve just written. Trying to edit the previous paragraphs would strip them of all meaning, if you can understand them in the first place. This is raw, just like the fear that I am only beginning to allow into the light, and this post might not be here tomorrow.
Last time I made an unexpected connection between the failures of the two huge artistic ventures in my life, singing and writing. (And yes, I do consider myself a failed writer at this point, but I hope to change that.) This realization brought other, smaller connections to light--things I’d already identified independently, but when interconnected make a sizeable web of self-sabotage.
For instance, many, many projects go unfinished. I become bored with them sometimes, but lots of times I’m tenacious and just can’t seem to get to the finish line. Little things outside of my control might go wrong or I can freeze up with indecision, but for any number of reasons I end up spinning my wheels. And I’m not talking only about writing. It’s a widespread problem encompassing home projects, marital issues, financial goals, etc.
This is the mechanism that caused me to stop trying to get published. It is confusion, fatigue and the inability to see the path, just like when I decided to stop singing. But it’s a completely different feeling from what keeps me from sitting down to writing at all.
Another stumbling block is trying to please everyone. I’m skilled at going into other people’s worlds, and terrible at bringing others into mine. Personally, I think this is what makes me a writer—because I’m able to go deeply and intuitively into the worlds I create—but it’s not so great for decisive action, nor for knowing what I really want.
Part of that pleasing everyone thing means I don’t take care of myself, like going to the doctor when I’m sick, or exercising and eating right. If it’s just for me, it doesn’t matter. Writing pleases me, when I let it, but it doesn’t matter to anyone else.
It got to a point where my identity had absorbed so much of other people that I didn’t have any of myself left. I’ve spent a few years trying to unravel that thread, and maybe I’m almost ready to start rebuilding. But something stops me short. Something keeps me from crossing that finish line—not just with writing, but with pretty much everything that would define me as an independent, productive human being. Now, is that fear of success, or fear of happiness?
I’ll explore that next time.
I’ve been thinking about my reluctance to write. I used to think it was garden-variety writer’s block, and it seemed very clearly connected to stress: the normal stressors at home; the pressure of having an agent and the expectations that went along with it; physical restrictions, such as migraines. Then there are little bullshit reasons, like not having a suitable writing space (though what that might be I haven’t figured out yet).
I feel like an asshole, knowing other people write in the face of greater pressures and still being unable somehow to overcome my piddly ones. But the one thing I’ve known the entire time is that it’s a mental block. The stress isn’t only an excuse, it’s a real reason. What I haven’t known is why stress shuts me down.
So the reason I’m finally writing about this is because I think I've placed another piece, possibly the most important piece, of my psychological puzzle.
Now, I’ve mentioned the fear of success in passing in previous reflections on writer’s block, but I’ve never taken it seriously. I mean, how douchey does fearing success sound? “I’m so good it scares me.” Right. But last night I was telling my kids how I didn’t apply myself in college, a typical parent’s warning to learn from my mistakes. All night the memory nagged me, the memory of what it felt like to choose to skip voice lessons that last semester, to avoid going to the piano practice rooms (and then when I got there to study history instead of playing scales), to be glad to excuse my slacking by pointing to my full-time job.
And it felt familiar. Well yeah, of course it’s familiar because I went through it, but it felt recently familiar. And then I made the connection. It’s the same thing I do today with writing. The same reluctance to begin. The same restlessness when I finally sit down to write. The same anxiety about what I should be doing as opposed to what I am doing, and it doesn’t seem to matter what those two things are. In fact, they switch places regularly.
Once I realized this connection I started to make others. I’ll go into those in the next post. This is a biggie. I hope I can see it through.