For anyone who has felt stuck and sad.
I haven’t written anything since Orion died.
No, that’s hyperbole. I’ve written much since Orion died – so many sentence pieces, bits and fragments live slant on the insides of all my books, rough beasts waiting for their time to come round at last. Virgin nouns spend lazy days at their windows, pining for mates, watching the highways and hedges – some have their lamps trimmed but most are unprepared when bridegroom verbs appear.
Word clusters litter the cool lakebed of my winter purse, index cards and paper scraps bulge with phrases unbloomed, still in their ninth-month. Yet nothing worthy seems to come.
When Orion died, I wanted to write something beautiful about death, something grand, seminal. And in particular, I felt the need to write something important about the death of a friend. I wanted noble words – poignant and memorable and apt. But the metaphors always seemed to fade just before delivery, images came stillborn.
It is hard to find birth in death; there’s no delivery room at the funeral home. How can two polar things peacefully live together when both vie so vehemently for the attention of the immediate?
When something dies – a person, a job, a friendship, a dream – all we have left are the memories of the thing, good and bad. Like our universe, memory expands in all directions, swirling and moving, unreliably, at the speed of thought. Changing with every capricious retelling, story evolves as time barrels through space, and when you hear even your own tale told twenty years later, it’s not the same story at all, but much better.
Or much worse.
Even when story is written down, not to be changed, the meaning rests in the fragile interpretation of the reader and again, who knows what side of the bed she woke up on?
Who dares to touch such a thing? Do I dare?
So I have written nothing substantial in a long time, nothing I dare to share, for several months, far too long. And it is not for lack of effort, I’m sad to say, but rather the sheer fear and deep understanding of my ordinariness. Four essay beginnings sit like hard stumps on my screen – the one entitled “An Hour Badly Spent” beckons me every single morning, begging to be birthed or at least given a chance, but alas, I have to wonder if I’ve become afraid. I sometimes think I read too many great writers, for my own writing so pales and I’ve grown weary of the comparison.
Self-doubt is hard ground to till.
Water is required for birth and growth, digging must happen for a thing to be planted, and planting must occur if there is ever hope of a harvest. I have felt the hard ground and know its infertility – being stymied and stuck is a place to run from, I conclude. The desert gives birth to nothing but the ugly twins of worry and angst, brutish children who only take and never give.
What does one do when she finds herself stymied? And who hasn’t found herself sitting among dry leaves in a dry time? The loss of last season’s crop was so painful and the winter so long, who is brave enough to believe in spring?
Oh, and also, I want to know what to do in this stillness when the muse is silent.
Much I’ve read and prayed and seen, and a certain vision appears to me in dream. I jump from my bed and snatch the pencil; I must write it down before it flits away, teasing, like mist or memory.
The question must come before the answer, always ~
What must I do to be saved? I am stuck, stymied, full of pride and sorrow. In short, I am afraid. What must I do?
Stand up. Walk. Don’t sit back down until you have walked a little longer than usual.
Pray. Say the words out loud.
Pick up a pen and write the letter you’ve waited too long to write.
Ask for forgiveness. Give forgiveness.
Grieve. Tell someone about it.
Write down your biggest worry on a piece of paper and then burn it in the fire. I realize it’s a metaphor, but it feels good anyway.
If you made a mistake, fix it. If you can’t fix it, live with it. You are not dead yet, so live.
Find a good counselor.
Quit complaining. Quit gossiping. Try, even for just one quick hour.
Give someone a real compliment.
Get a job. Get a new job. Decide to like the job you have and then do it well.
Turn off the television. Turn off the television. Turn off the television.
Quit making excuses.
Give something away.
Give something to a homeless person without questioning his motive. Someone important said it is better to give than to receive. He is right. The gift is in the giving.
Make that phone call, today.
Kiss a baby.
Smile. Do it again.
Writer ~ You are not dead yet, so get up and live. Write.
I get up this morning and start to write again. I will try to set aside my visions of grandeur and dreams of critical success and pick up my sheer ordinariness, my words, not Annie Dillard’s or Flannery O’Connor’s or Marylynne Robinson’s.
Mine, in their brilliant mediocrity.
I respect the hard ground and know now that my vast hubris hardens and heavies, rather than lightens, my load. It is time to set down grandeur and work, time to dig, and the overwhelming fear of it all subsides just a bit as I pick up my pen. I’ll dig with it.
Good, decent words will be my seed. And I will water it all with tears.
Things grow again.