As I read all the weather predictions last night I grew hopeful that we'd be closed today (we are!), that the weather would mean an entire day of tucking in with my pencils and my laptop and writing my heart out.
We got the snow day. Expectantly, I nestled into some blankets, got a glass of water, sat down to allow the magic to happen and then, ugh.
I pressed up against the dreaded wall of nothing.
When you encounter this wall, all of the ideas sound bad, all the hooks feel particularly schlocky, and you erase nine out of every ten sentences you can manage to write.
I worried. I wondered why. Was it because I've started to get a few compliments on my writing and that's creating a feeling of pressure? Or because yesterday I dropped off my first rent check for a desk (with the intent of it becoming a space for me to write!) in a shared workspace with a handful of women who inspire the dickens out of me? Was I about to find out that I didn't actually have anything to say?
Sometimes this line of questioning is the signal that it's time to back away from my desk, wander off and do something else, to see if taking my mind out for some fresh air can rekindle my sense of curiosity. Other times, beneath the questions, there is a gentle urging for me to sit still, to ride out the storm of thoughts. I know that there is a clearing after this kind of storm where I allow myself to gaze out the window, jot down seemingly unrelated thoughts and words, maybe even type a full sentence without needing to know exactly where it's headed.
So I sat with myself, breathing for a few moments. And then a few moments more.
I searched my memory about what's been on my mind for the past couple weeks, and then all the wants arose. I wanted to finish the laundry, I wanted to shop online for little shiny things for people I love, I wanted to trim the sharp edges of my fingernails, I wanted to open every promotional email in my inbox, I wanted to tick things off on my to-do list. You get the picture.
I sat just a bit longer and then began to write.
All of that stuff above, that’s the hallway I walk almost every time I want to get to the office I call writing. The hallway is filled with doors, infinite opportunities to bail.
My capacity to wait out the thought storm and subsequent distractions has grown only through practice. What do I mean by practice? A non-negotiable structure for spending time doing the thing you keep saying you want to do- whether it's a physical act like exercise, knitting, or writing, or a lifestyle adjustment like eating healthier, being more appreciative, or taking better care of your houseplants. It's not sexy, dramatic, or rife with inspiration rather it's a path to producing works and outcomes.
I heard an interview with author Jonathan Safran-Foer where he was talking about the inspired urgency and presence we tend to experience in life’s big moments; that sense that life is precious and we should always be doing something important and meaningful.
“You know, we have that thought life is precious maybe - what? - on a birthday on New Year's or when somebody, you know, falls ill.
But it's very, very hard to generate the thought on your own. And…it often comes with its companion which is I live in the world, so, you know, life is precious, so I ought to, you know, throw off the earphones I'm now wearing, push away the microphone, run into the street and proclaim whatever. Life is precious, so I ought to spend my days, you know, making sandwiches for homeless people and tending to the elderly in hospice care. Life is precious, so I should give everything away, except that I live in the world. And in the world, I actually have needs and wants, and I value my needs and wants. And I live in the world and I can't just go make sandwiches every day because I also have to take kids to school. I also have to, you know, write books because that's my livelihood.”
For me, practice is the 'and I live in the world' part. My writing practice-- 30 minutes a day Monday through Friday, btw-- is where my dreams and the realities of my day to day life intersect. This practice is the only thing (not two published books under my belt) that has made me feel like I can say, "I'm a writer," without shrugging my shoulders and crinkling my nose-- as if to indicate that I'm not one hundred percent sure that it's true and I'm happy to let someone else be the judge of that.
And so, my wish for you all on this snowy afternoon, as we march toward the end of 2016- a year that has felt longer than the sum of its 365 days- is that you have an experience of lived dreams in addition to imagined ones in the coming year.
Be safe out there, and please come and see at Cyril's soon.