The Beautiful Writers Workshop: #10

I know it’s been a couple of weeks and I don’t expect this blog post is going to wow anyone or cause massive social change. It may not even get read, after all, I’m not here to give you the latest updates and numbers and calamity that’s been shouting, ceaselessly, in our faces for the last few weeks.

I’m here to tell you I’m not ok. As my friend sid says, my “give-a-shitter” is effectively broken and I haven’t been able to write much of anything. I swing from anxiety for my parents and at-risk loved ones to rebellious trips to the grocery store for an onion and a bottle of shampoo.

It shouldn’t make sense that I’m not writing, I have so much time, right? So much freedom to not go out and just hang in my pajamas. An introvert should be ecstatic that she no longer has to find excuses to not attend social obligations. But this introvert is also distrustful of the institution that has so easily taken the choice. This introvert has gone from someone who had at least a few hours alone time in the day for free-thinking, to someone who is a full-time-stay-at-home-mom-teacher-comforter-researcher-scientist-gym teacher-housekeeper-spanish teacher-stoic-source-of-calm who feels inadequate at all of it and obligated to keep being the ideal citizen. I should be able to thrive under any condition you put me in and raise a fine bunch of kids while doing it.

But I’m not thriving. Not creatively. Not in any way.

I sit down, in front of screen or page and the ideas that I know are bundled up inside feel trapped, covered by a very particular sense of gray and a heavy blanket of anxiety. I don’t have the luxury of this time. Shouldn’t I be planning a lesson or getting my kids out for a walk, or writing some cheery optimistic chalk bullshit on my neighborhood sidewalks so we don’t forget ‘we’re in this together!” Of course we’re in this together, we’ve got no other choice. It’s like walking into a prison and have some lemon-sunshine blond smile with perfect teeth and giggling “Welcome to Camp! We’re gonna have loads of fun! Just go with it! Oh, and if you complain you’re a vile piece of shit who doesn’t care about your neighbors! Here’s your pajamas and a set of sidewalk chalk!”

Overall, its as if my mind is holding in all of this beautiful stuff, interesting threads of story and plot in its sweaty, clenched hands and it looks at the world shouting the same repetitive rhetoric around, shrugs and says, “why bother?” Then pretty soon those ideas fade under the weight of gray around them. Until they disappear completely and all that’s left is the repetitive rhetoric.

So this lesson has no title. It has no direction. Except to say this, these are strange and harrowing times. You can argue there is hope in the social solidarity we are forming from six-feet away. But something feels off about this and I don’t know how the history of it will be written. So, I’m journaling every day. Words others will probably never see. Thoughts that can be as dark and complex or stupid and shallow as I need them to be on that particular day.

So that’s your assignment for the remaining weeks of this thing. Journal. The thoughts, fears, anxieties, joys (if you can find them good for your sunshine-blond soul), that change in every moment with the wobble of this event. Someday you may come back to it, read and remember. Or you may chose to burn it and hope never to go back to the person you were in those moments of dark. History is going to be written from these events, don’t let theirs be the only version.

Oh, and get outside. Its the only thing that’s saved me from some severe physical/mental damages (minor ones are still fair game). It’s actually quite pleasant when you can catch nature on her own.

Writer; Know Thyself

Today’s blog comes to you from a second-floor hotel room after a full and productive day of classes at the 2019 Northern Colorado Writers Conference. The second floor is also hosting the attendees of the Brewery Collectable Club of America, so this humble blogger has witnessed some interesting trade deals in the world of rare Colt 45 paraphernalia.

On to my point:

For every year I attend the NCW Conference, I add a layer to the writer in me. That is to say, through the people I meet, the classes I take, and the lectures I attend, I learn more about the craft. How, and when, and why, and what, and all the technical attributes that come along with the delicate balance of creativity and grammatical science. But more than just the sum of these limitless parts, I learn a greater whole.

 

The whole that is me as a writer.

 

And in doing so, I’ve learned how to enjoy myself more at these kinds of functions by listening to my body, my brain, and my growing years of experience.

 

Back in the day, I would be hand-cramping from the steady stream of notes at each session. I would be tumbling from one class to the next, chugging down coffee between in hopes to keep my energy up so I wouldn’t miss a thing. I would strategically place myself at the agent’s table who I wanted to garner the literary affections of. I would, in essence, be the adult version of my grade-school, brown-nosing self.

 

Then…Something happened last year, when I drug myself to the meet and greet “networking” event, long past my emotional and mental boundary and crossing all lines of my introvert nature, to garner the attention of at least a few more experts in the field, I stood on very shaky ground. I spilled my drink, I felt like crying,

 

I didn’t want to be there.

 

I hated that I hated being around other writers. Which seems a terrible thing to say, but bear with me.

 

I didn’t know I had a limit to writing.

 

I thought I could talk it all day, learn it all day, do it all day. I could go to class for days!!! Nerding on a pro-level is a quintessential part of who I am. I loved hearing about other projects much more than I like talking about my own and reveled in the creativity and ingenuity of my fellow conference goers.

 

But…the more stories I heard the more I questioned if I was doing enough. The less sure I became of my ability. The more tired I got, the more flustered I became, the wearier my mind, the less information I could process.

 

Until everything was just noise and words.

 

Then I learned a secret.

 

(come closer…closer…)

 

You don’t have to throw yourself under a bus to catch it.

 

Knowing your limits is not just useful in this particular scenario. Knowing your limits is useful for all humans in many aspects of our lives. It comes with age and the ability to let go of unrealistic expectations.

 

During a few of my sessions, even as I listened to the speaker, I listened to myself. If I was inspired to write; I let myself write. If \the iron was hot, I struck while in the moment, abandoning the mad scribble of notes for the mad scribble of thoughts.

Did I miss some parts of the presentations? Sure, but in the midst of other brilliant minds and the energy they impart, in the middle of shutting out the rest of the world, the heart and brain start to do this funny little dance and learn to play again.

Inspiration doesn’t always happen at the opportune times. You have to write when the words are ready and when the heart is open. And the presenters this year gave me more than a notebook full of query-letter tips or copy-editing tricks. They gave my heart a doorway, an acceptance into writing what often builds up behind all my carefully constructed walls. And in stumbling and unorganized prose/poetry form I filled over ten pages of free-form when it was all said and done.

In years past, I’ve forced myself to jump the hurdles of social interaction and witty conversation until late hours, when all I really wanted was to wander off to a quiet room and take a nap.

So this year, after a relaxing dinner and a fabulous keynote speaker, I said goodbyes to new and dear friends and retired to my room for quality pajama time and a little writing.

I reserved a room, not so I wouldn’t have to drive the five miles home, but because I knew I would need quiet alone time to decompress after a long day of people and ideas, and focus on my own personal craft and projects I love.

I know when my mind is best, and after 8 pm is not that time. That’s my repose time. I had to make that OK for myself in order to get the most out of my time.

Conferences, classes, and meet ups like these open pathways, but only when we’re not too busy or overwhelmed to see them. If we are embroiled in getting the most out of every single planned moment of the time, then we may miss the real lesson. Creativity is like a river and if you fully submerged, yourself, you’ll easily drown. You’ll miss the beauty of the ride, the view, and the sounds.

So, know yourself, Writer. Do the things that you know work for you. Let the river of creativity, carry you, but always leave yourself plenty of breathing room to be inspired.

 

 

On Being Alone

I’m an introvert.

 

Okay…that’s not entirely true. Those of you who know me outside of the blogosphere know that I can be extroverted in some situations. On the floor of the dojo, I have to be loud and energetic under the necessity of keeping a five-year-old karate kid engaged and focused. I must be direct and clear spoken towards older students to convey the intricacies of technique and motion. Amongst friends at book club or UFC fight night I can be lively and even, occasionally, funny. But I have a very finite well for social interaction.

A friend once told me she could pinpoint the exact moment when I become introverted. She said,

“Your expression all the sudden fades from open and smiling to gray and downcast and you just sort of sink back into the furniture, and I think well, she’s done.”

I couldn’t have described it better myself. That’s exactly how it feels inside too. Like someone turns a light off inside of me and I’m no longer open for business. It isn’t that I stop caring, I just run out of the ability to express concern. I am overwhelmed with the individual energies surrounding me. I absorb too much.

I like people, in small amounts. I like to hear their stories and their laughter. I like when they feel they can open up to me even about the hardest subjects… but it takes a lot of energy to be honestly and truly engaged in other people’s lives.

And it should.

Some people have an endless well for this kind of interaction. Unfortunately I am not one of those people, not for lack of trying. Sometimes I wonder if I engage too well and end up caring a little too much and the energy that takes sucks my well dry faster than if I remained more aloof.

Some people are no good at alone. From a woman I know who can’t stand not to be married, and going on her sixth husband. To the friend constantly texting all the contacts in her list looking for conversation or justification, or just someone to escape normal life with…to the guy who’s always got a better-than-yours story and has a pathological need to share…constantly. The world needs all types and, to be clear, they aren’t bad people, they just need connection in a different way.

Sometimes I think they fear being alone. And I’m not sure why but it may have to do with how scary introspection can be. How scary the thoughts are that come up from the dark recesses when called out by the lack of outside stimulation.

Such things are easy to cover up with noise, and new love, and impressive stories.

If you’re uncomfortable in your own company, that’s something you should really take a look at. You should ask yourself why. Chances are, it’s because you’re afraid of what you might find.

We are scary, us humans. We have scary, weird thoughts, irrational, sometimes haunting. There’s a reason horror movies exist and why Steven King has sold millions.

Don’t forgo the experience and the knowledge it brings just because you’re afraid of what you might find on the inside, of what you’ve ignored. Facing it will help to make it real, and we can only deal with/solve/accept what we know to be real.

Most introverts know how to be alone. We don’t just know it; it’s our homeostasis. The safe place we return to at the end of the day to recoup and refill the well. We thrive in the quiet, where our brains and hearts can focus on one thing, usually of our own, that doesn’t involve the constant dance of keeping another person’s feelings and thoughts in our mind, ahead of and instead of our own.

That’s not to say that all introverts are good at self-reflection, but I think it happens more often for us, in part because of the quiet we seek out. Quiet fosters uninterrupted thought. I, like most introverts, am a person who needs to shut down everything else in order to check in with what’s happening in my own head.

Sometimes, without the quiet, and only the loud and obligatory, chocked-full days, emotional backlash catches me. I will spend time with friends, co-workers, students, etc and wonder why I feel so frustrated or angry, or sad, or antsy when I return home. But with all the obligations at home and work, I often don’t have time to understand that they aren’t my feelings, but ones that I have absorbed. So I am angry, frustrated…sad. It’s only when I can spare a moment to look at the interactions from a place outside of them that I begin to understand their effects.

From the quiet I can understand that one friend is an attention seeker, outwardly sweet, but always demanding of justification and the need to be right. So I walk away feeling drained and always wrong. From a distance, I see how I am often captivated by an individual and every tiny crumb of attention they drop, because they give them so sparingly. So that when they give I feel like I could fly from the elation in my heart, and when they hold back, I am cast into a hopeless darkness.

The friend who swears she is here to listen to me but every time I begin to talk, barges over my words with stories of her own so I can be assured that she understands my exact feelings. To the person who shrugs off my insecurities, because how can my life be as hard as their own…and proceeds to tell me why. To the parent who makes up their own side of a conversation when what comes out of my mouth is too hard to face.

It’s often difficult to convince myself, at the end of the day, that I’m ok. Just me. Outside of the worldly distractions, outside of the demands of family and friends, and coworkers and students.

I don’t know if I’m okay.

How can a sponge that absorbs so much of the dirt, and grime, and ugly underbelly of the world be okay? How can I be fine when my whole being takes in the emotions and worries of those around me? I can’t be.

Which is why being alone is so necessary to repair my damaged calm.

jane
Raise your hand if you miss this guy.

With only my own company to keep, I feel weight lifted off of my heart. I find I’m quite a pleasant person to keep the company of. I’m quiet. I’m funny. I’m hard working and driven. I don’t make a big mess and am an excellent stretcher. I’ve been known to cave into a nap when left alone, and always, always leave space for thought and breath.

I like who I am without people.

But I have to carve out this time and space for myself. I have to make my health as important as I’ve made their company, even though it’s not an easy task for someone who wants to help others, to be sympathetic and supportive. As much as I enjoy being alone, I will always gravitate towards helping others lighten their load.

It’s in being conscientious enough of my own health to let it go of that burden at the end of the day that’s my challenge going into the new year.