Editor’s note: this post was first published in 2010.
There’s a question I’m not sure if I have an answer to.
When Life brings us challenges, like waves that keep crashing down upon us, how do we keep our writing selves in tact? When other (seemingly) more pressing circumstances keep bubbling up, and don’t seem to die down, how do we stay true to who we believe we are meant to me?
If we’re a sandcastle by the beach, and we keep getting crushed as each new wave comes in, the easy answer would be to just relocate “the castle.” Generally that seems to be people’s obvious answer, but it isn’t practical. As much as we try to run away from real life, it keeps following us, because at some point we have to realize that life attached to us. It is us. There is no relocating the sand castle by the beach, because we are the castle, not the kid that made us…
Ok, ok… I think I’m starting to get a little “metaphor fatigue.”
Okay then. Let’s skip the metaphors for now.
Here’s the deal: we’re stuck in a rut that seems to want to force us away from our writing, and the more we move toward our writing and enjoy it, the rut seems to grow bigger and bigger. It appears as if something is pushing us back from the very thing that we love. It’s what I’m going to call a “Push Back.” I’m sure it doesn’t just happen to writers, but anyone trying to reach for their dreams from a starting point that was less than privileged (a beginning that was lacking in “fast-track” opportunities.)
It’s when we are making a positive step forward: we congratulate ourselves on making the writing schedule, following it, being responsible to ourselves and our craft, being enthusiastic about the work, gathering inspiration, building up support, motivating ourselves, caring for ourselves during our failures, writing the work itself and then suddenly–SHOOOOOP!
There’s the deadline at work you HAVE to meet. That sick family member you HAVE to attend to. That heartbreak you MUST wallow in. Maybe, like many in this economy, it’s the job you just lost and the new job you’re struggling to FIND AND GET. It’s the current LOAD you must BEAR. The BURDEN that is far more pressing and crucial than the novel you are writing, that short story you are editing, that poem you are perfecting…
You’re in it. You can’t relocate. It’s your life. You have to move through it. Moving above or under isn’t really an option anymore. But in order to move through it, the situation seems to be saying that you may have to give up what you really want, at least for a while, because this other thing–the current BURDEN–it needs your attention.
We’ll get to your “passion” later.
I’m afraid I am not wise enough to have an answer to how to deal with this yet. I don’t know really how we completely blast through Push Back, or whether the question is even plausible. We all have our own version of Push Back, and I’m afraid any solution might prove to be too general to be effective for everyone.
The best thing I know how to do is to write about it–and maybe leave the real answers to someone out there wiser than I.
Here are some things that seem to help in the meantime:
First thing in the morning: a run or some push ups will start the day off great. My body feels stronger and energized, I feel more motivated. It makes me feel good about myself, and that’s always helpful no matter what is happening.
When I spoke of how to motivate ourselves to write, I mentioned bribing ourselves with sweets. But I think that a red velvet cupcake may make us feel worse, instead of better, during a Push Back. Maybe its all the sweetness that lingers after: ironic against the bitterness of a real-life pressure situation.
What helps us more than sweets during a Push Back is when we eat healthy food–food that nourishes us, like fruits or vegetables, or a nice green tea to calm the stomach. Our body already has enough stress to deal with, so releasing some of its load by giving it the vitamins and minerals it needs is incredibly helpful. You need to feel strong and balanced when dealing with a Push Back. So, make sure to eat your greens.
A nice walk in the local park is always helpful. I also use breathing exercises that Dr. Joan Borysenko recommends in her book Minding the Body, Mending the Mind. They have been very helpful. I also use the “fully body scan” meditation that John Kabat-Zinn recommends in his book Full Catastrophe Living. Both meditation exercises sharpen my mind, make me feel more refreshed, and relax me.
When you are dealing with Push Back, your current burden is all the news you need, why scare yourself up more with The Shock and Awe of modern media? Admit it to yourself: the news makes you sick. That’s because it is a toxin. To focus on negativity (disasters, worst-case-scenarios, habitually exploding little problems into exponential catastrophes) on a constant basis would be a sign of Depression in a human being, why can’t we diagnose The News with the same malady?
No, you need time away from this sick entity while you are dealing with Push Back. So do yourself a favor: flick off the television, unsubscribe from the Times, and save that change for a rainy day. You need peace.
I am currently working on a theory that fear is simply at one end of the courage spectrum:
If we are afraid then we should be reassured. Why? Because if we are afraid then that means we have great potential to be courageous. As I mentioned in my post “Doubt“ I don’t think we can really get rid of fear, but we can keep it in its dormant state by increasingly tapping into our courage potential. You can practice this by asking yourself to take little courageous steps that are totally doable, like climbing a big tree, or jumping off a huge rock, or contacting that special someone you have a crush on (or, if you are in a relationship, doing something daring together with your partner) or otherwise standing up for yourself in little ways. The hope is that these little courageous steps will bring you more confidence, and, thus, will lead you to take bigger, more courageous steps in the future.
I recommend hiking as a good start. A steep hike is always exhilarating. It gives you a sense of adventure. When I finish a hike, I always feel more brave and more confident in myself. If I can beat the mountain, it makes me feel as if I am more capable of beating the Push Back.
I always mention this at the end of my lists, because sometimes writers (including me) forget that writing can really move us through our current rut. When I deal with Push Back, I usually run straight to poetry. A poem doesn’t have to be perfect, it can be incredibly plain and messy. In this way, a poem can more easily (and directly) keep me whole and at peace amidst all my problems.
It seems that what needs to be done during a time of adversity is to create a fortress to protect our little castle on the shore of life’s beach. (I know, I know, I promised to stop with the metaphors–but I lied didn’t I? I cant’ help it: I’m a writer. Don’t judge me!)
The above tips might help us build a fortress against the Push Back, but I tell you, it’s a whole lot of work to maintain this fortress, especially against an approaching wave. Maybe the ultimate solution to a Push Back can be found in the simple, wise words of a great man:
“Si se puede! (Yes we can!)”
– Cesar Chavez
much si se puede!
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