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I’m pretty certain that I shut down my creativity for good in my sophomore year of college.
Part of it had to do that most of my classes were based on reading and analyzing literature, not writing it.
But mostly, I think it had to do with my cousin’s death; I was ill-equipped to handle the tsunami of emotions associated with her suicide. And instead of writing myself out of it, I shut down. I vividly remember a moment in the winter of 1995 where I made the decision to grow up. Amy wasn’t alive anymore, and I needed to live. And that meant I needed to be Responsible and Pay Attention and Help People – especially the ones that reached out for help like my cousin did.*
The death knell to my writing dreams, though, came that second semester, when I took a poetry seminar with a brilliant poet, one who had won awards for his poetry. He was brilliant… and a drunk. And I was 19 and intimidated as hell by him and blocked and couldn’t write a single. fucking. poem that semester. It was awful. I brought in my high school poetry, which was okay, but not great. Everyone hated my writing, and I tried SO hard to write and just couldn’t. It would have been a really tough class, but I was really good at analysis and commentary on the poetry that the other students wrote, and I participated, so I still got a decent grade in the class.
But. I’ll never forget the last day of class, when the professor – drunk, of course – hugged me before I left. And he said, You know, you really are much better at analysis than you are at writing.
And like that – poof! – there went my dreams of writing… for real. I’ve dabbled with it here and there since then, but nothing of substance.
So I’m not working much right now, and I picked up a book a while back called The Artist’s Way. I tried to start it maybe a decade or so ago, but the “morning pages” she wanted you to do was too much for me.
I picked it up about a month ago and started working through it as part of the intention I set when I left Kripalu. I left, thinking only, I want to write more. And I thought it would be a good way to write more.
The book has been pretty amazing thus far. Before this experience, I never would have told you that I was blocked creatively. I thought I just threw it out, decided I didn’t need it anymore. And, in fact, the past couple of years I’ve been wondering: was I ever actually creative, or did I just think I was?
So it’s been really great to discover, oh, hey, wait a second, maybe it’s not gone for good! I still haven’t written a poem yet, but that’s okay. I’ve had IDEAS about short stories. Two. One that’s actually pretty damn good, that I’ve even outlined, so if I can just get the hell out of my way and write the thing… except, oh, I have emails to read and answer and workouts to log and work do to… and what’s going on on twitter and instagram right now? Oh, look, there’s a Huffpost post that looks decent. I’ll read that. And I have these books to read, too!
So I end up putting off writing until later. Which seems to never come.
And then, on Sunday, I turned to a new week in the book.
This week is Reading Deprivation Week. I cannot read at ALL this week. No blog posts. No articles. No books. No mindlessly scrolling through Facebook.
She says this about reading:
For most artists, words are like tiny tranquilizers. We have a daily quota of media chat we swallow up. Like greasy food, it clogs our systems. Too much of it and we feel, yes, fried.
She’s right, of course. I use social media and my books as a way to disengage sometimes. I keep myself busy with other people’s words to avoid having to work on my own.
BUT OMG I CANNOT READ FOR A WHOLE WEEK.
I’m on day two, and it’s been tough. I’ve been very productive at getting a lot of stuff done in the past two days – things that are not writing, of course. I’ve purged my bedroom and a closet in the dining room and cleaned the house and done a LOT of laundry and made strawberry rhubarb compote and my own homemade pasta sauce. My house is clean and we have food and I’m pretty much done everything I need to.
So I’m going to start my short story tomorrow. And I’m telling you all this for accountability. I can’t read other people’s words, but I can write my own. Right?
*Suicide is really, really hard on the people who loves someone. For two full decades, I carried the guilt that I never responded to a her letter to me which detailed her despair. I did nothing, therefore I needed to make up for it by being more responsible – that was the way I thought. It took me that long to untangle my feelings of guilt and let myself off the hook. There was really very little I could have done.