I feel grateful this morning. As I sat on the front porch of our mountain home watching our dogs romp in the pasture, I realized: She’d nailed it. The ambivalent writer, Betsy Lerner of The Forest for the Trees writes, is that perpetually disenfranchised personality. We watch the world from the sidelines. Observant, we are certain we don’t belong to the norm. We skirt the fringes. When we create, we are really putting ourselves out there. When we send a book or article out into the world, what we’re really asking is,
Do you find me okay?
Of course, she expands further – ideas flow, yet we cannot just choose one. We get into an energetic flow to create, excited for our new offspring, only to orphan it the very next day. We are filled with desire but cannot seem to get off the dime…
I’m paraphrasing many of Betsy’s words. And I completely get it. I am that ambivalent writer.
It’s been months of feeling stuck. Call it writer’s block, call it my inner critic/judge, call it overwhelm with a profusion of time and a plethora of options on the Interweb. Call it too many rescue cats and endless gak, an intrusion of impromptu drop-off doggie playdates keeping me ensconced in romping puppies. I watch each fresh, precious, creative morning hour evaporate with each lope and tumble across our mountain pasture.
On any given Tuesday, I try to dance my way through to inspire creative energy. I believe in exercise and the opportunity of self-expression. But even dancing these past few months has failed to manifest inspirational energy to move me off my own dime.
We all know many writers who have clean counters and empty pages, polished floors and an orphanage of unfinished short stories & unpublished manuscripts hidden from the light of day. Our profession is replete with fear-based paranoia keeping our minds swirling at 3 a.m. when it all busts loose, promising to inundate us like a hurricane traveling up the West Coast of Florida.
As I was delving deeper into my own insights on ambivalence and the reasons for holding back, I watched our mutt Linus digging deeper for a vole in our pasture. Suddenly, it all began to make sense. I’ve been walking around for years, feeling that disenfranchisement was somehow holding me back from feeling confident. Finding place, I often cry, is the call of the unpublished. And yet, feeling disenfranchised is one of the very reasons I chose to be a writer.
I’ve never been normal. I’ve always existed on the fringe of society. Until now, I just thought there was something wrong with it.
I’ve been spending months writing short stories, filling file folders that fill crates that fill drawers. I decide on one I’ll finish in the morning and by the afternoon I’m onto brushing a cat and walking through the woodlands in the company of our dogs. I promise myself I’ll start to write – just one paragraph – about the wolves and bears in Alaska, because I’ve spent untold hours interviewing Alaskans about predator policies and how they’re turning the wildlife refuges into game preserves. I have elaborate mind mapping scrawl hanging all over 24×36 sheets from my barn loft office beams, with copious notes and outlines and diagrams in the hopes that it’ll feed me with inspiration when I’m finally in the flow.
They’ve been hanging there since April.
It’s now September, the last hummingbird left this morning. I started that project when the first one arrived.
Ever since I sat in the law office chair working alongside my former attorney husband, I blamed him for not having my own life. I yelled loudly at the poor man that he was silencing my voice. Routinely, I accused him of holding me back, attributing deprivation of opportunities for self-expression to his inundating me with rules and constructs and arguments. I spent years giving away my power, because I felt he had it all. I became so convinced he was to blame due to his abnormally high dose of self-confidence, that I divorced him.
I need to hear my own voice, I cried back then.
It’s been eight years. I’ve remarried and found someone who lets me have my own voice. He’d no sooner silence my voice than he would deprive me of another rescue dog. My life is blessed with ample time to pursue my writing career. And I’ve retained a friendship with my former, who will be relieved he wasn’t to blame, after all.
Turns out, it was me, not him.
And yet, even though I feel freed up to create, I’ve been stuck.
In fear, plain and real. If you’ve written for any stretch of time, about anything, you hope to have published, you understand. We all fear rejection.
Writers can stay stuck in fear of rejection forever. Then they become, like Betsy Lerner shares, one of the unpublished. The successful writer, she encourages, moves past ambivalence.
So this morning, I decided to force myself to dance once again. I booted up a favorite playlist – Smudge’s Romp – named for our Texas rescue puppy. As Madonna cooed on how much she loved the guy who pushed her, I could feel the energy starting to open up. It eased onward as I felt the reward of becoming more real in the melodies belted out by Cheryl Lynn. By the time that barky dog started to steal the moment of Jane’s Addiction, I’d clicked back into my own rhythm. I could feel it again. It’s been months since that could happen, of moving through with the upbeat energy of the music. I felt cleansed in a new way — one that can only happen when the mind shuts down and the beat takes over. Fluidity in motion can literally feel like an emergence of renewed energy. All the thoughts of crumbling democracies and tweeting commanders-in-chief and dogs dying in Hurricanes in Texas dropped away. I felt aligned with my own creativity and bathed in my own light again.
It wasn’t simply the endorphins, though they did help.
Dancing for a writer is essential. It gives us a place for feeling into something beyond words. The rhythms of the music become literal beats in our own hearts. Allowing ourselves to align with that energy for a time can give us a literal reset. It can also give us the internal permission to just express ourselves – something every writer must have – if she is going to continue past the roadblock of ambivalence and down the lane to productive street, driving herself into the four-lane highways that criss-cross this American landscape.
I ended my own cathartic dance session with slamming, bouncing and jumping up and down to 9 Inch Nails. I no longer felt as freaked out about uncertainty or connected to all the fear and anger coursing through the veins of our country. I was able to return to the writing process in a way I hadn’t since that first April hummingbird. Sometimes you just have to keep writing unfinished stories until you can find a place to see clearly where they can one day be finished. Sometimes, it takes the words of an editor to say, I understand what you writers go through – keep going anyway – to free us up, because we’re not even aware of what’s blocking us.
So today, for anyone out there steeped in the writing process who may get stuck along the way, consider a few moments out with Jane’s Addiction’s barking dog at the beginning of Been Caught Stealin’ and see if jumping up and down for a while doesn’t get you moving past your own ambivalence and out into the big bad scary world, if only just a while.