Writer Unblocked

posted June 3, 2009

Half-screened porch. Once it’s completely screened, I will be able to write our book.

… “Lie down
in the word-hoard, burrow
the coil and gleam
of your furrowed brain.

Compose in darkness.
Expect aurora borealis
in the long foray
but no cascade of light.

Keep your eye clear
as the bleb of the icicle,
trust the feel of what nubbed treasure
your hands have known.”

Seamus Heaney, “North”

“A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”-Thomas Mann

I am trying to write a book. I have written three books already, and published two of them, so I was under the mistaken assumption that it would be easy for me to write another book.

Not so fast, lady.

My friend Nalini Jones, a wonderful writer whose book of short stories What You Call Winter practically oozes grace and depth of character, told me years ago that whenever she had to write, whenever she had a deadline, her husband would come home to an exceptionally clean house.

So for the past two-and-a-half months, I’ve been cleaning my house, making long to-do lists of projects I should have done last September, gotten excited about crafting little teeny tiny knitted-and-then-felted pick necklaces (which, I decided after several cups of extra strong green tea, were going to make Katryna and me MILLIONAIRES!),

Soon-to-be, pre-felted pick necklace which will make us rich.

Also, I sorted about thirty-five hundred loads of laundry, flossed my teeth too enthusiastically and fantasized about how I could only really write the book I’m supposed to write if my husband would locate and put up the screens on our porch.

In short, I did all the things I tell my clients not to do.

I’ve been in a kind of a rut. Not the regular kind of rut where you feel stuck and sad and frustrated and it’s raining and muddy and your car won’t move even when four large humans come to push it out. My rut is comfy, in a way. But I’ve dug it for myself with phrases that I repeat, like: “I am so exhausted!” “I am so busy I haven’t had time to wash my hair!” “We are just in survival mode, that’s all there is to it.” And my favorite: “there are just too many things I want to do and not enough time to do them.”

But there was something I really wanted to do, and that was sit down and write this book about how anyone’s family can be musical if given just a few ingredients and a dose of permission. Katryna and I have been talking about this book for years now on our drives to and from our gigs. We even have all sorts of wonderful outside supporters encouraging us and cheering us on. It’s the best gift our grown-ups gave us, and now that we are grown-ups (really, we are), we want to pass it on. So why was I trolling felting sites on the internet and buying yarn to make an all-purpose summertime tote bag instead of working on our outline?

There are lots of good answers to that question, actually. I’m a firm believer in letting the muse have its way before it gets down to business. Think Pat Morita in The Karate Kid making Ralph Macchio paint his fence. But I’m also a believer in bum glue: that at some point you just have to show up with your laptop and sit until something comes out.

I read an article in the New York Times last week that enhanced the process of my liberation. The article was about the newest trend in parenting, which the writer called “slow parenting.” It cited a book by Tom Hodgkinson called “The Idle Parent: Why Less Means More When Raising Kids” and it featured a cover — parents lounging with martinis as their small child mixes up their drinks. “Pay attention to your own needs,” writes Hodgekinson, “back off on your children and everyone will be happier and better adjusted.”

Don’t worry–Elle and Jay won’t be mixing our drinks for us. And don’t worry is actually the point–it may well be that the worst thing you can do for your kid is worry. At any rate, something from my coach training snapped into place after I read this article. It was a long-forgotten, or perhaps long-ignored voice in my head: the voice that questions. “Is it true?” the voice asks when I take as fact what Martha Beck calls a “limiting belief.” What if, I suddenly thought, my idea that every time Elle or Jay cries it’s my fault, that I am doing something wrong as a parent, what if that thought is not true? What if they’re just in a bad mood? And more importantly, what if all that’s required is a small shift, a small adjustment in my behavior–not a giving-up-my career adjustment, not a quit-my-yoga-class adjustment, but a two minute cuddle and kiss and be-present-in-my-body adjustment?

As I wrote in the last post, my back is much better, due in fact to an adjustment–a tiny one at that. And it seems to continue to be better as I do my simple exercises (imperfectly) and notice when I am hunching. Course corrections, I remember from my few times on a sailboat, are minute but they have huge consequences for the direction the ship takes.

It’s all about the breath. I’ve heard that for the past twelve years, but it wasn’t until recently that I’ve taken that in and lived it, the way Helen Keller finally got “water” at the end of The Miracle Worker. When I get shaken up by all the events and people in my life that conspire to shake me up (it’s their job, after all–every moment is my perfect teacher), my first task is to get back in my body, and the easiest way for me to do that is to come back to the breath.

I turned 42 on Tuesday. I’d planned a kick-ass day. I’d scheduled a session with a Martha Beck life coach––for me. I’d scheduled a Dr. Hauschka facial (I adore them and am an ambassador for their products.) I’d told Tom that all I wanted from him was to take the afternoon off so we could bum around town together. I’d invited my sister and her family for BYO take-out dinner. So when I woke up that morning, I was already in a good place. But in my first moments of being awake, I set this intention: may I take whatever happens as the way it’s supposed to be and fit myself to it rather than trying to get it to conform to my hopes and expectations.

So when Elle hopped into bed with us and immediately started kicking and pouting instead of cuddling and kissing, instead of thinking, “She hates me! I’m a terrible mom! She needs more attention! She needs less attention! My day is ruined!” I smiled and thought, “She’s three. She’s fine. Her mood will pass.” And it did. Five minutes later, she was cuddling on my lap cooing, “My baby Mommy! I love my baby Mommy!”

“Everything passes, and the problem is already solved.”

“Less and less do you need to force things, until finally you arrive at non-doing.” This last from the Tao te Ching and from my new life coach Terry DeMeo who royally kicked my butt on Tuesday morning. I told her how hopelessly busy I was and instead of sympathizing and shaking her head with wonder at my multitasking fantabulousness, she said, “Oh, really. And who is making you be so busy?” She got me to see that my dread of the feeling of being busy was much worse that the actual moment-to-moment reality of my life. She also reminded me that, as Mark Twain said, ” I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” In other words, it’s my thoughts that are keeping me in this rut.

All this is to say, for the moment, my little vehicle is back on track. I have the proposal almost finished, and feel as though someone came in and cleaned my windows. I can see clearly now, the smog has gone, and I can’t believe this is my life.

The Comments

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  1. I love this post! A friend of mine says, “Your kids have a higher power and you’re not it …” *that* helped me let go of my I-have-to-control/it’s-all-my-fault stories I was telling myself. What a relief it is! Bravo! 🙂

  2. I’d like to hear more about your writing. It interests me to hear that even a teacher of writing struggles. How do you find time for your love of writing with your love of family, love of music?

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