Jack Kerouac's typewriter, from here.
Remember my awful infected tooth? That's a bit how my soul feels about not writing.
It's time for me to tell myself the story of what went wrong.
It's such a sore subject for me that I need to explore it, to poke my tongue into the painful crevices of the wound.
I had ambitious plans for the last couple of years. After Madam's birth, I discovered a clarity of thought and voice I'd never quite experienced before. All those dreams I had dismissed over and over as a girl and young adult, came back, with an added note of confidence and possibility. I could get through labor, nurse my daughter, survive two and a half years of broken sleep. And I found all of you, living out all sorts of fascinating artistic dreams. Seeing you gave me the everyday courage I needed to start this blog, to share my writing with strangers for the first time in years.
It was good.
And thanks to your generous feedback, I could see what worked and what didn't...I started learning to spot nuances in my own words, and how to tell stories about things that worked themselves deep in me.
But then, something happened. I started feeling a heaviness in my writing, a desire to make it RIGHT or not make it at ALL. I've always been compulsive about reading writing books and writing advice, but all of that well intentioned knowledge became a soup in my mind. I couldn't quite apply what I was learning...I could just recognize it well enough to see how wrong I was. Writing became frustrating in a completely new way. Despite all of my best efforts, I wasn't getting better. I was getting worse. And I couldn't fix it. Story ideas which had seemed so tantalizing now seemed impossible for me to work on. And I kept getting worse.
Somewhere, I'd always harbored the belief that if we work VERY hard at something, our progress would reflect that. Our jagged edges would smooth out. Things would become more automatic, and pleasurable. I thought A would lead to be B and out to a triumphant C, D, E.
And I kept getting worse. Now the joy in writing was also gone. I couldn't judge my own work, at all. I just knew the efforts of producing it felt abysmal and constipated.
Now, during this time, I was a member of an amazing, creative group of women committed to following our creative dreams. We spoke on the phone once a week every week, and shared our progress. We all did the exercises, and I watched their lives catch fire.
And I just kept getting worse.
Finally, I needed to acknowledge that my ambitious desires to write a Great Novel were probably going to have to be dismissed, at least for a little while. I put writing away in all of its incarnations (which wasn't easy—writing is woven into my day. I do morning pages, keep a journal, write this blog). It got to the point where the very sight of a book I might have once loved caused me to wince.
I returned all of my writing books to the library. I started avoiding bookstores.
Today, at lunch with a friend, I shared all of this frustration. I wish I could report that she had patted my hand, looked sympathetic. Instead, she smiled and said, “OK, that's learning.” She even acted it out a bit with the salt and pepper shakers and the ketchup (OK, maybe you had to be there for that one).
Something about her blasé attitude stopped me short. Is it possible...that I've been torturing myself, thinking that I was stupid and incapable of learning because...learning is not linear? Perhaps this is ho-hum common knowledge to you, but seriously, I NEVER thought of it that way. I honestly NEVER thought that sometimes...we get worse. And it doesn't necessarily mean we should stop.
Madam's speech therapist said something similar when she reminded me that Madam's speech would probably start to get MORE garbled as she learned new words, and started experimenting with sentences.
I still feel that lack of love for writing that frightens me. But maybe that, too, is part of the process—my grown up version of the tantrums Madam throws during her growth spurts.
Either way, I desperately want to try again. Garbled words and all.