On Not Writing (Or, Of Fear and Fond Memories)

IMGP6957eCAMP_ORKILA_ROAD_ORCASA few winters ago, I lived with my friend Tracy in a house at camp, and I’ve probably written about this winter before, and I’m sure I will write about it a million more times because I was so freakin’ happy that winter.

The house at camp where I lived (called The Dispensary because in the summer, the medical staff lived there) looked like a cabin, with wood walls and this real “old” feeling to it, like living there was actually a time warp, in a nice way, back to something ancient, even though we did have modern conveniences there. I also loved the lights, they had a soft glow that on the wood walls just somehow reminded me of something primal. It actually had a feel that brought to mind my grandmother’s house, probably the only other house I’ve loved as much as I love the Dispensary. Something about that house was just like IV nutrition for my soul.

It was winter when we were there, which meant there wasn’t a lot going on at camp, so it was quiet and expansive. Camp has almost 300 acres of some of the most beautiful land I’ve ever known. I remember laying in bed in my room in the Dispensary, listening to owls calling and cedar trees creaking as I fell asleep. During the day, I took loooooong walks over acres of forests and shoreline. I had a favorite (huge) tree stump to sit on and think. I had a favorite path to walk out to this back road that wound around. It is my belief that that kind of connection to nature does wonders for the mind, the heart and the soul that nothing else does quite as well. I felt really at peace in some ways, even when I was full of despair (I mean, Bush had just been re-elected, for fuck’s sake) or going through some tough stuff, I still felt connected to the world.

I started feeling more and more like an atheist, in the middle of feeling overcome with deep spiritual connection and a sense of the sacred. It was like who needs any kind of God or supernatural force when I have THIS? That’s not to say I didn’t believe in any supernatural things (though I definitely did not believe in the traditional idea of God and hadn’t for years), but it just seemed like it was much more right in front of me than something “out there” and distant. It was glorious, everything about it. I remember walking under trees at night, figuring out where the path was without a flashlight by looking up and seeing where I could see sky (and winter stars on clear nights) between the branches. Or watching the moon reflected on the ocean. Going skinny-dipping by myself on one of those moonlit ocean nights, in inky blue water that was ice cold. Walking in the woods and feeling like I had a keen sense of the numinous, the magical, the sacred, the ancient. I have loved A LOT of places in my life, but I don’t think I have ever loved any as fervently.

IMGP7064eFIRST_CABIN_ORKILA_OThere are so many images from that time that are tattooed on my mind for all time. It was one of the simplest times of my life. So many nights, Tracy and I just sat around reading, reading tarot cards, eating really hearty and natural soups and breads that Tracy made, talking about the world, having deep conversations about everything imaginable. There were a lot of times we’d sit in silence, Tracy knitting, me writing. I could go on and on about how fucking awesome that winter was. Like how along with everything serious we also listened to David Cross and David Sedaris and laughed hysterically. It was like we could go from talking about what was deeply wrong with the world and feeling it so completely, or talking about the sacred feminine and the phases of the moon, to cracking up over something in The Onion’s book Our Dumb Century. The way I’ve always thought of it was that humor was our way to deal with the sadness of the world without collapsing under it, a way to still have the capacity to care.

Part of what made that time so special was that there were lots of times we’d be reading individually, quietly, and then one of us would look up and share some thought about what we’d just read, and that could spark a whole conversation. I remember Tracy reading me Rumi’s “The Guest House” and how we discussed that. We both read Mists of Avalon that winter and had all these conversations about that book (which still to this day is one of my favorites, and I always think of it as a winter book) and about the priestesses in the book and the natural magic they used.

It was that winter that, thanks to Tracy, I started reading Derrick Jensen, who I just fucking adore. He has such a great sensibility in the way he writes which is hard for me to describe. He has a very analytical mind and yet brings suuuuuch a depth of passion and emotion when he writes about the horrors that civilization is wreaking on the world, he gets to the heart, and he’s also side-splittingly funny (anyone who can write about atrocities so unrelentingly and then actually make me laugh later on, is unquestioningly awesome in my book). A certain comment about porn and wanting to hit on a girl by talking about the unsustainability of the infrastructure of Las Vegas comes to mind. That was one of the moments that I stopped reading, laughed, and then read it aloud to Tracy.

Our living room was just littered with books – on history, on the occult, on politics, on the environment, memoirs, novels, poetry, graphic novels. I felt like I was always learning something, developing ideas in the discussions, connecting ideas together, exploring. But it wasn’t all intellectual, what I loved is that it wasn’t all abstract, I felt like the conversations also really encompassed the HEART of things too, the caring, the depth, the empathy (even if it was something difficult, and often it was). We also talked tons about boys, life, family issues, people we knew, our job, and everything else, but somehow always with that same kind of real depth and realness. Oh and we had music, always music.

In so many ways it was idyllic, my un-American American Dream – to live in a homey little place that looks like a cabin, on LOTS of land and feel the total contentment that comes with feeling so connected to the natural world, and have someone who’s deep and smart and funny and REAL to share it with (though in my daydream of a future, said person would, along with those other attributes, be a gorgeous guy, lol). I feel like my words are not justifying how truly happy and satisfied I felt at that time in my life. And not just in a self-absorbed sort of way either, there was too much caring for the world to feel that.

Since that time, I haven’t really felt that kind of fulfillment, in fact in some ways I have sort of shied away from a lot of that and haven’t felt quite myself – and me being me, I’ve tried to analyze the why behind that shift. Is it that I don’t have anyone to share it with, which makes these things a lot harder and more difficult to hold? Is it because I’m not so connected to nature now that I live off camp in my apartment (which I do love, let me say)? Is it because I routinely abandoned myself, my real feelings, my real interests, my self-worth, and etc. ad nauseum in my relationship with Adrian? Is it because the state of the world just continues to get worse and there’s only so much one person can handle thinking about when there’s no one to share that with? Is it because I had to focus too much on survival, making sure my heat didn’t get turned off and that I had enough money to eat and the dog was fed and everyone was happy? Is it because I got TV? In all likelihood, it’s all of the above and then some more.

Whatever it is, I have felt kinda distant from myself for awhile, it’s something I’ve struggled back and forth with in my journal for about the last ten months, because I feel like I’m on avoidance mode sometimes. And I know it, I see it, I have so many entries sporadically throughout the last year, where I try to figure out what I’m avoiding and why, hoping that’ll do the trick, and yet I keep avoiding. I sit up at night watching mini-marathons of Without a Trace instead of writing.

Writing scares me. I hate that I feel that way. I mean sure, I’ve edited stuff, worked on it, but generating new writing scares me, even writing in my journal. There was even a while back in late summer and fall where I really didn’t feel like myself at all. I wasn’t even listening to music, which for anyone who knows me, is a red flag for “Emilia’s brain might have been taken over by aliens.” I also haven’t been doing much reading in the last few years, which also is pretty unlike me. That’s not to say all was for naught, I think I’ve grown a lot in the last few years, sometimes through very miserable experiences, and I think I’ve had positive changes too, it’s just that I feel a certain something is missing. It really bothers me that I’m not writing. It’s not that I feel blocked, more like I have an allergy to sitting down to write anything.

IMGP7002eORKILA_WOODS_ORCASI do feel like things have been swinging back around in the last few months. I’ve made some really good friends who are just great, deep, feeling people who I can really share with, saw some old friends who are the same way, on my trip. I have this theory that people can either encourage you to be more yourself or less yourself, and I’ve been spending more time with people on the “more” side of that, which is just great. I’ve also felt a little inspired spiritually. Now that my apartment is all organized and set up the way I want it, I’ve been thinking more about decorating, bringing my own style out, which was partly sparked by something my friend Leo sent me for my birthday. I also started reading again on the day before Christmas Eve. One of my favorite people, a woman from my writing group who is just so awesome and real and all the good things, was staying over here and I slept on my couch and decided to read before bed and am now on my third book, so in that way, and a few others, I’m starting to really feel like myself again. The writing will probably come in time.

I have a writing residency coming up in a few weeks, and it’ll basically be a retreat of sorts, at a B&B where I’ll really have all day to write and do nothing else, and I hope that will jump start me.

I’m also going to HAWAII a week from today, with an awesome friend, to see some awesome friends, and I think that could definitely spark some creative juices. I often think of travel as a really good way to get clarity about current life, so I’m looking forward to that too.

Last night, I met some friends at the bar for drinks, and we ended up in this big discussion about books and ideas and about the origins of civilization and religion and how affected a society is by how it gets its food, which led to all kinds of tangents, and bringing up other books. It was fucking awesome. It was like, my soul soooooooo needed that, being around people who are passionate and active and intelligent. It was so great. Then we went and smoked pot on the roof of the organic food store, lol. It was fun.

I just keep trying to tell myself that the writing will come. A friend has the book Writing Alone and With Others, and the first part of that really struck me. It’s about fear. Pat Schneider says:

IMG_0052“The first and greatest fear that blocks us as writers is the fear of the truth we might discover. The world, dressed in our habitual interpretations, is familiar to us. It may not be exactly safe, but we know how to walk in it. We can get from sunrise to sunset.”

and later:

“The act of writing is a tremendous adventure into the unknown, always fraught with danger. But the deeper you go and the longer you work at your art, the greater will be your treasure.”

I believe that. I have seen it as true many times on my writing journeys, and I sometimes sense that I’m on the brink of a pretty big one, digging deep into that unconscious, and in theory, the idea actually excites me massively, the adventure, I mean in a way it’s the most basic mythological story, going on that journey for something meaningful and slaying the dragons along the way, or at least facing them. So maybe I just need to be a warrior and kick some ass and sit down and start writing. I think there has to be a point where you think, okay fear and resistance and procrastination and housework and whatever else are always going to be there, might as well walk into the darkness anyway and embark on that adventure of the innermost heart.

Currently Listening:
“Self Evident” – Ani DiFranco, a very contraversial spoken word piece she wrote in response to 9/11 with some real zinger lines. One that struck me as I was listening and typing this was, “Give back the night, its distant whistle/Give the darkness back its soul/Give the oil companies the finger, finally, and re-learn how to rock and roll.” You have to love a song that starts off, “Us people, we’re just poems/We’re 90% metaphor/With a leanness of meaning approaching hyper-distillation/And once upon a time we were moonshine…”

3 thoughts on “On Not Writing (Or, Of Fear and Fond Memories)

  1. You know, when I think back to my time in that little mouse- and roach-infested New York apartment where I lived for almost two years, I always wish I were back there, like I didn’t realize just how good I had it. And of course I want to be living in New York again, right in the middle of all that, but at the same time, when I think about it more, there were a lot of lonely nights when I was pretty damn depressed over the fact that my life just plain sucked, or my job was in turmoil, or who knows what else. I guess my point is that things often seem to get romanticized in hindsight, and that emotionally right now you’re probably closer to yourself in a different way. Part of it may be exhaustion over the whole Mr. O situation and people telling you to say what you feel, but you seemed to have some phone conversations with me that were pretty emotionally honest (even if you couldn’t tell me the whole story of what was going on…), and creatively, you haven’t really seemed stifled. Maybe it’s not that same sense of opening a Christmas present up for the first time where everything’s a whole new experience, but you can only have that once, and all these things you love to do that you first found out, you still love to do them. You probably feel you’re stagnating a little because you’ve been in the same place for so long and you’ve seen all there is to see, but I think when you finally get off that island for good, Gilligan, a lot of that been there, done that jadedness will go away. If any of that makes sense at what you’ve been getting at.

  2. Pingback: The Artist’s Way Reflections – The Basic Tools: Morning Pages | April Julia

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