We want our sound to go into the soul of the audience, and see if it can awaken some little thing in their minds… Cause there are so many sleeping people. -Jimi Hendrix, musician, singer, and songwriter (27 Nov 1942-1970)
Are you curious? Are you coming out of a dream? And, as Jimi once asked, “Are you experienced?”
I’m a writer who now knows what it is to have a strong heart in a damaged eighty-year-old body, a body I now have to care for as though I can’t cheat death. I want to live. I am curious about so much. So, I have come out of a young woman’s dream of invulnerability.
And, in my mind? More will be revealed – since I have lived to tell the story.
Here is Talitha Milroy. You may find kinship in her words:
I took up your challenge: “We are in relationship with our writing as we are in relationship with our lives.” This was what I wrote. I thought you might like to read it.
My first thought is just how timely this challenge is. I’ve just finished reading Solace: Rituals of Loss and Desire, and I’ve been feeling both inspired anew, and frustrated anew at the constant blocks that get in my way, the ways I get in my own way. I’ve spent the last few weeks wanting and wanting to write. I’ve spent the last few weeks not writing. Perfect timing. A challenge to write. A prompt pointing straight at me.
My second thought is, “Ok, well, I’ll just shower first”, and then “I really need to be getting ready to leave for my holiday”, and “I should really go talk to my partner and resolve the silly argument we just had”. Anything but writing. Anything but sitting down and doing what I say I want to do.
She says no stopping. I keep on stopping. To analyse the words I type. To criticise the words I type. To just quickly look up the correct full title of that memoir. To just quickly check the spelling of her name. Anything but keeping my hands on the keyboard.
We are in relationship with our writing as we are in relationship with our lives. Well, the microcosm sketches the macrocosm accurately. Anything but writing. Anything but feeling. Anything but keeping my hands to the keys. Anything but sitting with discomfort. Avoidance. Escape. Its hard. Everything is hard. I just need a break. I shouldn’t be writing, I’m meant to be resting. The doctor said I’m too stressed. I’m meant to be working less. Writing is work, ergo, I should be writing less.
Can’t write much less than I’ve been writing. Can’t have much less than almost none.
Writing is working. It is. But I doubt avoiding the deep call reduces stress. It’s not like I’m obsessive about my writing. Not like I’m a workaholic about my writing. I wish I was. I get obsessed with everything else. Why not writing?
Because it’s hard. Because it involves sitting with discomfort. Because it involves resisting the things that more easily obsess me. Because it involves avoiding the work that’s easier to stuff holes with. Because it doesn’t make me look useful, feel useful. Because I’m scared of people looking down their noses. Writing will never help you achieve financial stability, writing will never pay the bills, create a career, build a life, buy a house. Writing will never drag you free of the millennial curse, the financial black hole, the price of housing, the cost of living, the miserable job market, the unpaid internships.
But I want it. Even though its hard. Maybe because its hard. I always have been prone to playing life on the hard setting. Through choice or chance or basic nature, it’s hard to tell. It’s hard to tell and it’s hard to tell the story. Stories weave the world. I want to weave. Stories are the world. The world, the river. I want my hands in the river. I need my hands in the river. Writing is a way of being in the river.
But I feel so much already, so much it wears me out, weighs me down. I try to think of writing as a way to pour it out, let it go, but that isn’t how it feels. It feels like feeling more. It feels like walking straight towards the pain. Sojourner quoted someone, “some of us are nerve endings for the earth”. I’ve never heard it better said. But what good is a nerve ending that doesn’t transmit?
I do transmit, I talk non-stop. But talking is just writing that vanishes in an instant. Writing that only reaches a small handful of ears. Not that talking has no value. It is, by its nature, intimate and visceral in a way that writing needs to work incredibly hard to reproduce. In conversation our physiologies sync up. Le Guin wrote an essay about it. But I want to draw a greater community into sync than those I can reach with my mouth, my throat, my spurting air. So then. Write. What are you waiting for?
For permission. For discipline. For space. For time. For a kick in the ass.
I keep getting handed those kicks in the arse. Over and over. Undeniable synchronicity. Picking up, unplanned, book after book where the writer breaks the fourth wall, looks straight at me, says “Write! This is the sign. This is the message. This is the voice of god. This is the time. Right now. Write. Now.”
And, to my credit, when the messages are that direct, I usually do. Feeling called out, guilted but relieved, I write. But then I stop. It doesn’t take long for the voice that calls itself reason to convince enough of me, that writing isn’t productive enough, isn’t lucrative enough, isn’t feasible, isn’t going to amount to anything. Or just that I should be resting. Or just that I’ve written enough for now, so I deserve to take a break. And when the messages are less direct, gentle nudges, suggestions, offers, I usually look the other way and pretend I didn’t notice, or tell myself I’ll get to that, sure, sure, but after these next few busy days. After Christmas. After New Year.
Building habits can be easy enough. Breaking habits is hard. But the problem is that most habits that are important to build are really habits I need to break. Breaking the habit of not writing. Breaking the habit of not sitting still. Breaking the habit of avoidance, of escape. Breaking the habit of breakneck speed and tight-chested tension. Relapse is easy. I studied addiction counselling. I know all about relapse. Doesn’t make it easier to avoid. You just reach for the pill, the burger, the smartphone, and the counsellor in your head watches you do it. Aware. Still hooked. They say knowing is half the battle. It’s not. But it is a first step.
It’s been longer than 10 minutes. Closer to 30. I didn’t write non-stop though. The thought occurred to me, near the beginning, that I should write extra, more than 10 minutes, as punishment for not immediately responding to the prompt, for procrastinating for 10 minutes first, for not writing non-stop. The thoughts started arguing. Incredulous tone: Punishment? Are you serious? How is that helpful? Defensive tone: Well how is that attitude going to improve the situation? Just punishing me for having punishing thoughts. Another voice, pragmatic: Well if it serves its purpose, if it gets you to write…
No. No. Writing is not a punishment. It’s a gift, and a reward. Its own reward. But don’t punish the punishing instinct. It’s okay to feel this way. It’s okay to feel this way. Your feelings are valid. They have causes.
I’m pleased to say I didn’t keep writing as punishment, or out of duty. I kept writing because I had something to say.
With our writing, as with our lives. Self-punishment certainly fits the theme. Exacting standards, brutal perfectionism, picking myself apart. Blame my perfectionist father, my tense mother, my religious upbringing, my patriarchal culture. Blaming achieves nothing.
With our writing, as with our lives. Okay, but so far here I’ve only written about bad habits. About blocks and obstacles, frustration and struggle. If that was all there was to my relationship with my writing, I wouldn’t want to write. If that was all there was to my relationship with life, I wouldn’t be here. But I am, and I want to be. Didn’t always, do now.
So write about the habit of joy, of passion, of intensity. Write about the habit of plumbing the depths, or soaring, of seeking awe, or seeking life. In my writing, as in my life. I want to write for the same reason that I want to live. It’s beautiful. It’s real. It moves me. I want to move with it, in it. I want to dance.
The struggle is, there are a thousand dances, a thousand rhythms, a thousand passions, and the great-big-shiny-
I don’t think I’m really looking for help to write. I think I just want help to learn how not to not write.
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