Strongly Held Beliefs

Have you ever noticed how dogs will circle around before they lie down?  Inching into their favorite niches on the doggy bed with nose tucked into their tail just so?  Curled into an impossible yoga pose that minimizes heat loss and maximizes vigilance just in case someone with a treat walks by?  That’s how my writing is going these days.

I circle and circle into a favored and comfortable position in front of my computer and wait.  Thousands of ideas are bubbling up in my head, and I can’t quite catch any of them.  Attempts at putting phrases on paper succeed only in messing up my already untidy desk.  The guilt emerges, and I think, “If I only had discipline, I would be getting my book done and moving on with my life!”

Dog_ball

Getting my book done has been a goal now for several years.  Honestly, because it is taking so long, friends are now just polite in asking me how it’s going.  I have become deft in sharing “progress”.  I don’t want to admit it is stalled, because that would mean I have failed.  And I hate failing.  So I circle and prepare my bedding so that it is comfortable and familiar.  And then I wait for inspiration.  The lethargy of my habitual way of writing, however, seems to stifle output.

At least I write this blog.  The feedback has been generous and inspirational.  I delight in having an audience and hearing that some of the thoughts I have are shared and some of the insights and suggestions are helpful.  In producing the blog every week, I am keeping my promise and building a catalog of ideas and themes that might turn into a book without extra effort.

morning_writinglI know the value of having time set aside for writing, and so have kept to a habit of writing in the morning, regardless of what other obligations may require.  Ironically, writing the blog is both an exercise in keeping my word and a barrier to getting other writing done.  It is as if I only have so many words in me!  Because I am keeping a variety of plates spinning in my efforts to feed, clothe and house myself, I dip into an energy well that runs low in the evening.  It refills overnight (most of the time), so I write creatively in the mornings and do the tedious and less creative paperwork in the evenings.

I turn to others for inspiration.  I find it!  Right now I am reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s wonderful book, “Leaving”.  It is so well-written, so inspiring, I have just about given up even trying.  I will never be able to write anything nearly so graceful and effortless.  Then I circle again in my bedding of self-pity, find another position to rest, and realize that I am purposefully and intensely seeking evidence of my incompetence instead of opening my awareness to the possibility that I might have something to say that others would like to hear and would benefit from hearing.

As a woman born in the early 50s and raised in the 60s, I have been culturally indoctrinated to please others first.  This is an important insight and I try to use it to pull me along when I hit these muddy shoals of lassitude.  Sometimes the desire to please others is sufficient to get me writing again.  But sometimes it results in total capitulation on my part. A Greek chorus of “I’m not good enough!  I’m not smart enough, I’m not ____________ enough,” rises up in the background and drowns out my good intentions.

ruby_keelerThis becomes a dilemma.  Having been born in the 50s, I also received a messages that I should not make a spectacle of myself and it was better to be modest than a braggart.  The implication I took to heart was that I should quietly wait in the wings.  I was raised on tales of starlets being discovered at the soda counter, Ruby Keeler as the understudy who saves the show, and of course, the classic, “All About Eve” (in my fantasy, I was Bette Davis).

Some time ago I realized no one was going to call.  If I wanted to get ahead and do anything, I would need to create the possibilities in my life.  Yet I still yearn for that phone to ring.  Here’s the rub.  Maybe the phone call was made, and I just didn’t pick up.  Maybe I was approached, sitting on the stool at the soda shop, but I turned the other way and ignored the invitation.  Maybe I was scheduled to be pulled to the front of the chorus line, but I absented myself.

Strongly held beliefs are like hobbles and handcuffs.  They can keep me held hostage and immobilize me.  If I believe I will never, then that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If I believe I can, but I don’t take the steps necessary to manifest, then I confirm my inadequacy.  If I only see what I have not done (absence), then I miss out on what I have done (presence).

So I circle in my rumpled bed of creativity.  Tucking my nose to my tail.  Finding that sweet spot that will grant me rest, restore me, and allow me to re-commit to my intention to produce a book.  I have put a fresh pot of coffee on.  I am getting this written early, so that I will have uninterrupted time to devote to my book.

I didn’t get that call, but I did find a quote that might just substitute.  It is from Agnes DeMille’s biography of Martha Graham (Martha:The Life and Work of Martha Graham, 1991):

There is vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost.  The world will not have it.  It is not your business to determine how good it is; nor how valuable it is; nor how it compares with other expressions.  It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.  You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work.  You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate YOU.  Keep the channel open . . . No artist is pleased . . . There is no satisfaction whatever at any time.  There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction; a blessed unrest that keep us marching!

5_PillarsFIVE PILLARS OF AGING

One of the keys to staying engaged with life as we age is to find a creative outlet.  It is not about producing masterpieces; rather it is about tending to that ember of passion, that spark of life that motivates us.  The arts provide us with sustenance, even when we are experiencing emotional, spiritual, or psychological hunger.

7 comments

  1. Oh Mary, again this week you elegantly voice my thoughts-from my muddy shoals of lassitude to that phone call questioning my intentions, I sigh, remember, and somehow get that energy burst to keep curious. Many thanks my love. Best nan

  2. I’ve never written “a book.” I’ve only written sentences, read things, made phone calls, looked things up, wrote more sentences, threw them out, put a name on an image, built bookshelves instead of books, fed the dogs, deterred the questions about the book, whined to family and close friends about the book,had a brilliant writing two hours and then thrown in it all out the next day.
    I don’t think one ever writes “a book.” One notes thoughts and somehow they breed with each other when one isn’t looking and they turn into a book eventually…My empathy is with you!

  3. On the eve of my retirement, I see even more clearly that “rumpled bed of creativity” where comfort was more compelling than the risk of moving beyond.

  4. I am very familiar with a bed of creativity more rumpled than yours, By far. You gift of writing about life as it meanders through our “ordinary” human muddling toward “self-actualization” with depth, humor, and authenticity is truly extraordinary, not to mention inspiring. It may even give an admiring reader a kick in the b— out of her own rumpled bed.

  5. I appreciate your honesty , Mary. It is that which will inspire you either to the book, continuuing this column, or/and something born anew. Gentle does it.

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