I think there something to be said for getting really specific.
The last few days I’ve been so proud of myself for writing. Many of the days I have had to finish in bed when I am ready to be sleeping, but there has been motivation to hold onto my goal of meeting 1667 words a day. And really this is what this month is about for me. Showing myself I can write something substantial everyday. It is a way of making sure my artist’s heart is fulfilled. Creative expression is my favorite concoction of healing pulled from the shelves of a dimly lit apothecary that hides in the recesses of my life.
That said, I’ve not necessarily been pleased with the quality of writing. Part of that is the choice to flow with this stream of consciousness sort of writing and not having ample time to edit it afterwards. The other part is dancing around a topic instead of diving in, and this is where I believe specificity is an asset to writing. It is also an asset to dealing with fear.
Let me touch on the fear aspect first. When a ghosty shows up, hovering its presence over my life, it can feel as though it is massive like the Corpse Bride with her flowing veil and red beady eyes, towering high in the sky above me. If I ignore her, letting her continue to moan as the distant soundtrack of my days, the noise and my propensity to fear appears to grow. It doesn’t have a form, it doesn’t have a clear outline or shape, it just is big and generally spooky. But as I turn to look at the fear, as I choose to say this ghosty is here to light the way of a very specific landscape in my abyss, I can, with time, get a much clearer picture of what I am dealing with. With this I see the fear diminish in size and take on clear boundaries. Writing helps me do this. Take the billowy nebulous cosmic sort of apparition and turn it into a teeny little specific detail that fits in the palm of my hand. For example feeling sick about the thought of getting back on my bike and all sorts of horror that could befall me, vs. actually getting on my bike and taking one specific pedal stroke at a time on one specific stretch of road next to one specific person. There may still be fear, but it is of a very specific nature, bite-sized and approachable.
Now let me talk abut writing. While I have been writing consistently the past four days, and that writing has helped me hone in on my fear, I can feel myself getting back into the familiarity of this art form and wanting more from it. I don’t want it to just generally be talking about my life, my fear, my ghosts. My words thus far have felt like the outer stretch of fence on 100 acres of land. I want to zoom in and show the very three hairs that are standing up on my arm. The specific black Chaco hiking boots I am shaking in. Writing gets better when it gets into the details. When it puts you there, right there, so close you feel as though you’re sharing physical space with the writer. But writing is also more vulnerable this way. It is the difference between seeing a person speak on stage under the spotlight, versus shaking their hand afterwards in the lobby. You see grey hairs and wrinkles, uneven smiles or crooked teeth and skin blemishes. Showing the details puts you there, but for the details to connect they must be honest, not polished and at stage distance.
To be less cerebral, less stuck in my head where fears can multiply, I have to connect to my present now and the sensory details there-in. This is what grounds me in my actual life, vs. my out there, do you suppose, ghost-haunted mystery of what could be. I have to look the ghosty in the eyes and let it teach me. What is my actual?
To be a good writer it is the same. I have to stop swooping around the subject and hone in, so you can smell my coffee breath like I fear my art students can today. So you can see that while the static makes some of my hair fly away, I also have this one tiny braid pinned to the side of my head and it makes me happy when I look in the mirror, or absentmindedly touch the side of my head and feel its presence that makes me feel feminine and soft while also wandering and wild as though I could at any minute run off into the woods for the fun it.
Specific lets you know I have 5 minutes until my next group of fourth graders will enter my art room and paint sugar skulls with glowing paint under the blacklights I have plugged in around the room. Specific lets you know that my head feels spacey and dizzy like I haven’t quite healed from the stomach bug I had last week and like I’ve been squinting in the blacklights all day. Specific lets you know that I am fasting today because I’m holding out for a metaphorical door that is going to open in this day, a door that will bring on opportunities and significant change. Specific lets you know the fasting part was decided when I realized mid-morning while sipping on my coffee that I hadn’t packed a lunch or afternoon snacks, so I decided in order to keep me ready and alert for that door to show up, I would not eat. Specific lets you know these words will not get to be finished until later tonite because today is my long day and I teach until dark.
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It is after dark now, and I walked into the house to my husband telling me he had ordered me food. I am currently breaking my fast in my pajamas by candlelight in between typing sentences. I realized on the drive to the evening art therapy classes I teach that today is “Remember, remember the 5th of November,” which makes sense to me now why I knew this was a day to find a door and slip through it. The fifth of November is a very powerful day indeed. I looked up V is for Vendetta quotes and this is the one that was mine for the taking today:
“The past can't hurt you anymore, not unless you let it.”
This morning before school I was planning on prepping dinner and putting it in the crockpot. As the morning unfolded I realized how stressed and jammed packed it was going to make the morning if I tried to squeeze in this dinner prep. Could I do it? Yes, of course I could, but at what cost? I went back and forth in my mind several times until the time drew close to when I needed to leave, and I decided to forgo it. For the first time since I’ve started these night classes, I left with absolutely no plan for my family for dinner. I knew they had food. I just went to the grocery yesterday. I knew they could be creative and fend for themselves.
On the drive home tonight I thought again about how difficult it was to make that decision this morning. How I didn’t feel good about not making them dinner plans, but how I felt even worse about forcing it into my morning and then being late and rushed to teach. Wait a minute, I thought, I knew which choice made me feel worse. I knew which choice I wanted to make right away, I just didn’t feel like I should get to make that choice because of course I was capable of making them dinner if f I just cut into my personal preparation time of my day. I thought about my decision yesterday to not race, and how my body had known I wasn't ready to race again, but I had felt like I couldn’t listen to my body because I was capable of racing if I just sucked up my fear of getting hurt and looking stupid. Why is the choice I want to make always the one I don’t get to make simply because I am capable of doing what I don’t want to do.
I have a history of taking responsibility into my hands. I have a history of training myself to suffer and willingly take on inconvenience, discomfort and extra weight so that others don’t have to encounter it. That is a past pattern, but it is not a present belief. Old patterns need to be be broken and I need to be retrained to accommodate my new beliefs.
This door that I was holding out for today is the door of specificity. It is the door of looking things, as they are, right in the eye. It is the door of seeing this past habit of living does not match up with my current belief system. I no longer have to feel the pain of debating over making the right choice.
The choice is easy. I know right away what I want. I did in the dinner making and I did in the bike racing. Why do I make it difficult by hunting down all the ways in which I could hurt myself to make it happen? Why not stop at, “It’s not because I can’t but because I won’t. I won’t do that to myself.”
Mary Oliver wrote, “If it is your nature to be happy you will swim away along the soft trails for hours, your imagination alighting everywhere.”
Her words are beautiful, and it could be shortened and made simpler and easier to remember as this:
“If it is your nature to be happy, you will.” That’s what the V is for Vendetta quote was saying to me. I can’t be hurt unless I let myself be hurt. I can be happy if I want to be happy.
“If it is your nature to be happy, you will…” could also be a writing prompt, finished up by specific details, because remember, the writing is better with the specificity. So is the living.
If it is in your nature to be happy, you will eat half of your Chipotle by candlelight and save the other half for tomorrow’s lunch, so you won’t have to fast for another day in a row.
If it is in your nature to be happy, you will turn forgetting lunches into a scavenger hunt of a fast in which holding out for a metaphorical door will cause you to remember the 5th of November, no longer be in shackles to your past and realize your new found decision making power that will acknowledge your fear while also saving time, energy, and obliterating self-doubt.
If it is in your nature to be happy you will end this sentence with confidence that you have in fact written yourself to your writing goal for the day which makes you wildly ecstatic and ready to close the door on this day, having successfully walked through it. Now you will swim away in your dreams along soft trails for hours, your imagination alighting everywhere.