The Abyss

Because I Want To Write and I Haven’t For So Long

I have an assignment that is due for my teaching job. It won’t take long, just a quick report to share what we have been working on in Art Therapy, complete with a short summary and some photos. It was due a week ago, but I can’t bring myself to work on it because every time I get a moment to myself, like I have right now, squeezed between art classes, all I want to do is write.

This is exciting energy for me. It has been a long time since I have wanted to write or have even felt as if I had anything worth sharing. If I am honest there have been times over the past couple years where I have wanted so badly to want to write that I would open my laptop and stare at the blinking cursor and wait for something to come. Words always come, but they often felt hurky jerky or forced and they never felt like words I wanted to share.

I realized this morning that the sharing has been my biggest hangup. It is the sharing that I don’t wish to dive into. At the very same time I want it more than anything. I am surprised that when I ask myself I do believe that art, like living, is meant to be shared.

When my students finish an art assigment in class, sometimes they will try and hand it to me. “Here, it is for you,” they’ll say.

“No, I want you to take it home,” I say.

“I made it for you,” they’ll try again.

“Nope. This piece goes home with you,” I say with added emphasis.

I have seen their work. We have labored on it together, often pushing through some difficult moments to come out the other side with success. Now I want them to share it with someone. Show it off. It is difficult  for me to think of it not making it onto other eyes. It feels like part of the art life cycle to me. But sometimes it is easier for me as the passionate art teacher to understand this need for art to carry beyond the classroom. For the artist himself or herself if the piece didn’t go quite like they planned or if they don’t feel like they have a receptive audience at home, sharing their art can often feel daunting, overwhelming or useless. Some of the students think, “If I can just give it to the art teacher I know at least she’ll like it. She seems to like all the art.”

When I pull out of my neighborhood, there is an inflatable Halloween decoration in my neighbor’s yard. It is probably 20 feet tall, a ghostlike woman with a flowy veil. I call her the corpse bride - tall, skinny and ominous. The gargantuan ghoul is all white save a beady pair of glowing red eyes. One time in the car my husband made the remark that she was staring into the abyss.

When I express myself with written words and then share it I feel as though I am tossing myself into the abyss and then staring down into it wondering where it has tumbled and why I sent it off on such a treacherous journey. Why didn’t I just keep my treasured words there safe with me on the edge of all that unknown? Why do I want to sling it? Does this make me a poor word parent?

I feel a similar feeling as I send art assignments home with my students, as though I am tossing them into the abyss, especially with some students more than others. Where will they land? Is the journey treacherous? Into the Abyss they go.

A week or so after my husband made that comment about the abyss, I realized the tarot deck that I pull from for Fall and Winter is called Landscapes of the Abyss. I’ve never noticed that before. It is a deck by an artist named Mary El, and I have always referred to it as the Mary El deck. This awareness of the title Landscapes of the Abyss is a timely find. I’ve never thought of the “Abyss” as having potential landforms before. Of it having something chiseled, earthy, grounding. Of my eyes being able to adjust and see physical masses. Of the terrain being mappable with flags for discoveries. An Abyss Cartographer could make excursions, find dependable knowledge of what lies around the bend.

The words Abyss seems more akin to outer space or the deep, dark ocean. No where to rest a toe or a head. No where to get ones bearings. My body needs bearings to feel as if I am actually showing up here as me. I don’t want to float through life with no sense of why or where. I am an artist that wants to make my life with intention. Throwing my words into an abyss can seem haphazard at best. Winging it. But it doesn’t have to be that way. I don’t have to fling words, cover my eyes and hope. I can write

I can get to know my way around. My towering Corpse Bride, my ghosty I’ll call her, as this is the word I’m currently using for my fear, can be my tour guide, holding up a lantern to illuminate what is actually there versus what I feared might be.

If I know making friends with my ghosty has lessons and learning and treasure and expansion in it for me, I’m more likely to give it a go. If I can get to know my way around the Abyss and familiarize myself with it, like learning the ways of the fire swamp in The Princess Bride, I’m willing to venture in. I need to know I have some ownership in the matter. That I am not throwing myself into a game of chance. My life isn’t worthy of a gambling game. There is so much good at stake here. But let’s be honest, there is also risk. It is why my ghosty shows up in the first place. Whether it be tingles down my spine, butterflies in my stomach, a paralyzed body or a cold sort of numbness starting at my core and spreading to my fingers, my body knows when the ghosty is present and it sets off all my bells and whistles to alert my entire system.

Upon considering my commitment to the 2019 National Novel Writing Month I was already triggering all the ghosty feels, therefore I knew I wasn’t asking “Is there risk?” Instead I was asking myself “Is this worth the risk?” To say yes to befriending a ghosty as my tour guide to the Abyss I had to accept that the current version of myself wanted to grow outside of what I had designated as safe with my writing, and that I wanted to write more than I wanted my known web of safety. Even just writing it out like that clearly and logically helps me. It gives me my first landmark in the Abyss - my dropping in point if you will. Here is a clear designation. I don’t know for sure what lies ahead (although this isn’t my first rodeo), but I do know that letting words pour out of me again is so meaningful to me and had been such a powerful tool of self-expression, self-healing and self-discovery in my life that I want to open myself to those things again, even with a large heaping side of the unknown. And of course I have a hunch the ghosty can and will be cordial and that this will all be taken, as in any journey is taken, one day at a time.

Last night as I was setting my alarm I noticed an email from NaNoWriMo with Anne Lamott’s name in the subject line. Anne Lamott holds a warm place in my heart as a writer. When I got to hear her speak in person a few years ago with a close friend, I was so excited to get her to sign, not her newest book at the time which I’d purchased as part of the event, but rather her much older Bird by Bird book which, if you don’t know, is all about writing and taking it one day, one word, at a time. So to see her name last night, the last thing I would see before this writing goal began, was the perfect secret message. Like the tall ominous ghosty one, her veil whipping in the wind, stooped down low to whisper in my ear, “You’re doing just fine. No need to change your mind. We’re going to have a splendid time.”

I paused in my writing to go grab the book from the shelf just now. Bird by Bird. Sigh. Relief. It is still there where I remembered it. It has been so long. And yes, there is her signature on the title page. I opened up to the introduction, knowing I was hunting, searching for just a bit more magic. If I want it, it will be here. One more piece to show me I am headed in the right direction. Then I see it, right after she talks about her dad also being a writer and hanging out with his writer friends. “Usually in the afternoons, when that day’s work was done, they hung out at the no name bar in Sausalito…” I paused, squinted my eyes. Did I read that right? But I knew I did. Of course it says Sausalito. Of course.

Sausalito - my favorite place we visited while in Northern California last September with my husband. We visited a bicycle shop and ate at a cafe where the food was so good I remember writing the simple flavors down in my journal so I could make something similar when I got home. We drove up, up, up the windy and steep roads with the most beautiful homes. It felt like they were treehouses. I bought a cowgirl hat from a local artist studio and we ate at the Napa Valley Burger Co sitting at a bar at the front windows that looked out over the street. I drank my beer as we waited for our food and I watched the cyclists come down off the mountain on their commutes home, and I thought, I am so inspired to ride my bike more. If they can ride on the road in traffic, I can do that too. I can remember them doing it and not be so scared. And if I can ride alone, I can get stronger and faster so eventually I am able to ride in group rides. I want all the rides to be accessible to me. I want all the options.

Of course it says Sausalito, Anne Lamott. Of course it does.

Bars in Sausalito. Bicycles in Sausalito. Facing fears with writers and cyclists in Sausalito.

Isn't it fitting I am ending this sentence tonight, so I can sleep and ride my bicycle in the morning tomorrow?

1836 words.

I am on the right path, straight into the Abyss.

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