I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I’ve had life block for a long time now. More devilishly frustrating than mere writer’s block (yep, got that too), life block affects every aspect of my creative, driven, hopeful self in much the same way that writer’s block functions.
When faced with decisions that range from what to make for lunch to what to do with my life, I will wash the dishes, scrub my kitchen trash can, pick up dog poop, unclog the shower drain and perform any other mundane task that I can think of in an attempt to avoid making a choice. Often, I wait so long that I back myself into a corner, and have to make my decisions based on the options that are left. I have a million ideas – articles to write, businesses to start, projects to begin, art to create – yet I see them only as endpoints where I long to be. I dread the journey, full of the frustratingly unpredictable moments that others call excitement, in their direction. I worry about how my decisions will be perceived by others, whether I will live up to the expectations placed on me, possibly by my family, or by phantoms of mine and society’s making, but most likely by no one but myself.
In conversation, I often feel tongue tied and it’s not for lack of things to say. Rather, I’m experiencing a new-found concern for how others will react when I talk. Is what I’m saying witty and intellectual enough? Is it deep enough? Is it too deep? Is it too personal? Is it boring? Is it funny? Is it going to seem like I’m trying too hard? I imagine that my friends have lately found themselves confronted with an unusually quiet Caroline, who “hangs out” with a consternated look on her face and little by way of contribution. The worst thing is that because of the battle tantamount to civil war going on in my brain, I can barely pay attention to what’s happening around me. I hate not being able to be a good listener to my friends.
Bambo, skipping stones and not worrying about it all that much.
In singing, I generally cannot bring myself to practice on my own. Though I am a relatively new student of voice, I seem to have decided that it is unacceptable to utter a single note that I would not want others to hear. I dread the sound of a mistake in an empty room. Why?
Somewhere in my brain, there is an unkind gatekeeper that stops all those nascent idealings, those tender beginnings of expression and choice, from making it into the world. She is a drill sergeant, impatient and rough, who expects nothing short of perfection and rational, deliverable happiness before she will let anything pass. She does not like the unknown.
And, oh! Writer’s block. My blog has been a constant companion over these last four years, and a place for much creative play. Yet, in treating a public platform like a journal, I leave myself little room for the practice of writing. I have come to dread sitting down at my computer because I have trained myself to expect that a finished, publishable product will be the result. I kill the phrases forming in my head before they make it onto a page, or I write a sentence and hastily rewrite it, and rewrite it, and rewrite it. I’m surprised the delete button on my computer still works. Of course, in knowing that each time I express myself, it will be for others to see, I have become locked up.
I wonder where my gatekeeper came from, and whether other people have a similar, unwelcome guest in their minds. Surely she hasn’t always been there or I would have the productive capacity of a sock by now. So when did I let this editor take up residence and demand a chez d’oeuvre be produced before breakfast each day?
This is one of the questions I hope to tackle this year as I travel, think, and journal every day without necessarily letting anyone read it. It’s one of the bargains I made with myself for sort of falling off the map for a year. I have to journal every day. I’m reading the book Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg and have found her ideas about the daily practice of writing very helpful. For her, writing utter garbage that will never see the light of day is not just acceptable, it is expected. Only through the composting of those half-formed ideas, the discharge of mental chaos, can the real truths of thought grow.