Mental Drought

Saturday, September 10, 2016

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I woke up and it was loud in my head.
I woke and the heaviness that sat on my chest prevented me from rising.
I woke and it was silent as a grave -
The smoke curling upward from a fire recently extinguished.
I woke to find myself on a bed of rustling papers, covered in tiny handwriting;
When I looked closer, it was just an endless list of names.
The heaviness sat on my chest and prevented me from rising.
I woke and I woke and when I woke again,
It was night.
                    (a poem of mine, inspired after days of mental drought)

Everyday for the past two months, I feel like I have been fighting fires.

The creative drought I have been in is pretty unsurprising, given the amount of hours I have been putting in to my day jobs and recuperating in between. I've been trying to be more gentle with myself and yet more disciplined, which is a tightrope act in itself. I struggled to eke out a short story in time for a deadline in August and I have been teaching some writing workshops in the interim, but it doesn't feel quite the same to steal these moments. Compared to last year when I was running around on my own creative journey, I feel like I'm not devoting "enough" to the craft. It was comforting to recently hear from other writers about their own experiences with this. They reminded me that it's a fiction in itself (one meant for people with immense privilege) to have the time to write without any of these other nagging thoughts about paying the bills and feeding the cat. But it's easier to be up in your head with anxiety about the work you're not getting done when there's so much other life keeping you away.

A few days ago, I picked up a collection of Wislawa Szymborska poems. I admired her work in college though I learned about her only after she had passed away. It was on a day when I was playing hooky from all my responsibilities -- technically it was a day off, but one filled with the self-filling task list that overwhelmed me until I just had to escape the house. Sitting in a nearby pizza shop, I read her Nobel speech and teared up at the part about inspiration:

"When I'm asked about this on occasion, I hedge the question too. But my answer is this: inspiration is not the exclusive privilege of poets or artists generally. There is, has been, and will always be a certain group of people whom inspiration visits. It's made up of all those who've consciously chosen their calling and do their job with love and imagination. It may include doctors, teachers, gardeners - and I could list a hundred more professions. Their work becomes one continuous adventure as long as they manage to keep discovering new challenges in it. Difficulties and setbacks never quell their curiosity. A swarm of new questions emerges from every problem they solve. Whatever inspiration is, it's born from a continuous "I don't know."

Though I may not have a lot of words to show for these past few months, I have been exploring that curiosity. I've been learning about cheese making with Harold McGee, playing tabla, getting trained on evaluation tools and drug rehab referrals, swimming at the local pool... Nothing is too large or too small. It's all too easy for me to forget that this is an essential part of my creative process -- a fallow season before the buds come up. In the meantime, I must cultivate gratitude even when it's uncomfortable or hard to see.