On Writing, Ritual, and the Business of Living

It has been a hard, hard haul for me for the past six months. Most of the why’s I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts and some are too personal for the Internet.  The main thing is that I have felt utterly out of control in most parts of my life.  It finally got to a point about a month ago where I knew I had to do something, ANYTHING, to feel even a fraction of agency sparking through my veins.

The worst part about feeling out of control is that so many out-of-control circumstances don’t allow you, the individual, to take back control.  Lots of life is just out of our hands, especially if we are part of the systemically powerless.  One thing I knew I did have control over, though, was my writing, and I knew that, in feeling so out of control on other fronts, I had trampled and neglected my creativity.  I had grad school deadlines which you’d think would force me to write, but they did not.  Instead, I sat paralyzed for hours, fighting myself, fighting tears and terror and all the demons telling me I had failed.

Something happened when NILA closed. I lost sight of the purpose of my move to Seattle, what I had gone there to do, and I also lost my creativity, somehow.  People assured me it would come back.  People said things like, “You’ll go somewhere else and get your MFA.” Someone even said, “It’s time to get over this NILA thing”, which is fair, I was a wreck about it.  People told me I would be fine, and I wanted to believe everyone, but clearly, I was not fine.  Starting at a new school did not automatically fling me into “fine” territory, either.  If anything, it held me even more paralyzed, because it was not NILA, it was not the dream I’d coddled and cared for for so long.

Three years ago, when I started thinking about getting an MFA, I took a class at the Loft to see if I would even like writing classes. I decided to turn to the Loft again, because it had provided such clarity for me then.  Sure enough, there was a class being offered called the Writer’s Brain Operation Manual, all about the ways we as writers resist our writing, and what’s actually happening in the brain that sabotages our work.

Brain science, y’all! I’ll skip most of the details, which are uninteresting to anyone who’s not working through massive creative resistance from their own goddamn mind, but I will say that I feel nurtured and validated and held accountable in a way that I have not since NILA shut down. The first day, after telling my story of resistance and paralysis, my instructor said, “I can absolutely understand why you’ve been having so much resistance writing after your grad school closed.” No, “You’ll be fine.” No, “You’ll get your degree somewhere else.” Just simply recognition and acknowledgement, from one writer to another, of a completely shitty setback that took its toll on my confidence, desire, and agency.  I will be forever grateful for my instructor’s generosity in that critical moment.

Working through my resistance, as it turns out, is pretty simple. My instructor prescribes a three-step approach every day, several days a week.  You commit to doing each step for 15 minutes a day, no more.  That 15 minutes is magic to me.  Rather than sitting around for hours freaking out about how much work I have to do, I tell myself that I only have to write for 15 minutes.  That’s nothing.  You can do almost anything for 15 minutes.  I usually write longer than 15 minutes, but when I don’t, it’s not a travesty, because I have honored my commitment.  The 15 minutes a day, it turns out, is way better than working two days straight right before a deadline.  I’m starting to look forward to my 15 minutes.  My writing during those minutes hasn’t been easy, or even “good”, but I’ve been writing.  I feel so relieved to just write, even if it’s more like shoveling sloppy dreck.  I don’t care, just feeling the motivation and the flexing of my mind are enough to make me almost giddy some days.

The other two steps, besides writing, have to do with finding other creative outlets and practicing self-care. I’ve been so focused on things I “should” be doing, mainly getting a job and maintaining my few friendships and working towards my grad school deadlines, that I have neglected myself in every way possible.  For other creative pursuits, I’ve started playing flute and tin whistle again, after years of neglect.  I sing every day, often.  I work on harmony.  I’ve even gotten over my shyness enough to sing with friends.  That, also, has been years coming.  I bake biscuits to give my hands dough to play with.  I listen to birdsong.  I go to yoga, or stretch at home.  I’ve even taken a few baths.  I’m getting back into the practice of doing things that make me happy, even for just  15 minutes a day.  It’s funny that I never thought to do them on my own.  Someone had to tell me, “Lauren, take care of Lauren.” It’s amazing to me how little we do this for ourselves.  It’s amazing to me how doing it, consciously and mindfully, makes me feel so much lighter.

I might not have a job or be financially stable or have a clue what’s next in my life, but I have these few, precious rituals, this structure built into my day that I’ve been craving. When I pour tea and disconnect from the wifi, my brain knows it’s time to write, to read, to think, and if I only want to go to those places for 15 minutes, that is perfectly ok.  I’ll write more tomorrow.  When I go to my yoga classes, unfold my mat and let the heat of the studio settle over me, my brain knows it is time to stop thinking about all the hard shit and focus on the pure animal of my body.  When I cue up a particular playlist, my brain knows for the next 15 minutes, it’s time to focus on voices and sound and feeling, without worrying about the outcome.  Maybe I’m making it seem easy.  Many days, it’s not.  But it’s what I have to hold onto right now, and it feels like one pure, right thing I can do.

One thought on “On Writing, Ritual, and the Business of Living

  1. Lauren, thank you! I’ve been thinking about ritual too, and the value of small daily acts. It feels as if it is the small things that make up our happiness, or our unhappiness when we lose the thread that connects us with our playful core. I’m glad you are finding bits of joy, and grateful for this post. It sounds easy, but it’s not, and it’s heroic to keep going. I understand the impact of NILA closing on you, I too was impacted, though it didn’t seem like a big thing at the time. And today I’m starting a playwriting class, my first writing class since NILA closed. I too feel stuck and hope that going back to a school (Freehold) and a medium (playwriting) that I explored almost two decades ago will be stimulating.

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