The daylight is more than halfway gone as I listen to the snow melt on the flat roof of this Santa Fe house. The stream from the roof is loud as it hits a puddle beside the raised concrete slab of the portal. This day there’s something about the snow that says it’s okay to slow down and meander thru the rooms in my small home. Pretend it’s a holiday. Let go the stomp of shoulds that other wide-open days engender. Even with the sun shining, the sky blue and clear of clouds over the glitter of snow covering the ground, let your mind wander. Perhaps it’s the cushioned silence, or the soft edges the snow puts on the world that makes me feel this way.
What if I simply wrote stories today, I think. See what comes. What if I forget work and soften into this thing twisting me inside out, turning my middle to stone. A feeling I’ve never had before in my long journey with writing.
I was in second grade when I planned my first book. I had a title, table of contents, and several stories written. My parents thought this little book and me brilliant. I abandoned it when it stopped being fun.
I was in third grade the first time I had writer’s block. I sat outside at wooden table and bench composing a poem, inspired by one I saw in the school newsletter. No one ever saw that poem. I didn’t know if I’d done it right, had no sense if it was good or bad, and wouldn’t allow myself to find out.
My first award for creative writing was in 6th grade. My story displayed at an arts fair. ‘Heloise is good at creative writing’ was the note my teacher wrote in my report card that year. At 18, I failed creative writing in college. Our one assignment each Friday in class was to write, anything. Each Friday I turned in a blank sheet of paper. I didn’t know what to write. Didn’t know how to start.
Nine years later, poems flew in like birds and angels as I navigated a painful divorce. Spontaneous, rhyming, complete. Unbidden. I had no way to call them at will. Once I was strong, they disappeared as quickly as they appeared.
Never during these years did I think I was a person who wrote. Even as I journaled. Even with the poems. I was an artist. Visual arts my creative expression and aspiration. It didn’t occur to me that all my jobs involved creativity and writing as I listened and helped people get what they desired.
In my late 30s, in school for the 5th time to earn my bachelor’s degree, I heard a new word – patriarchy. I listened to young women talk about date rape as if it was normal, an accepted risk. I thought of my own experiences. I ignited. I took my Voice and became an activist on that huge university campus. Organizing, writing, speaking to groups, meeting with administrators & professors, founding a campus-wide newsletter for women students & faculty. I was known for my Voice. It was my Superpower. And I used it to lead, and as my instrument to establish a Women’s Center on campus. My experience on that campus is what led me to being a writer. Because six years later, I realized I’d lost my Voice.
In a round-about way I joined a circle of women who met Tuesday afternoons to write to prompts. We read our raw work aloud, responded with a few words to what we heard. And for a year the group sat mute after I read. I vowed I’d quit. I was encouraged to stick with it.
One day, wanting badly to understand why people had nothing to say to my writing, I asked the right question: what can I do to connect? ‘Give them something grounded in the physical world to hold on to,’ the answer.
I started observing the world in a new way. I worked at finding the words to describe what I saw and felt. I stepped close to my experience, wanted to bring the reader & listener close in with me. I studied my craft. Stuck was never an issue to worry about. It was something to ride out. Until now.
These past two weeks since I came out of an intentional two-month pause have bedeviled me.
I know the value of pauses, have written often about it. We put distance between us and our work, come back with new eyes & perspectives. They’re periods of gestation and/or assessment. Ideas & thoughts take form within the relief of space and time. Intentional Pauses are an action. What happened next is where I got lost.
I jumped to the next action phase as I saw it, tasks. . .my interpretation of a favorite quote, ‘When you’re in motion, the form will emerge’ by Michael Hyatt. And something went wrong. I wasn’t moving. Couldn’t make myself move. Even with wanting it and seeing how my intentions dovetailed who I am, what I love to do, my skills & genius, and my beliefs & purpose. This was more than fear, or procrastination, or perfectionism. It felt so.darned.hard. I flogged myself, then decided to feed my soul.
I saw author Colum McCann in conversation with actor Gabriel Byrne. Their entire conversation about STORY. Colum McCann struck me deep when he said, “The best writing makes us sit up and take notice and it makes us glad that we are––however briefly––alive.” Yes, oh Yes.
I went to a monthly talk put on by the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. That day’s presentation called ‘Color as a Verb.’ It featured a well-known artist, Sam Scott, and the Museum’s preservationist. I loved it. Especially the part about the science of color in the brain, and how our brain creates most of the colors we see because it wants all the primary colors. That reminded me of hunger and longing in a story. When Sam Scott said, “See art with the eye of your heart, not with your expectations,” I substituted Story for art, heard the echo of my own words.
Once I relaxed and followed my intuition, what I needed to move forward arrived in wondrous ways – Bam! Thank you! with a big Yea. My brilliant ideas had legs.
I was lost in that middle ground of awareness and receptivity – the action between pause and doing. The place that asks the all-important right questions for connection. And it’s where I got found.
This Folk art birdy has been with me since 1998.
We’d left Santa Fe for Asheville, NC. The house we bought was owned by a collector. The birdies were permanently attached to branches along the windows of a closed-in porch. I still have three. Their beaks & tails are chipped. Their metal wings bent. Scars. All results from falling from high places, the perches I chose for them. And still they smile. I love them. In a way, they kinda remind me of Me.
We’re alive. We’re in motion.
Another small journey. Getting to Wise.
A Writer’s Life.
Photo: Thought Catalog
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