Messes, Mayhem and Creative Obstacles

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Disorder and the uninspired writer.
By Elizabeth Cutright

Has this ever happened to you?  You’re driving somewhere new – perhaps looking for an address or rushing to an appointment – and as you circle up and down unfamiliar streets, you feel your stress level rising disproportionately to your circumstances.  You find yourself getting angry and frustrated, perhaps muttering epitaphs under your breath at pedestrians who have the nerve to use the crosswalks while you’re trying to drive.  Maybe you find yourself hating the person who named the neighborhood streets, “Elm Street, really?” you say to your self as you make another right turn down another block and discover you’re still lost.

It’s always annoying when you hit one of life’s little snags.  It happens to all of us.  But I’ve found that sometimes, particularly when my reactions seems to be two notches higher in intensity than what’s called for, those snags seem worse when surrounded by the cacophony of chaos.

The environment around you can amplify the exasperation you’re already feeling. Outside influences you hardly notice end up impacting how you react to unexpected circumstances and unforeseen obstacles. For example, in the above scenario, I’ve found that what’s going on inside the car can influence how I deal with unpredictable events on the road.  A good playlist can make a road trip, and a muffler on its last legs can make even the shortest vehicular outing feel like the Bataan death march.

Last year, I tried to get from the famous Sprinkles cupcake shop in Beverly Hills to the 101 Freeway.  I don’t have a map of Los Angeles imprinted in my brain, but I’ve wandered around the city enough to have a general idea of what streets will get me where I need to go.  But on this particular day, I found myself driving around in circles, revisiting Rodeo Drive from all different directions until a frantic U-turn got me onto a side street that eventually delivered me to Santa Monica Boulevard.  From there it was a (mostly) straight shot through West Hollywood before finally arriving at the freeway.  A trip that Google maps estimates should take about 17 minutes took me over an hour.
But I was calm when I hit the interstate.  Why?  Because I was in a rental car with a full tank of gas, a sunroof and no particular agenda or timetable.  I cranked up the radio (KROQ for all you Southern California fans) and tranquilly manuevered up and down avenues and boulevards, taking in the scenery and enjoying the mild SoCal weather.  And in that unruffled state of mind, a poem popped into my head (which I dictated to Siri – you can see the results here). It was as if, of all things, the world had settled itself into a moment of temporary respite …smack dab in the middle of infamous Los Angeles traffic.

In contrast, there have been plenty of times I’ve been racing down my own neighborhood streets, late for work or stuck in lunchtime traffic, and it feels like I’m competing in some kind of death race or sadistic video game.  Little old ladies appear on street corners with astonishing swiftness before ambling into crosswalks at the very last second and forcing me to slam on my brakes.  Or I get stuck behind a driver who’s lost or looking for a particular address, and I find myself stewing angrily for blocks while stuck tailgating at 10 miles below the posted speed limit.  Or it’s a perfectly ordinary drive, but I find I’m just turning sharply, gunning out of intersections and basically driving like a jerk.

And then…suddenly…the realization.  I’ve accidentally left the heater on and the car’s interior is now hovering around 80 degrees while the sun shines relentlessly above.  Or maybe the vents are blowing right in my eyes, but I’ve only just noticed after blinking and tearing up for the last couple miles.  Or – more often than not – the radio station I’m listening to has been playing a particularly annoying song…one that starts off softly so you don’t recognize right away that it’s one of those awful ear-worms that will be with you all day.

A friend of mine often turns off the radio and the ventilation system as soon as she sits behind the wheel.  Another friend – a veteran of LA traffic – always spends a few moments adjusting and readjusting everything in her car…she turns down the volume on the radio, rearranges the fan levels, opens one window a crack while powering down the sunroof…meticulous little steps she follows before ever even starting her engine.

Today, while reading Sarah Ban Breathnach’s take on harmony and order in her book Simple Abundance, I was reminded of those different automotive experiences and I realized that when the car is comfortable, the trip is enjoyable.  If the vehicle is off balance or out of step though – making ominous sounds or emitting a funky odor for example– then the drive will be equally bumpy and tedious.
And so goes life.  As Ban Breathnach explains, nobody can “think clearly when constantly surrounded by clutter, chaos and confusion.”

“There is an immediate emotional and psychological payoff to getting our house in order,” she goes on to proclaim.

I’ve been writing a lot lately about feeling distracted and pulled in a thousand different directions.  During these times of upheaval and constant demands, my already haphazard housekeeping gets…well…even more haphazard.  Unfortunately, it’s a vicious cycle – because the more my home sits in disarray and disorder, the less likely I am to feel capable of cleaning and organizing – pandemonium just saps the energy right out of me.

And, of course, my creative ambitions are also waylaid.  The only fix…clean floors, an empty kitchen sink, laundry stowed and mail sorted.  Once my house is in order, I’m energized and capable of tackling creative projects. (yes…old roommates…I know you’re snickering at thought of a broom wielding Daily Creative Writer…but even old slobs can learn new tricks!)

Ban Breathnach believes order and harmony can help us rally our inner resources and work more effectively towards our aspirations.  “We can tap into this power source of creative energy, she writes, “when we are willing to gradually cultivate a sense of order as to how we conduct our daily affairs.”

So if you’re feeling uninspired, tapped out or otherwise disengaged, take a look around your immediate environment and see if some straightening up or modification is called for.

As Ban Breachnach makes clear, “If you feel constantly adrift but don’t know why, be willing to explore the role that order – or the lack of it – plays in your life.”

“Harmony is the inner cadence of contentment we feel when the melody of life is in tune,” she continues. “When somehow we’re able to strike the right chord – to balance the expectations of our families and our responsibilities in the world on the one hand with our inner needs for spiritual growth and personal expression on the other.”

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