You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water. Rabindranath Tagore
I’ve been on an unexpected (and extended) sabbatical. As my last blog entry revealed (“When It’s Time To Change…”) while the summer drew to a close recently, I found myself searching for alternatives: new ways to write, and new ways to live. I was stuck in a rut both creatively and literally, and I could feel this tall, powerful wave of ennui casting a cold shadow across my immediate future, shading every action and reaction. I knew evasive action was called for – that “duck-and-dive” solution all surfers employ – but still I stood there, watching the tide recede and the horizon vanish over a froth of whitewater.
So if you take my tsunami metaphor to its most logical conclusion, you can imagine that eventually gravity and the pull of the moon took over as I failed to act. When that wave broke, it felt as if the power of an entire ocean swirled around me, threatening to pull me under as I tumbled with the flotsam and jetsam of ragged seaweed, stones, and sea glass. If you’ve been tossed by a rogue wave – or ever lost your footing on the edge of a diving board or lakeshore or riverbed – then you know that, for a time, you lose your sense of direction. You can’t tell “up” from “down,” and that lack of oxygen makes the endeavor fuzzy and desperate.
Eventually, – and only very recently – I cracked up through the surface, gasping for air and squinting through the saltwater sunlight. I’m not out of the woods yet (far from it), but at least I’ve got the horizon once again in my sights and I’m steadily starting to make my way towards the shoreline. I’m trying to keep Stevie Smith’s poem out of my head (“Not Waving, But Drowning” ), and am taking heart in the literal (and figurative) dolphins that seem to be appearing with ever-increasing regularity; totems and protectors, keeping away the sharks while providing spiritual encouragement.
Though many of us who self-identify as writers and creatives do what we do because we must, sometimes real life is a worthy (if not insurmountable) opponent. When the shit hits the fan, it’s tough to find time to write or paint or even think beyond the next few minutes. And while you’re forced to live in the moment, you’re anything but Zen as confrontations and challenges (almost all unexpected, though advanced warning rarely allows any time to establish more than the most rudimentary defense) demand attention, and cast spotlights of worry and regret across your futurescape. It’s akin to peering over the fence (or prison wall, depending on how deep you’re stuck) that lies between you and your ideal situation, and seeing nothing but a gauntlet of barbed-wire battlements and black-diamond hurdles that must each be overcome before you can cross the finish-line.
But life without writing – for those of us who fancy ourselves authors and journalists and bloggers and poets and everything in between – is nothing more than a shadowland. You can only stumble around in the dark so long before you reach for the light by grabbing that pen or laptop and getting back to the page. So while I’ve been treading water and searching for life rafts (or even an accommodating buoy), I have been writing every chance I get (I’ve put up a couple of the more decent poems here). Nothing I’ve put down is noteworthy, publishable or even remotely reader-ready, but it’s kept me sane, kept me going, and kept me from giving in whenever my leaden limbs felt ready to throw in the towel.
After the storms have subsided, and you’re left wandering the windswept beaches of what’s left of your previous incarnation, it’s hard not to lament what you’ve lost. Right now, I’m feeling most panicky about the time I’ve wasted. All those days I could’ve been crafting a novel or penning a screenplay. All those hours – hours I’ve craved when chained to my cubicle – left to rot and wither; a bounty unclaimed…countless opportunities lost. Every day, I battle percolating disappointment and disillusionment both in myself and in my commitment, trying to assuage my fears with restated goals and reignited purpose.
But I’m not fooling myself: brave words are not enough. I know that in the end, the only way to get where I need to be is to keep paddling; eking out every miserable meter and paying a sort of penance for whatever foresight or fortitude I failed to utilize. When you’re eyeing a wavebreak, it’s best to focus your gaze on the outside edge of the set. That way, you can tell which wave to ride, which wave to skip, and when “duck and dive” is your only option.
The Daily Creative Writer may have been stymied by unexpected and turbulent events this fall, but like all good life rafts, my writing eventually bobbed me up from the depths. And that’s the reason why I keep coming back.
It’s the reason the writing always wins.
- Longing for Hermitage by Elizabeth Cunningham (feminismandreligion.com)