Sometimes the thing right under our noses is our best teacher ever. How convenient. Writing has been
kicking my butt teaching me about showing up and about getting out of my own the way.
I can really trip myself up and get stuck when I think I need to know and orchestrate what happens next. It’s like this: you’re walking along la-de-da totally enjoying the amazement of the moment, or the oddness of the conversation you can’t help eavesdropping on at the next table, or the good feeling of a friendship, until you think: What now?! Or, I better keep this going! And just like that, boom!
Gone is the pleasant la-de-da of the moment and you’re off and planning or worrying. A kind of self-consciousness descends upon what had been a sense of wonder, play, and flow, and, even if what was going on wasn’t entirely pleasant (and maybe it was even hard), it felt somehow necessary or life-affirming in and there was a sense of rightness about it.
All of last week I was struggling about writing. I wanted to write about things going on, but I didn’t want it to be blahblah sadfest this happened then that happened boo hoo… When I write like that it puts me to sleep. Or makes me roll my eyes.
I’d signed up for trial periods of AntiSocial and Freedom (highly recommended!) and woke up several mornings without internet connection and ready to write. And then…
Hello blank page… (nothing came). Or, hello crowded page… (blah and blah). It was more than a bit frustrating. But I kept showing up, even if all I did in my internet-disconnected time was to straighten my living room. (I know some people would not call that showing up, but for me it counted since I was not frittering energy away down that endless online rabbit hole and I was, even if just the eensiest bit, closer to the writing.)
I hear of writers who know or at least have a good sense of the whole story plot before they ever begin to write. I’m not one of them and I thought I had to be in order to write stories, and so for the longest of times I stuck to writing letters and personal reflection pieces. (Possibly you’ve read some of them).
Don’t get me wrong, I love writing letters. And reflection? Yes. It’s just that there have been stories floating around me for some time now, wanting me to give them voice.
On Sunday when I sat down to write, at first it was more of the blahs and then Doubt and Regret knocked on the door and off it went… It wasn’t mine anymore. It became its own. Yay! It was moving along swimmingly and most of the piece was finished when, boom! The dreaded “Oh noes! What now?!”
Enter self-consciousness. Enter trying to make something happen. Enter contrived. UGH!
But I also became curious. I saw that there were things I knew: Like that Presence was key, even though I had no idea in what form he, she or it would show up in the story.
Would I go to The Pause and have Presence, the bartender, serve me a drink? Nah.
Would Presence call me? Nah. (He so doesn’t make phone calls. Plus, I’d been realizing, Presence isn’t always a guy. Or a bartender. Ha!).
So I slept on it and walked on it and washed dishes on it. I wasn’t trying to noodle the plot, but there it was in the back of my mind.
On Tuesday I read my draft to my friend Barbara and she listened as I sensed into the whole “next” thing… And then I told her that there was something I saw next but I didn’t like it. Aha! I didn’t think it was, er, how to say, proper for my story: the picture that kept coming to me was of Presence, an old woman, sitting on my porch, smoking.
I was all, smoking?! But I don’t believe in smoking! It’ll seem like I’m endorsing smoking! And what about my friends who are trying to quit?
But whenever I went back to the story, there she was, still smoking. She just would not leave.
Finally I cried “Uncle!” and said, OK. I’ll go with it, even for just a few minutes.
I’ve got to tell you, that old woman came through in a surprising way. I just had to show up and let what was happening next, happen. Without trying to pretty it up. Without trying to make it different than it was. Without bossing it around. And without, in this case, making Ylang stop smoking.
Things and people show me where they want to go, what they need, what they want, and situations, no matter how stuck they seem, have implied within them the next and best thing. Funny how when I know something, I just know. If there’s a doing involved, I just do it. There’s no hemming and hawing blah blah. In fact, I don’t even stop to think “I know.” Things are just swimming along.
What if not knowing could be just as swimming? What if instead of “Oh no! I don’t know!” I said, “Oh my! I wonder what gets to happen next?!” It seems that not knowing is where it gets exciting.
Am I speaking of writing or am I speaking of life?
What a relief not to have to boss myself around. I don’t have to play the puppet master of my characters or of my life. I get to show up, get myself out of the way and then see what happens. Plus, that potion that Presence smokes? Best thing ever. (And, ahem, turns out it contains no tobacco after all. Ha! My story just winked at me.) Spare a light?
(If you missed the story I’m referring to, here: Meet Ylang! And, I dare you not to share a smoke with her.)