Good For What Ails Me

"Spring Always Arrives" - Photo by Ev Bishop

“Spring Always Arrives” – Photo by Ev Bishop

Sometimes I romanticize the writing life. (Well, pretty much every aspect of life actually, but I’ll just focus on the writing aspects for now.) And while normally I feel this is a lovely quality, it has a downside. It can make me feel, when writing sessions are more tedious than magical, that maybe it’s because of some inherent flaw in me. Maybe I’m an impostor. A fraud.

I want “perfect” writing days:

Sessions where every penned nuance and detail is rife with significance.

Times with the texture and quality of embossed leather or whiskey soaked velvet (though if I think about it, I’m not really sure how either of those would describe a day at all).

Sprees filled with rambling, writerly chats, obscure poems found wedged between the floor boards in a bedroom of a long vacant house (again, a detail that seems sort of impossible to randomly happen upon when my butt is planted in my office chair, but don’t over think things: this is a perfect day, people!), and wine drank from pewter goblets.

Weather that’s all sunrise, sunset, or storm. Lavender-grey sky. Charcoal-soot clouds. Pounding rain that bends the trees and echoes my heart.

Hours when time pauses and my prose falls effortlessly upon the page, as moving and powerful as a wind that shakes leaves, bends boughs, and changes the season.

I want to be the poet in the turret, the crazy longhaired maiden-crone in the attic (but one whose family doesn’t disown her!).

So, although I often find that the reality of being a writer is pretty great, by comparison to the stuff of my daydream writer life, it’s sometimes a little disappointing. Or a lot, depending on the day. I’m continually surprised that writing is actually work—sometimes really hard work. It’s something I have to schedule in. It rarely just happens. And often it’s painful, like I’m a surgeon charged with the task of removing my own organs without anaesthetic and spreading them around for the world to see. But worse than the pain is the fear.

The fear that I actually have nothing to say. That perhaps the story “The Emperor’s New Clothes” was written with me in mind (“Aren’t they beautiful?” “Isn’t what beautiful? There’s nothing there.”) Fear that I am mediocre at best. Fear that people will see me naked and laugh, or worse, avert their eyes, turn away—ashamed, unable to relate, embarrassed for me. And even more fear: that I will never be read or connected with at all. I will send parts of myself into the void and be met with . . . silence.

How silly I am to worry about such things hit me afresh yesterday.

I’d fled my computer for a break to work in the yard. The air had a quality that, I don’t know, just made me want to laugh. Sweet and fresh, yet here and there, tinged with the earthy scent of dead plants, no longer frozen, freed to rot. The fecund smell of approaching spring is so ancient and independent of human involvement that it always seems almost otherworldly to me—yet also somehow makes me feel like every dream is possible.

The sun was trying to warm the winter-cold earth, and a brisk breeze carried an invigorating lesson: New life erupts from death. Growth springs forth from decay and rot and . . . well, shit.

Creation can be painful—just listen to my chickens. Yet, day in and day out, they each lay an egg—and though they complain bitterly during the process, they squawk equally proudly about the results of their labour. And as inglorious and common as laying an egg every day may be to some, each speckled brown oval is its own miracle too.

Does the chicken question whether it can lay an egg, or if it can, will it be a good enough egg, or if its worthy of even attempting to lay an egg in the first place? I’m not a chicken whisperer, but I don’t think so. Hens definitely seem to have more of an “I’m a chicken, dammit. Of course I lay eggs. Get over yourself and get cracking” attitude. Can I do any less or be any less pleased with my output?

And the chickens lay regardless of the day, temperature, or individual mood—mild and balmy, or bitter and hideous. And likewise, my hedge puts out buds when it’s supposed to, despite the wind, the danger of frost. . . . It seems to like it when I fuss, but it does its thing whether I’m there or not.

I have perfect dreamy writing days occasionally, and they’re amazing. I mean who doesn’t love to feel their work is going well, that they’ve connected with something deep within themselves, and enjoyed the process? Who doesn’t revel in a bit of romance?

I wonder though—perhaps ironically—if my writing is better on the days it feels like organ-extraction? Or if maybe the revolutions between between angst and toil and ecstasy and pleasure are all necessary? Maybe writing is like the rest of life, a continual shift of seasons. Some more enjoyable than others, perhaps, but all crucial, all inevitable. And maybe it’s just something I shouldn’t think about too much—just enjoy and accept (with a little squawking occasionally!).

10 thoughts on “Good For What Ails Me

  1. I think the fear is what holds many of us back and hopefully, what will help make our work good enough for others to read. It drives us to do better. I liked the reference to the Emporers New Clothes. Very apt. And scary! Great post.

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  2. Dear Rebecca,

    I think you’re right: fear can hold us back, but it can also be a huge motivator. Is the choice ours?

    And re: The Emperor’s New Clothes . . . Ever since I was very young, I was sure that story was about the Arts . . . Intimidating!

    Thanks for commenting. 🙂

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  3. Clicked on your link because we share a last name, but discovered we share more than that! Thank you for a honest and lovely reminder that I am not alone, in fear and glory. Have a great (if not highly romantic!) day!

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  4. Dear Edith–we do share the same last name, and if I’d kept my maiden name along with my married name, I’d be an E.H. Bishop, too. 😉

    I’m so glad to hear you identified with my post . . . though I wish us both less fear and far more glory and romance, heh heh. You have a great day, too. Please visit again!

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  5. As always, very true and starts me thinking more deeply than I usually do. That is a gift. When life feels like organ extraction and tasks seem most difficult, God sometimes blesses us more vividly or the struggles point us finally to asking Him to work through us, and stop striving in our own strength …although striving is still a necessary part of the process isn’t it? And yet the daily highs and lows, seasons of highs and lows continue and we can do as Ecclesiastes says to enjoy life and HIm in it! Again, not exactly the quote but I think the gist!

    Keep writing, friend.

    Saying a prayer for you and your family as I send this on!

    Love, Lucy Roseboom

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  6. Hey, Vello! 😉 No, “tepid” is not usually something I’m described as, LOL. Are you familar with Billy Joel’s song “I go to extremes”? I don’t remember how old I was (mid-teens maybe?) when I first heard it, but I related and adored it instantly. 😀

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  7. Dear Lucy,

    Thanks so much for coming by and for your kind words. I’m flattered my experience caused you to think deeply, though I highly doubt that it’s something you don’t do often enough. 😉

    Re: “God sometimes blesses us more vividly or the struggles point us finally to asking Him to work through us, and stop striving in our own strength …although striving is still a necessary part of the process isn’t it?”

    Yes, I think I have a tendency to forget that truth–or to struggle at times with the balance between where and how should I strive and what should I let go/let God do (if you’ll forgive the cliche at the end there). A very timely and welcome reminder.

    Thanks for the love, the prayers, and for thinking of me. Very appreciated. 🙂

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