Once I coached a woman who could not bring herself to write.
She spoke of her longing and of abstract story concepts but she didn’t jot down a word no matter what I suggested.
Then, at the end of a couple of months together, her heart broke. Literally.
She disappeared and when we finally reconnected, she told me she’d been in the hospital. (Take from that what you will; I’m not a big believer that we have so much control over our physical matter – and if you’re with me on that one, check out the second season of The Dream.)
But, of course, my own heart ached for her and, as a coach, it was a frustrating experience.
At the start of our time together, after she had carefully prepared her writing space, I advised 10 minute stints, then when that didn’t work, five, then one of my favourite exercises from Fearless Creating, tweaked to apply to writing. Daydream a character or a scene, go deep into the details, let your imagination fire the creative urge into insuppressible action.
Trouble was, she got stuck in the daydreaming.
As so many of us do.
As I have done.
We imagine perfection and, inevitably, on the other side of that imagined brilliant book or play or poem or painting, is probably disappointment. Why bother?
Because it is in the act that liberation exists. If writing is what we long for, it is only through the act that we can feed that longing, not in the product. And yet the act can be terrifying.
Because whenever we sit down to the page what arises is that which hasn’t been “digested,” as a meditation practitioner said yesterday in a dharma talk I heard (also well worth a listen – follow this link to Loving the Self to Death. Here’s a gem: the self described “as the centre of narrative gravity.” Truth!)
What we are grappling with, as it does through dreams, always gurgles up, in some form or another. In a way, when we agree to put pen to paper, we agree to a similar sort of powerlessness as we find in sleep: okay, subconscious, what do you have for me today?
And if we try to block it or control it, we end up slowly freezing. As Lynda Barry writes in her graphic book about creativity, What It Is: Do You Wish You Could Write?, “to follow a wandering mind means having to get lost. Can you stand being lost?”
Yesterday, I got lost.
This is good because it’s been awhile.
During a 15-minute writing exercise on things that are sticky that I live-streamed through my new Facebook group, I started out writing a stiff fictional narrative about my small-town theatre with its gross sticky floor but I could feel the distance.
I took a breath (on the video you can probably see this moment). Then, I prodded deeper into what had been lingering in my periphery since I’d first put pen to paper after introducing the topic: blood, bile, etcetera. The insides coming out.
The current took me there.
Into hospitals and personal tragedy, and then I floated out into the middle of the ocean, overtop a miles-wide matt of plastic waste, then back to that dark pin-point, like looking through backwards binoculars.
Afterwards, I felt cleansed. Fired up, actually. Fierce.
I floated to yoga practice with Kerry and gave her a hug and we had a quick stand-up meeting over smoothies about the next retreat and I came home still energized.
When I free-write my brother usually appears, in the same way as I dream about him every night. To be honest, I often avoid tapping that vein but it’s getting harder since he’s, like, always there. I know I can’t survive like that, that creativity requires following not only the path of my critical capacities, intellect, desires, but also the parts of my story to which I am helpless.
In the same way you can’t plant a seed and instruct its outcome, I can’t pick up a pen and oversee its every word, micromanaging my stories as if they are numbers that will eventually, easily and logically, all add up.
In this process there is pain, yes.
But there is also magic.
The magic of spinning shimmering strands from our sticky insides.
The freedom of release, of telling the truth.
And the feeling that you are touching your own pulsing heart.