I have not written much in the past couple months. The first reason is the same, stressed song I find nearly everyone I meet singing: Busy, busy, busy, lalalalala, too busy, busy, busy. No matter how much writing feeds my soul, no matter how magnetized my fingers are to the keyboard, no matter how many ideas and thoughts are swirling around in my head - without a concious, disciplined routine, and frankly just a lot of mad determination, I do not write. It is as I've heard beloved author, Anne Lammot, exhort over and over again: If you want or need to write, you have to create a consistent space for it in your life. I assume this is true of most any soul feeding or meaningful activity, whether it be writing or painting or running or sleeping. We have to conciously, consistently, madly make space for it in our lives. And with space being so crammed, day in an day out, that can feel like a truly impossible feat.
But the second reason that I have not written much recently is more intentional and really completely opposite as far as soul-caring goes. I gave myself permission, several weeks ago, to stop writing, to stop publishing, to step away from the keyboard completely if need be. It may sound odd to say that I gave myself permission not to do something, but if you have any experience with that inner urge to please, that debilitating sense that everyone's expecting you to perform or that compulsory feeling that your life is only meaningful when you produce something useful - well, then, you will understand the need to give oneself permission to just let go. And so, I let go.
I found, sometime during the month of March, that writing had become compulsory for me. Not the lovely, artistic sort of compulsion where you just have to get this growing, living thing out of you and onto paper, but the shadow-self compulsion that functions by performance and rules and have to's and "what would he/she think?". The compulsion of the Performing Perfectionist: always doing, always pleasing, always useful to the world around her. I know many of you can relate.
I was surprised when I first discovered how influential the Performing Perfectionist had become to my writing habit. Just last Fall I began discovering the joy of writing, with no strings attached, no need to edit, no particular performance or expectations surrounding it. In a season of deep grief and turmoil, writing became a place of freedom, clarity and becoming. I know for some people this magical space is contained when they run, or go for early morning walks, or paint. For me, I found deep peace and meaning in writing.
And so, I began writing, pouring my version of the world out onto the page, sometimes for all to see, sometimes hidden away for just myself. Somewhere along the way, however, the purity and peace that originally defined the habit of writing for me began to be overshadowed by the Performing Perfectionist. Her strangle-hold, so long known; her grip, so slow and deceptive. The subtelty of her invasion would leave me unaware and upon eventually discovering her influence, bewildered. How had I fallen into this trap again? How had writing, birthed out of freedom and peace and joy, given way to motives of musts and appearances? When had my authentic, artistic expression of self become another muse in the game of Please & Produce?
I would discover the invasion, finally, in counseling one day, as I lamented about a stall in my creative energy. The conversation went something like this:
"I just don't feel as free or drawn to writing as I did a couple months ago? And I'm discouraged about that. I love writing. And I need to write.”
"Why do you need to write?”
"Because it keeps me healthy and sane.”
"Is that all?”
"Well, no, I guess I feel like I have to write, too, like it's my responsibility now to be a writer. Like others are expecting it of me and there's this thing to be accomplished in the writing world.”
I'm simplifying and dramatizing the conversation a bit, but essentially, that was it. My compulsions and motives may seem blatant enough to an outside ear, but so used to the game am I, so ingrained is the need to please, to produce, to perfect all I touch, that it truly wasn't until that counseling moment that all those motives and habits and thought-patterns finally came into focus for me again. It wasn't until the words "have to write" delicately rolled off my tongue, subconcious confessions of a deeper inner truth, that my concious woke up and gears started clicking.
In that same session, I would go on verbalize the pressure I felt to be a writer, now that I had started to identify myself as one. It became clear that writing couldn't just be a love, a hobby, a thing I did from time to time - at least that’s what the Performing Perfectionist in me wanted me to believe. As with all things in my life, if I chose to do it, it would need to be perfect. It would need to satisfy every expectation I had, or anyone else around me had, of what a writer is. It would need to be consistent, receive only positive, deeply meaningful feedback and be completely vulnerable every time. “Do this or else! Oh, and do it well!" had become my subconscious writing motto.
And so, rather than being a salve, soothing and curing the illness of performance and perfectionism, my habit of writing had fallen prey to the same cycle. Produce. Please. Perfect. Produce. Please. Perfect. Rather than allowing me to weave meaning and truth out of my days, I now felt constricted when I wrote, suffocated by the cycle.
It was hard to let go, still. I guess letting go always is. There was this heart-wrenching mix of purity and confinement, beauty and compulsion, tugging me back and forth, back and forth. I justified to myself for at least a month that nothing was really wrong, that the good writing did to my soul was totally out-weighing the suffocation of performance I often felt even while doing it. I tried to set boundaries, without really letting go, and found that only in letting go completely could I return to my writing with freedom.
And so, I have not written much in the past couple months. Yes, I've been busy. Yes, I've found a million and one things to fill my time and distract my mind. But time, for once, hasn't been the issue. The battle, for me, has been with fear. Initially, I was scared to let go of all the expectations I had mounded on my shoulders, afraid that I would be seen as inadequate or a phony. I was worried about what others would think, how they might judge or scoff or nod in "I told you so's" as I let weeks and then months pass by without writing. I longed for the satisfaction of a completed piece, the esteem of positive feedback, the sanctuary of achievement. I feared that without writing, I wasn't enough.
And now today I write again, not wholly free of fear or naive enough to think that these compulsions have faded, once and for all, into the past. I write with awareness, with a hint of righteous fear and trembling, with vulnerability and courage and heart.
I write with hope, for hope. Hope that whatever your soul salve is, you, too, will find the courage and the determination to pursue it whole-heartedly - despite the setbacks, despite the demons that cloud your motives, despite the fear. Hope that you will find the space, make the space, and that your soul will breath deep and free and true. Hope that, in the end, courage will win.
Today, I give myself permission to hope.
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