Tag Archives: inner critic

letting life in around the words

Trees
~Bishal Karna
 
About life

I started writing a book.

Writing the book

Became my life.
 
About writing a book
I started writing a book.
Writing about writing the book
Became my life.
 
Meanwhile,
The mango plants in my garden
Bear delicious fruits.

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This poem fits today: I’ve spent so many years tangling with how to write the story of my life that I can get pulled right out of actually living it. This morning I spent a little time in my garden, after four or five days being away from it. I was frustrated with myself because I hadn’t gotten out of bed early to do my morning pages.

I was awake at five, but my body was achy, I’d only gotten about five hours of sleep, blah blah blah: all the usual excuses rose up in me when I thought about swinging my legs over the side of the bed and slipping out from under the covers — only this morning, I listened to them. I let them win. I fluffed my pillow, curled into a new and more comfortable position, and went back to sleep. When my alarm went off at 5:30, I proceeded to play the snooze game for another half an hour, until my sweetheart came in to (sweetly) inquire as to whether I ever planned to join the day.

Meanwhile, in my only-sort-of-sleeping-inbetween-the-snooze-going-off-every-nine-minutes state of mind, I was deep into the self-recrimination: you say you want to write but you don’t even have the discipline to get yourself out of bed.

Do you ever get tired of writing (about) your excuses?

Today, the page didn’t feel like a friend. I imagined pulling myself from under the covers, thumping down the stairs to the kitchen, lighting the candle and opening the notebook, only to be confronted with the leer of all those empty, blue lines: now do you have something worthwhile to say? Just for today, I couldn’t bear it. Please, don’t give me more room for rumination that I’m supposed to pretend is art. Please, don’t force me to be of use this early in the day.

So much inner critic, which gets louder and louder the more often I hit snooze. Then I fell back asleep and dreamt about my stepfather, who’s been visiting me in my dreams lately. He doesn’t say much — he’s a presence and an energy, something that lives in me now as one of the layers of my psychic majesty. Today he wanted some protocol followed that I didn’t want to participate in but finally capitulated to. I called him sir, in the dream (which never was the case in real life), when I gave in to his instruction. A half-swallowed sir, something he didn’t require but that I’d added reflexively. Some layers here.

Then I woke up again and it was seven and I’d missed all the good of the day because the sun was already up. You ruined another one, Jen, said the inner critic. (So easy to do so much wrong and be asleep for most of it!) There was much commotion in the house, readying for school and work, so there was no way I could focus now on my morning pages. I just had to forget about writing and hope that maybe tomorrow I do it better. This is the morning bargain with the inner critic, who would like me to either have conditions be perfect (which they never are) or forgo writing altogether: tomorrow I’ll be perfect, I promise.

And then I thought this line: sometimes the page doesn’t feel friendly — and something fluttered like a feeling through my body: maybe I’ll go ahead and write anyway.

And then I got out of the damn bed and passed through the morning’s fray directly into the garden, which was in dire need of watering (and weeding, maybe: I can’t decide whether to treat the purple oxalis like a pest or like lush ground cover — or steam it up for lunch). Once I picked up the hose and started talking to the mints and the johnny-jump-ups, something shifted in me. I was in another element, another part of my life: I was letting life be life. Some days don’t have to be perfect. Some days can start off on the wrong foot (or no feet and difficult dreams) and shift easily back into alignment if I listen to my instincts and simply try and take the next right step.

I watered and looked over the damage Sophie had wrought during a weekend mostly unsupervised — some carrot sprouts dug up, one salvia plant in need of serious splinting. While I was engaged in this effort, the closed and self-shamed bits in me began to open up, peek out from behind their hiding places, pointing out other spots that needed water, sections of the garden that need fertilizing, one of the newly-planted rosemary bushes that had just begun to put out tiny blue flowers. There was a shifting in me. The day wasn’t ruined. Just breathe. Everything’s ok. The critic wasn’t as audible anymore.

Now I’m out in the sun, typing up this damn post, and grateful. After I’m done, I’ll go into the garden and do a bit more pruning. The tomatoes have finally given up the ghost — it’s time to pull up the plants and hang them upside down til all the last green tomatoes ripen.

What if you trust your process this morning? What words would come if you imagined writing anyway, for just fifteen minutes, even though everything’s wrong? And then — what if nothing is wrong?

Thanks for your spaciousness today, for your listening heart and wise, writing hands. Thank you for your words.

what’s not there

stencil graffiti of a man contemplating an empty (?) picture frameGood morning on this Monday morning. In front of me are the steady flames of two tall white pillar candles,  two tea candles, and their reflection in the window. I’m ensconced in my writing corner at the end of the kitchen table, trying to convince my body that we’re ready to move into the work of this day. The dreams are still slightly shredded around me — was there a road trip, an overstuffed RV? There were children, teenagers, a young man who got his hair cut short. What had been wild and bushy was now cropped short curls tight to his head, and all the girls in his circle adored the new look. He wasn’t so sure. There were lots of dreams, my subconscious was busy last night.

I want to write this morning about the writer’s grief that my adored writer friend and colleague Renee (check out her blog and work and daily writing prompts and general ferocity) talked about a couple of weeks ago. She said that no one talks about what our writing selves mourn, the writing we haven’t done, all that we haven’t dedicated ourselves to, all the time and words and poems that we’ve lost.

Continue reading

maintaining

stencil graffiti painted on wood, ornate pattern oovering the surface, with a break in the shape of a flying birdGood morning! I don’t hear the foghorns this morning — does that mean things have cleared up a little bit out there? I’m writing from my newly set-up office; yesterday I decided I wanted my desk to be a place where I could actually work, so I spent the morning tucking away the as-yet-unpacked boxes, filing papers and figuring out where books could go, putting up some artwork (thanks especially to Dorian Katz) — I’ve got the candle going, the good tea, I’m at my own desk.

And what’s next? This morning, I set my alarm early, and I don’t even remember the alarm going off the first time, barely the second. I actually woke up, broke open to consciousness, about 15 or 20 minutes later, and then the voice started going in my head. This one: Get up, Jen, get up! You keep saying you want time to write, and then you fritter it away in bed and then you’re miserable all the rest of the day. So get up–god! Just do it!

It may not be all that surprising that that voice doesn’t really inspire me to get out of bed, to stretch out of tired and could-easily-sleep-more (and might-benefit-from-more-sleep) and move into the cold air outside the covers and sit down in front of the blank page.

This morning, in part because of a conversation I had with my sister yesterday, I let the voice shift some — or, I asked myself, just somewhere in the midst of all that racket in my head: What if you talked to yourself differently? I’m sure I’ve wrangled with this in the blog here before — and it’s ongoing practice, isn’t it? So, I thought to myself, to the part that didn’t want to get up, that wanted to (and had good reason to want to) stay in bed: Good morning! Thanks for waking up today — I’m so glad you’re awake! I know you look forward to this time in the dark for your best and favorite writing time, and look! You’ve made that time for yourself today! I’m proud of you.

I felt something soften in me, open; I felt actually glad to be awake. It still took me a few minutes to swing my feet out from beneath the covers and push away from all that warmth, but when I did so, the balance in me was more toward gratitude and looking-forward and desire, and less toward guilt and shame.

Here was the conversation with my sister: self-care is maintenance work, it’s daily work, it’s every day. This isn’t really a revelation, is it? Don’t I write that sort of thing often? Haven’t we been over self-care here? But here’s what she said: It’s important to take care of ourselves even when we’re not in crisis — especially when we’re not in crisis! Once we’re in crisis, it’s “too late,” in that those regular maintenance practices won’t work the same way.

We thought, Oh. Every day? This was what opened for me: The self care isn’t just about fixing myself when I’m feeling overwhelmed and out of control; it’s about creating a whole different sort of steady state.

It’s more simple than that. She said, “We have to brush our teeth every day, right?” And we laughed, but it’s deep — right. These kinds of self care are like that. Like a daily shower, like breakfast. Why can’t some form of exercise be that important, and that routine? Why can’t even just a short meditation fit there?

As I type up that paragraph, I know that there are times when none of those care practices work — days when showering feels like the hardest thing ever, times with no teeth-brushing or breakfast, when all forms of self care feel unavailable because I have felt like there’s nothing in here to care for. So I’m not putting this out there lightly, or with any blame/shame/guilt — but more like, Ok, you’re to the place where some regular, routine self-maintenance feels all right to do. How does it feel to stretch that daily definition to include a couple more pieces, something small, morning breathing, maybe, or 15 minutes of yoga or stretching?

There was something exciting for me, I’ll admit to you, in thinking about emotional/psychic/body self-care work as being as routine (and maybe even sometimes as boring as) brushing my teeth — you mean it doesn’t have to be some big psychological drama anymore, requiring lots of therapy and processing? (Note: Not putting down therapy and processing at all — they got me to this place.)

I’m sure I’m going to have to have this epiphany again, as I move more deeply into this different and new relationship with radical self-care. I’m so grateful to my sister for sharing it with me yesterday, though — and for our work, every minute, to be here.

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The possibility of a prompt: What are some pieces of emotional/psychic/body self-care that you (or one of your characters) want to incorporate into your (their) regular, daily schedule? Let yourself make a short list of small acts: 5 minutes of mindful breathing upon waking up? 7 minutes of stretching before your shower? 2 pages of journaling before bed? Some gentle inside talk-to-self as you wash your face? What other ideas? Just write down a few — then choose one and let yourself write for a few minutes about what your morning, your day, feels like after you’ve (or your character has) been doing that practice most days (doesn’t have to be every single day, perfectly) for a couple weeks?

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Thanks for your steady, flickering resilience. Thanks for the ways you make way to care for you. Thanks for your good words.