Good morning, good morning. What’s the day opening up like where you are? Here there’s a chill in the air after a too-hot yesterday, and the birds are still recuperating, I think — I haven’t heard a single one wake up yet. Wait, there they are…
It’s been hard to write recently. I sit down at the desk in the morning and all the words evaporate from my head. I try to sneak up on them, the way you might with a skittish cat or a butterfly or a hummingbird resting at the tip of a bottlebrush tree branch, but they slip away from me as soon as I get close enough to see what they might look like. The writing just isn’t coming.
Still, I dutifully show up at the desk most mornings, I sit down with the candle and notebook or this quieted keyboard. I come down here anyway, even though I’m not feeling the urgency. This is the part about showing up anyway, about being true to the thing in you that’s going to want to sing eventually. I’m not sure what stories or essays are going to want to come next, but I hold the channel open, that’s what someone suggested once: You have to keep the channel open.
I have been feeling very bad about the fact that I’m not “really” writing — developing nothing much new for publication or sharing on this blog, no new submissions, no new words. I rage regularly when listening to the news or reading the paper, but then I show up here at the keyboard in the mornings, and the words slip out from under my fingers, they pull away like a shadow under sunlit scrutiny, they hide under the folds of depression, under the fragments of despair, they leave me to walk in the nightmorning alone. I have been stuck for weeks in the old story, in a painful story, in the story that says I am worthless and nothing I do matters. I have been afraid and lost ever since well before the book came out. And when I’m not writing, I tend to feel even worse about myself. Somedays I come down and just sit in the dark and listen to the nightsounds outside, watch the candle, some mornings I can just rock in the chair and sip my tea. Then I spend the day beating myself up for not writing.
I read a story this weekend about Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night: apparently people are visiting the MOMA in New York just to take selfies with the painting, not to look at it. Not to see it. What caught my attention in the piece, though, were Vincent’s words, his hopelessness, how he felt unseen, unwanted, unappreciated as an artist: “One comfort for someone who loves Van Gogh,” the author says, “and can’t see over the crowd’s shoulders and heads is to recall the artist’s deep misery that his work would never be noticed. ‘What am I in the eyes of most people — a nonentity,’ he despaired, ‘an eccentric, or an unpleasant person — somebody who has no position in society and will never have.'”
I thought I should cut those words out and hang them over my desk, to see when I am feeling low, when I am in the dark times, when I am in the trough, to remember how many of us feel this way, and how often.
What am I realizing this morning is that, even though the it’s been hard to create much recently, I have still kept faith with the writing. I have kept to my part in the covenant. Even when depression fills me to the brim, even when I am feeling so hopeless that writing can accomplish anything at all — just look at the world; what can this writing possibly do? — I still get up before the dawn, make my tea, light the candles, and open the notebook to a new page or open a blank notepad document here on the computer. I try again. Maybe this morning will be different. Maybe this morning the words will come.
Sometimes I have to force myself to write my three pages. Sometimes I can’t or won’t even do that. But my body is here. The channel is open. I remain faithful to something hopeful in me that wants to be with the words, that trusts they will come back, that still believes in what words can do — for me, and in the world.
The last couple of weeks I’ve been walking with the puppy out by the bay in the mornings after I write. At about 7, she gets up, shakes the sleep off her fur, and walks over to me, leans her head hard into my calves. It’s time, it’s time. So we get ready and go out into the early sunrise. We walk on quiet morning fields, we watch sea lions in the swelling bay water scoop up fish for breakfast, and pelicans land like splashing-down space capsules before gliding off like swans. I move this good body that I have spent so many years beating up. I think about how I’m going to Write More Now Goddamnit. And then I throw the ball again for the puppy, who launches herself up to retrieve it out of the air with so much delight in the Right Now.
I put one foot in front of the other, I keep going, even when everything looks hopeless. And this morning I can recognize the faith inherent in that. the hope there. I can beat myself up for not doing enough, or I can look around the edges of those old voices and see how I have been keeping faith with my creative self, showing up for her even when she is (justifiably) scared that she won’t be listened to or certain that her words won’t do any good — the world is still going to be an awful place when she gets up from the keyboard and blows out the candle. Sure, I think, but somewhere, maybe, there’s someone who wanted companionship in the midst of this awfulness. Somewhere there is a story that wants to live in the world.
We keep going. We show up even when the words are rough going. We show up even when everything tells us not to bother. We show up for truth and our creative beauty even when the world around us looks like all and only devastation.
Thank you, this morning, for the times you take a deep breath and have faith in something tender and necessary: the generosity of your voice, the playfulness your words can bring, the brilliant beauty that wouldn’t exist if you don’t let it emerge through your fingers (and any other creative mode in which you discover beauty and truth). Thank you for your spaciousness with this process, with yourself. Thank you, today, for your words.
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