Finding the way forward
I want to try to describe how it is that I write.
I compose all day in my head, when I’m alone. A topic pops into my head, or a memory, and my brain turns into a computer. Just give me a prompt and my brain is racing to artfully structure flowing sentences into an essay. All inside my head.
. . . they all reeled out of me, those words I’d imbibed, in one continuous ribbon.
—Katherine May, The Electricity of Every Living Thing
Often, more than one topic is fighting for airtime. So, usually before I come to a reasonable conclusion, my brain moves on to the next topic. Because I get mild anxiety if I don’t allow myself to think all the things I’m trying to think.
When my thoughts become too overwhelming to function or sleep (it happens both day and night), I pull out the closest writing tools and do a brain dump. The usual location is the Notes app on my phone.
To date, there are 125 notes in a folder called “essay fragments.” And that’s out of 855 total notes that actually got properly filed. There are 121 blog post drafts on my WordPress account. And around 100 drafts on my Scrivener app. That’s not counting physical notes written on paper either.
The intention is always that I just get the words out of my head into a manic brain dump rough draft and then have a focused sit down time to edit these drafts and share them online.
This is the part that trips me up (as proven by the pitiful amount of published posts on my website), and it’s led to a lot of negative thinking over the years.
Clearly, I can write. I write three pages of journaling every day. I wrote my book draft for The Simple Path of Journaling in around two months (from August 2022 to October 2022). And then of course the million and a half essay/blog rough drafts I’m drowning in.
And I know how to edit. I look at my finished essays on my website, and honestly I really enjoy reading them.
If I was just sticking with essay and blog type writing, I doubt I would have figured out the issue I was having. But when I got really determined that I was going to finish this book and publish it, the stakes got a lot higher and the issues ran deeper.
After a lot of crying and journaling and asking God/myself/the void for help, I had a breakthrough and finally learned about a method of writing that fits my brain so much better.
It’s called intuitive writing. I don’t really know much about it yet, but I’m going to write about the little bit that I do understand.
Intuitive writing is based off of feminine energy, which is very opposite to most mainstream writing practices that are based off masculine energy. Masculine energy writing includes lots of plotting, outlines, structure, word counts, and routines.
Feminine energy writing is a lot harder to grasp, because it involves more of the subconscious mind and trusting yourself. It’s sort of a bit more like stream of consciousness writing. But you just start with a blank page and see what happens. It’s kind of a scary approach. You have to trust yourself not to get lost. And you have to be okay with being lost anyway, because that’s how you find yourself and your words.
I began to lean more into structure and order, but Sheree was an artist . . . she was much more fluid, intuitive, and less structured.
—Will Smith, Will
There are two things I’ve learned about intuitive writing that I’m trying to put into practice now.
The first is that I need to make sure I’m completely done writing something before I start to edit it. This is because writing and editing are two different sides of the brain. Editing requires the use of judgment and critique, whereas writing is very open and vulnerable. It can be quite detrimental to be switching back and forth between the two.
This is how I kind of fucked myself up while writing my book. I started working on a proper outline and section titles and page numbers before I was even done writing it. That led to me feeling boxed in by the structure I’d employed, so my writer side was kind of throwing a fit and refusing to work. And I also felt paralyzed to continue writing, because I would compare my freshly written sentences to the already edited ones and think myself a terribly shitty writer.
The second thing I’ve learned about intuitive writing is that I need to just work on one writing piece at a time. One piece within each different type of writing I’m doing, I should say. So I can still work on my book, work on my newsletter, do my journaling. But I’m just focused on one blog post at a time, rather than the chaotic pile of drafts demanding my attention.
(I’m going to write in a future post about what I’ve decided to do with all my rough drafts and how I’m going to capture new ideas going forward, because collecting rough drafts is definitely not the right process for me.)
I tried it out both things I learned with this post. I did my initial manic brain dump and then stopped when I felt like I said everything that was on my mind. The next few days I was tempted to start new drafts, but I made myself just look at this one, which led me to more brain dumps on this topic. I didn’t allow myself to start editing until I felt totally drained of the words in my head and ready to polish what I’d written.
It was hard at first, to not write drafts on new ideas, to continue to add this this draft over and over until it felt finished, before I started cleaning it up. But it started feeling natural and good too. And look, I published it!!
Part of this process is about learning to trust my intuition. Learning to trust my own mind. Learning to trust the way I work.
The job of a writer, he says, is simple: You write what’s in your head.
—Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit
I’ll have much more to say on this topic as I implement more of intuitive writing into my life. But this breakthrough shows why I value personal growth and introspection so much. It’s so helpful to understand and trust yourself, because there are such vastly different ways to operate in the world. I would have blindly struggled with the same problems over and over if I hadn’t allowed myself the journey of figuring out who I am. Collecting piles of rough drafts, never finishing anything, feeling like shit during the editing process.
A sensitive introverted neurodivergent creative individual like myself and many others are never going to thrive by following the rules and structure dictated by rigid masculine energy. Which is what most of society is built off and expects from others.
But the good news is that feminine energy exists just as strongly and equally in this world.. There is a way forward that will feel perfect for each person’s energy. It just requires trust and an open, insightful mind.
I first learned about “batching” in 2018 when I hired a business coach. My then boyfriend had dumped me at the beginning of that year because “I seemed to have no direction in life,” so hiring that coach was part of my “find myself” process, post-breakup. Definitely motivated by the hope that he’d want to get back together with me if I got my shit together well enough, but thankfully it ended up just being the start of my self-help and creative entrepreneur journey.
Batching was one of this coach’s favorite productivity techniques. It’s when you group likeminded tasks together so that you stay more in flow and your brain doesn’t have to switch between activities as much. It’s a very efficient way to work. For whatever reason, this is the only thing that stuck with me, out of everything I learned from her.
And it’s been honestly kind of fucking me up ever since.
It has never actually felt good to batch my work, yet I remained stubbornly fixated on the concept, trying to cram myself inside a mold. When I realized I was autistic, I tried to reinforce the incorporation of batching into my life, due to the idea that task switching is something many autistic people struggle with.
But batching made me feel dead inside, working on the same task without pause, like a machine. It felt soul killing. I wanted to do everything, every day. Or at least give myself the freedom to do the things I wanted each day.
Maybe it works for “content creators” (BARF), but it definitely doesn’t work for me as an author.
I want the freedom to be able to put hands on all my projects and interests throughout the day. Which sounds kind of ADHD and impractical. But it’s what makes me and my brain happy.
Lauren Sapala, author of Firefly Magic, talks about why INFP writers (aka, yours truly) have so much trouble finishing writing projects. She says that INFP’s like to flit between projects like a butterfly and it’s best if they have 3-5 projects going at one time.
That’s honestly how I seem to work the best. I like to work on something until I get bored and then move to a different project. Not “move on” as in abandon it completely. Just set it aside until later that day or the next day. But I hate working on something hours on end (unless I’m in serious flow, the kind where I forget to eat), because it completely drains my energy.
It makes me happy doing a little bit of progress on each project. Of staying in the loop every day with what I have going on. I LIKE TO TOUCH EVERYTHING I LOVE EVERY DAY.
It feels very fractured to do something like, write on Monday’s and Tuesdays, edit on Wednesday’s and Thursday’s, market and product develop on Friday’s.
Even just writing that sentence made my stomach feel sick. That’s just a gross way to live, imo.
“If I don’t write every day, the characters begin to stale off in my mind—they begin to seem like characters instead of real people. The tale’s narrative cutting edge starts to rust and I begin to lose my hold on the story’s plot and pace.”
—Stephen King, On Writing
I want to put my hands on all my projects, to remind myself of what’s all there. To stay familiar with it.
As long as I give myself the freedom to do this, stop shaming myself for being “inefficient,” then I’ll be able to finish projects in a much happier state of being. And supposedly this will help me finish projects quicker, because it’ll help me avoid burnout.
I think it’s good to have a lot of projects going at once so you can bounce between them. When you get sick of one project, move over to another, and when you’re sick of that one, move back to the project you’ve left. Practice productive procrastination.
—Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist
Since fully giving myself permission to bounce around during my working day, I’ve actually been more productive. I’ve started chess lessons. I began going on walks again. I’m doing tiny shitty little comics. I’m working on clearing a space in my room to set up my brother’s piano keyboard, and I’ll go to the library soon to get some sheet music printed.
It feels really good. Whenever I feel burnt out on a project, I just settle my eyes on something interesting and regain energy through that. (No scrolling or random videos allowed though—that’s key!) I don’t have to dedicate huge chunks of time to my various interests or sit down for eight hours a day to work on my writing.
I feel productive, motivated, energetic, and I’m satisfying my insatiable curiosity for learning and experiencing new things.
I believe there’s always a way to do something that feels good, even if it goes against the “standard” or “expert” way. What’s most important is what you can get your enthusiasm and energy behind.
Wine stains and heart mends
As the credits played out at the end of Avatar: The Way of Water, my boyfriend Ethan took off his 3D glasses and looked at me. “Are you crying?” he asked.
I nodded and wiped my cheeks.
“Aw,” he said, “You liked the movie, huh?”
“Yes,” I sniffed.
Then a fresh wave of tears ran down my face.
Ethan immediately stood up and came over to me. “Oh baby, I’m so sorry, I understand why you’re crying now.”
He tried to sit in the same theater chair as me, to hold me and soothe me, but instead he accidentally sat on the large Pepsi in my cup holder, knocked it backwards, and got soda all over his butt. He pulled me to my feet, away from the mess, and held me in the aisle.
I hugged him and giggled a little—both at the situation and because I loved him so much.
In a matter of like ten seconds, he had already comforted me immensely, for two reasons. The first, because he didn’t let the awkwardness of soda-soaked pants distract him from his mission. And the second, because he knew that I was crying over my brother Zach, the heartbreaking scene in the movie that had triggered my tears.
It’s awful to admit this, but I initially never expected Ethan to play this role in my life. I never thought that my boyfriend would see me crying and automatically assume it was because of Zach.
We met at an interesting time in my life—just a week before the one year anniversary of Zach’s death. Once you get past the one year mark, it’s kind of an awkward and terrible season of life to be in. It’s like you have an expiration date on how long you can be grieving, on how long you can hold the identity of “sad sister of dead brother.” Most people stop asking how I’m doing in regards to that and don’t think to bring him up anymore.
The shock and raw grief is gone, but the ever-present pain of having to live the rest of my life without my sweet little brother constantly bubbles under the surface.
Ethan is very simple and straightforward in his comfort for me: I know you miss your brother. I’m here for you. Let me hold you.
“I love you,” he says, and Addie wonders if this is love, this gentle thing.
—V.E. Schwab, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue
After the movie, later that evening, I accidentally spilled red wine on Zach’s white hoodie, which I wear almost every day.
Ethan immediately looked up how to get red wine stains out of white fabric and went to work. Soaking the stain in white vinegar (“not red vine vinegar?” I weakly joked). Scrubbing laundry detergent into the spot. Rinsing it out in hot water.
The stain was gone.
I clutched the warm, wet sweatshirt in my hands and thanked him and hung it on his desk chair to dry overnight.
The next day, back at my parents’ house, I examined the spot outside in the late afternoon sun, in better lighting. The wine stain truly was gone, but I noticed that the area was a bit frayed now. Threads popped out where Ethan had vigorously scrubbed the sweatshirt.
My heart melted. I sunk into this little patch of white fabric and pinned the moment and the feeling into my memory.
This is what it feels like to be safe and loved.
After he had cleaned my sweatshirt for me, Ethan was a little bit restless. It was getting late, I was cozy in bed, and we had planned to watch something together on his phone until we fell asleep. But he was unable to sit back and relax.
“Why aren’t you getting comfortable?” I asked. He was sitting on the edge of the bed, hunched and cross-legged.
He stood up and paced a bit. “Because you were crying earlier over your brother and then you stained his sweatshirt, and now I’m just in full on protection mode.”
. . . we were home, we had drawn the circle, we were safe for the night.
—Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking
It was a place where I knew I was loved.
—Claire Oshetsky, Chouette
Feel the rope
When I was first learning how to belay last fall at my climbing gym, my brain tangled up right alongside the rope in my hands. I was trying to remember each step of the belaying process in a logical “think-y” manner, and it caused me to mess up repeatedly. My face would scrunch up in confusion as my staff member friend, Kandice, patiently waited for me to show her the next step.
It was only when I turned off my thoughts and simply felt the motions of belaying that I was able to get the hang of it. I almost just had to close my eyes so I wouldn’t get distracted by logistics.
“It doesn’t need to be perfect,” the head setter, Andy, told me, as he swung above me, installing a new route. “You just need to save them from falling.”
Just save them from falling.
Once I felt how belaying was supposed to feel and reaffirmed the actual purpose of belaying, the actual goal I was trying to accomplish (save them from falling), that’s when it all started to feel totally natural to me.
What if this is just the way that I operate?
Everything feels so much better when I, more or less, shut off my mind and trust how things feel.
I think this is how I’m supposed to be as a writer too.
I beat my writing half to death in the editing process, because I’m afraid of the natural way I write. I’m afraid of being seen. I’ve written about this previously, in my essay “Letters to you with love from me.” I’m sure this concept has come out many times in my writing before, but I just haven’t grasped onto it yet.
The truth is that, for the most part, I much prefer the things I’ve written that are in my drafts folder or in my notes app. The quick intuitive flashes I get, the mad dashes, the rush of energy from my authentic writer self.
Was this entire life ever really mine? Was my control all an illusion? I think so, but letting go of control isn’t instant and wonderful. Sometimes it gives us rope burns as we slide down trying to hold on like a madman.
—Lisa Gungor, The Most Beautiful Thing I’ve Seen
I’m going to hold on tightly while I’m belaying someone on the wall, but clearly some deeper part of me is asking to trust her and let go when it comes to my writing.
Title: The Most Beautiful Thing I’ve Seen
Author: Lisa Gungor
Description: Lisa Gungor and her husband Michael, of the Grammy-nominated band Gungor, unexpectedly exit Christianity and search for meaning, beauty, healing, and answers through a new perspective.
Purchase: Bookshop.org (affiliate link)
The large agave plant outside my window fell over and died several weeks ago. Earlier, in the spring, it was revealed to have been housing a rat’s nest. My dogs spent hours digging it up, and were rewarded with a rat snack. Then a gusty wind ultimately blew the agave over, and my dad and I noticed it had been growing over a spinkler head.
Just too much to handle. Roots rotted from water and torn up from dog claws and rat life. It was done giving of itself.
After the plant died, completely keeled over and showing its underside, new life immediately sprung from it. Or rather, life that already existed but was now choosing to congregate on the agave. A massive cluster of bees crawled over the bottom of the plant, the juices exposed for them to suck up. A steady trail of ants marched up the long curved arms. The occasional fly braved the masses for a taste.
Perhaps part of me should have felt sad for this agave. Its life was reminiscent of Shel Silverstein’s, The Giving Tree. The tree in the story gave and gave and gave until it was all used up:
“I have nothing left.
I am just an old stump.”
—Shel Silverstein, The Giving Tree
But I suppose that I saw the using up as more of a circle of life kind of thing. It was fully used to its deepest potential, and beyond. Life continues on, even after death. The works of the dead can feed the living.
I saw this dead plant and I wanted to be like it.
It doesn’t feel like being used and abused when I’m living my fullest expression. Even if all people want from me one day is my written words, that’s what I want to give them.
I like the usefulness of nature. I feel useful like that agave when I’m writing what I’m meant to be writing.
This essay is stemming from a recurring sentiment that I seem to have trouble grasping onto. We repeat the same lessons over and over until we learn them, and I’m trying to learn this one. Even if people get sick of hearing about it.
I’m realizing that I’m not just a plant. A vague, overarching plant. I am a specific type of plant. I can only grow one way.
The lesson I keep repeating is that I betray my writing. I don’t listen to myself, the things my heart is trying to tell me.
In the midst of NaNoWriMo, the month of international fiction noveling, the event I’ve participated in almost every year since I was 15, I suddenly quit working on my novel because I truly, truly don’t want to spend my time writing fiction. It was painful to set my essay and memoir work aside this month, and I kept shushing that pain for the sake of my Novel™.
More than once, I’ve discovered journal entries I’ve written since entering my twenties—that I find fiction writing to be extremely painful, that essay and memoir writing feels so much more flowy and enjoyable. I wrote about it in 2016, while working on a novel over Thanksgiving break in the woods in Northern California. I wrote about it in 2018, the year I discovered self-help and was trying to find my voice as a creative person.
But year after year I can’t stop being embarrassed by the urge towards this “lesser” “egotistical” form of writing.
It’s not a unique feeling. Many writers have an aversion to “navel-gazing,” to mining their own lives and stories for the sake of their literary work, which is what the author Melissa Febos discovered while teaching nonfiction workshops.
She had confronted this revulsion earlier in her own life, and talks about it in her book, Body Work:
At twenty-six, I was an MFA student in fiction, deep into what I believed was a Very Important Novel about addiction and female sexuality. Then I took a nonfiction craft class for which we were asked to write a short memoir. Though the context of my novel drew heavily from my own experience, I had never written any kind of nonfiction. The twenty-page essay I drafted about my years as a professional dominatrix was the most urgent thing I had ever written. When he read it, my professor insisted that I drop whatever I was working on and write a memoir.
I cringed. Who was I, a twenty-six-year-old woman, a former junky and sex worker, to presume that strangers should find my life interesting? I had already learned that there were few more damning presumptions than that of a young woman thinking her own story might be meaningful. Besides, I was writing a Very Important Novel.
“No way,” I told my professor. I was determined to stick to my more humble presumptions that strangers might be interested in a story made up by a twenty-six-year-old former junky sex worker.
Do you see how easy it is to poke holes in this logic?
—Melissa Febos, Body Work
I don’t want to keel over and die and have my insides be nothing but dust, which is what I fear will happen if I keep pushing aside this deep intrinsic desire to write what’s on my heart. To interact with tiny moments in the world. If I look into my future and see myself on my death bed, and all that surrounds me are fiction novels—I feel icy fear. To be clear, it is not the being surrounded by books that scares me. That sounds delightful. But to leave an entire legacy of made up stories is something that just doesn’t feel right.
My natural mind doesn’t think in fiction. I don’t communicate with these made up characters. They kept me company when I was a teenager, but the more I get to know myself, the less satisfying their worlds are.
I think, why am I making up a character, a setting, a story, when an entire essay bursts out of me just from watching bugs eat a dead plant? The thought of missing all these tiny moments, of not having the time or energy or focus to expand on the little pieces of life, gives me real anxiety.
Essay writing is how I like to translate the world. I see something, hear something, experience something, and I wonder how I can distill that thing into a piece of a story. How I can turn this thin slice of life into an experience that can be felt by others.
The missable moments in life are my favorite ones, and the ones I most want to write about.
Maybe this is stemming from a need to be seen. A need to speak my piece without any fictional filters. To tell my own story and be my full self. Maybe in several years I will be able to resume fiction writing.
But I cannot linger there. I cannot give anymore excuses. For the unforeseeable future, I’ve let go of fiction writing. It’s done.
Since halting work on my novel, I’ve written almost a dozen essay drafts. They flow out of me like honey. I feel lush and full of nectar. Pierce my veins. Lick me up. The world is rich and here and now.
Emily Dickinson wrote in her poem, Bloom:
To be a Flower, is profound
—Emily Dickinson, Bloom (1058)
And I understand that.
I am a plant.
I look like a human with unlimited choices and freewill galore, but in actuality, I am rooted to the ground and can only grow one specific way.
Whichever way I grow, you can have all of me. Just let me grow the way I need to, otherwise my body will turn to dust and won’t feed even one single Bee.
If a woman has artificial flowers in her house, flowers that need dusting twice a year but never die, she is closing herself off from any understanding of death.
—May Sarton, Journal of a Solitude
Yesterday I woke up at 4 am to wild flashes of lightning through my window, the shade pulled all the way up. There has been steady lightning here at night without the accompanying sounds of thunder, and very little rain. The July monsoons have mostly left, but the remains linger. The roses from April are back, but less abundant and more wilted. A few butterfly bush blooms from May are here again, but they look a little lost and confused amongst all their dead comrades.
The spiral of time is melting into a muddy-colored puddle.
And the peace I felt here is starting to feel like vines growing around my shoulders and over my mouth. The kitchen is the darkest room in the house—the most central room in the house, how apt. There used to be a kitchen window, but an add-on was built by the previous owner, so where there used to be a window is instead a hole looking into the wall of a hallway and upon that wall is a rainbow-colored zebra.
Paintings on walls and windows looking into halls will never be able to light up a room.
The dark rooms are seeped with sadness and the walls here are too thin. But apparently thick enough to be unable to hear a person’s cries for help.
Things feel like they’re dying here. The dogs are getting old and creaky. The parents constantly discuss and plan their upcoming retirement. The little brother’s ashes sit in an urn, out of sight.
I cut some perky yellow roses the other day and put them in a vase and the next day they were completely hunched over.
Same. I don’t like being inside this house either. I’m sorry for doing you dirty.
Part of me knows this is good. Being uncomfortable is good. Up until recently, I couldn’t imagine myself actually moving out of my parents’ house again. I definitely hadn’t planned to live with them for the past two years, but I lacked the courage to leave. Except when my desire to leave was motivated by shame, feeling like a pathetic 27-year-old loser who couldn’t get her fucking shit together.
I finally, though, gave myself enough kindness and grace to examine this lethargy around moving out. And I realized I’m carrying lots of trauma from the past, making me feel unsafe out in the world.
As if to validate the reality of these fears, two weeks ago I finally set an energetic intention to move out *soon* (no deadline yet, but the intention helps put the heat on), and that very night I had a bad dream about it.
I dreamt that I found this amazing old two-story home for rent in a valley in Idaho, overlooking a river and a field of horses. The rent was only $500 a month, and it sounded too good to be true, so I asked the realtor to explain the pricing to me. She started pointing out a lot of flaws with the house, including the fact that it was cluttered with the previous owner’s possessions, an old man who had died in the home and no one came to claim his stuff. Haunted house? I can handle that for $500 a month. Easy.
And then the day after I signed the lease and moved in, my neighbor broke in and stabbed me repeatedly with a butcher knife and then I woke up. The end.
It’s what happened the last time I moved out. I mean, I didn’t get physically stabbed with a knife, but definitely did emotionally. Everything was magical in the beginning, everything was working out perfectly, it felt too good to be true, and my happiest adult memories were made. And then everything went to shit. Everything broke down, and my most traumatic adult memories were made. I didn’t feel safe in my own home but I had nowhere else to go and I’m still trying to process everything that happened because writing it all out sounds like the suffering olympics because there was just so. much. shit. And I hate that.
But now I know. I’m afraid of good things because I think they’re going to turn bad. I don’t trust myself to create a stable home environment away from my parents. I’m projecting fears of the past onto my future and it’s keeping me stuck sitting at a desk in a room in my parents’ home like Emily Dickinson. I resonate with her so much, I feel her in my soul as if I reincarnated with bits of her in me, I love her deeply—but I don’t want to live like her in that sense, with my parents, for the remainder of my life.
I don’t have a specific location in mind for when I leave. I want to get in my car and drive. Pretty much every day in my journal I find myself writing, “I just want to be free. I want to slim down and have independence.”
Slim down, minimize, zig while they zag.
Like the very first concert I ever went to (Skillet, in 2009), me and my friends were all in the mosh pit and I quickly learned how to move with the crowd so I could move through the crowd. I felt like a little water bug: flow with the mass and then dart through the narrow gaps to get to the front. Until some skank bitch yanked on my ponytail to jerk me backwards so she could take my spot at the front (but that’s beside the point . . . I just feel sad that there are people in the world who must resort to such measures to get ahead in life . . . but I digress . . . lol).
Life is not so slim and zippy lately. It’s heavy and slow. I feel tied to the crowd.
There are so many packages being delivered to the house. Several packages a week. New ones arrive before old ones are even completely opened and unpacked and dealt with. Boxes everywhere. Boxes to fill the hole created by the death of a son.
The amount of stuff in this house is at a level that makes me feel pinchy and claustrophobic. Even my room started getting uncomfortably full. Which is weird because I’ve long been a minimalist vagabondy type person. Nothing makes me happier than sauntering alone through the world with a single backpack.
Plus I hate shopping, so I’m really confused as to how the fuck there came to be so much shit compiled in my room. Are people giving me stuff? I really can’t remember. Very rarely are the boxes on the front porch addressed to me.
But the fact remains: there is too much stuff and I find it difficult to leave the house.
The reason the stuff accumulates and life stops flowing is due to trauma. Everyone’s favorite buzzword. Trauma traps your emotions leading you to re-live that shit on a loop, causes health problems, leads to addictions.
Finally starting to admit that the past got me fucked up and I was too wounded to deal with it, has helped me to slowly untangle from the pile of stuff everywhere. I find it an easier task now to compile things to donate, shred papers, let go of attachment. I even have a budget and am contributing to my IRA and savings each month. Pretty adorable of me, I know.
I don’t want to be stuck with stuff. I want to be free flowing.
A frozen, stuck-with-stuff life terrifies me.
When my brother Zach died last year, we fought over . . . the remains. My dad wanted his ashes stored in a mausoleum in Idaho. I told him that was creepy as fuck. His ashes, for now, are stored in a purple urn, somewhere unknown in the house, as I freaked out at the idea of them being on display. My mom asked us siblings if we wanted little mini urns with some of his ashes. I told her absolutely not.
I’ve been an ornery bitch throughout this whole process.
I’ve always found “death stuff” to be fascinating in a general sense: open caskets at funerals, this dead body display we saw at a museum in Portland when we were teens, skulls and bones, walking around cemeteries at night like every other anemic insomniac writer chick.
But when it comes to my brother, when it’s fucking personal, I hate everything. Associating this shit with my brother sucks.
We’re not supposed to cling to the remains of death like this. Not when it’s done as a coping mechanism for pain.
These two concepts are colliding.
My brothers ashes being trapped inside an urn, and me feeling like I’m slowly being buried alive at my parents’ house.
I love my parents, I truly do, but I need to be free. I’m trying.
I’m not ready to settle down like a coffin in the ground or an urn on display. I want to be unfettered like ashes on the wind. Under a tree or in the river. I want to explore the earth before my body becomes a part of it. I’m not scared of death personally. I’m scared of other people’s fears. I can feel their fear like a palpable substance in the air. I’m scared of a frozen life. Gone too soon. Trapped by hasty decisions and restrictive belief systems and heavy fear.
Ghost house, get out.
I think I’m afraid here because Zach didn’t get to live enough life. And now they want to store his ashes in the same house where he died. I just . . . want him to be free. And I want my parents to be free.
Grief can bury us while we’re still alive.
I feel more myself again after facing my fears and traumas. Meditating, journaling, crying. The usual. Whatever it takes to get the weight off. I feel more like the me who hopped on buses and trains, slept on benches and in parking lots, dumpster dived for groceries, hitchhiked.
I don’t have to sit at a desk in my parents’ house for the rest of my life like Emily Dickinson. I really did accept that as my fate for a while. But the fire is coming back. The heavy greasy lethargic layers are peeling, healing.
This poem by Laurie Halse Anderson, from her book Shout, perfectly sums up how I’m feeling now, so I’ll leave you with it:
I can’t stand this
I can’t stay here
I should leave
I want to leave
rose into a tidal wave of
The heat and the flood
The desert rat carries one distinction like a halo: he has learned to love the kind of country that most people find unloveable. Call the desert barren, harsh, bitter, dreary and gloomy, acrid and arid, lifeless, hopeless, ugly as sin, ghastly as the gates of hell—he will happily agree with you. Because in his heart lies the secret belief that the awful desert is really sweet and lovable, that the ugly is really beautiful, that hell is home.
—Edward Abbey, Beyond The Wall
Storm clouds overhead? Good. What’s July in the desert without a cloudburst?
—Edward Abbey, Beyond The Wall
I tried to describe impossible things like the scent of creosote—bitter, slightly resinous, but still pleasant—the high, keening sound of the cicadas in July, the feathery barrenness of the trees, the very size of the sky, extending white-blue from horizon to horizon, barely interrupted by the low mountains covered with purple volcanic rock. The hardest thing to explain was why it was so beautiful to me . . .
—Stephenie Meyer, Twilight
If the bible has any sort of truth to it, it would appear that humans originated in tropical areas. The vapor covering the earth, keeping everything cool and hydrated. Maybe people who are living in tropical lush geographies in present day are living much closer to heaven on earth than the rest of us. That elusive Eden.
I wonder what that says about me though, drawn to the most hellish landscape that exists.
Drawn to the desert.
It was after I began my exit from Christianity at the end of 2017 when I started to realize my pull towards the desert. I had just left a more heavenly place, too. I’d been working at a camp in the woods near Salem, Oregon. It was green and lush and I was even learning about foraging in the natural landscape, a hands-on experience to how life-giving the earth is. I dreamed of putting down roots there.
But I was quite sick. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Working for another Christian corporation right after bible college when I barely believed in any of it anymore made me ill. I was often bedridden and unable to work. I swallowed too many pain pills at night to help me relax enough to get to sleep. Every time I took a breath, I had a coughing fit. I was so allergic to the area, to the constant drizzling, to the belief system I was contractually obligated to pass onto young children—that I was sick for months. One day after work a fellow camp counselor slipped me one of his allergy pills, thinking it would help me. I took it without hesitation, zero clue as to how it would affect me. That evening I had a date in the car of my make-out buddy, a different camp counselor. Just a little bit of squeaky clean virgin angst to help the both of us survive a place that we weren’t meant for. I nearly fell asleep in his lap once the drug kicked in. The blurry chemical exhaustion thrilled and terrified me—the feeling of not having to think, of not having control.
A few days later I was put on mental health leave by the camp directors. They learned about my pain pill popping and figured I was depressed. After a week of resting at someone’s house, away from camp, I decided I absolutely could not go back.
My parents flew me back to Las Vegas. I left behind most of my possessions for my roommates, in order to fit a couple duffle bags onto my budget flight.
Within two weeks of being in Nevada, I was completely cured. Two weeks of solitude, no pressure to go to church, no one peering inside my mind to see what I believed. Just rest. Just me and my body on a bed in a warm room. I felt safe and happy and healthy.
Thus began my official deconstruction from Christianity, and the realization that my body and soul felt at peace in the desert. Not a passive peace. One that subtly sunk its claws into me, distorting my vibrations and rearranging them into a new pattern. One that would require everything I had—and more—to be able to reap the benefits of it.
I left Eden to enter hell, and it turns out I like the heat.
The desert requires a sort of mediative state to gracefully live through it. This place makes me dry out and crack and it smoothes me out like a pumice stone on calloused soles. Calloused souls, kicked out of Eden, have a home here.
It’s a lovely hostile house.
There comes a time every summer, though, where I just can’t fucking stand the place any longer. Usually in July, the hottest period. The cicadas provide constant background noise for weeks on end, a buzzing electric sizzle that grinds on my nervous system. The dogs are restless and panting all damn day and I just can’t stand to be around them, their hot breaths and neediness blowing in my face. The white sound of oscillating fans and the frigidity of fake conditioned air irritate me to no end. A heat-driven compulsive hustle builds in me and I end up making rash decisions.
In hindsight, July is the month where I should be doing very little. Be still. Conserve water.
In reality, halfway through July is when I hit a breaking point.
To set a silly scene: there was this guy I was “talking to” last winter but then he ghosted me but then I found out I was going to be in his part of the world at the end of this summer for a wedding so I thought maybe I’d hit him up to go on some of the outings we’d talked about and maybe when he saw me in person it would reignite all the sparks but then I found out he was actually dating someone so I started bawling because of the fact that he got to know me super well over FaceTime but then obviously found me to be lacking and then found someone better.
Well . . . I thought I was crying over him but then fifteen seconds later all I could think of was my dead brother. His face, his name, his absence.
This crush was good friends with my brother back in the day and he has unaccessed memories of him that I crave. When we first starting talking more consistently last year, he told me we could talk about my brother anytime I wanted. It felt good to have someone in my life who was connected to him.
Being ghosted felt like a betrayal. How dare he close himself off from me and hoard his memories of my brother. It’s not right for anyone to do so. Line up at the door and tell all, please.
Breaking point: no one wants you and your brother is gone and everything feels like death.
In addition: your period starts, it’s hot as fucking shit, and you can’t stop crying.
Literal blood. Sweat. Tears.
You think maybe it’s time to move again. Run away and start fresh, again. Maybe it’s time to go north again.
And then: BOOM.
That feeling of aliveness. Shock to the system. Drenched to the soul fifteen seconds later.
The streets flooding. Earth shattering thunder. Lightning that could split the sky in two.
I am so big. I am so small.
I am in Eden after all.
This, for me, is heaven on earth. These two polarities. The heat and the flood. Because they’re so dramatic, they cleanse me to my bones.
And I think this is why, though I thought Oregon was like my soulmate state or something, it ended up being a rather torturous place for me. The constant dripping, poking, prodding. I thought I would mimic the lush growth of my environment, but inwardly I felt a little bit dead. Stalled out. Just waiting waiting waiting for the rain to stop. Never feeling at peace. My second day at this camp, I asked my roommate Savannah when the rain was going to stop. She, naturally, gave a great belly laugh and didn’t answer my question.
I am not the tortoise in the parable, but rather the hare. I didn’t then and still do not understand the steady plodding constant pace of the rain. I was born in the desert and will likely die there and that’s all I know. The desert is a place where you dance in the rain every single time, because it’s mad and rushed and short-lived and wonderful. A quick sprint and a long rest.
That wretched Saturday when all emotional and physical hell broke loose, I slept better that night than I had in a long time. After the rushing rain, after the healing tears, after a warm shower, after the period pills, the earth has cooled down, the ground smells good—and I had a breakthrough on my energetic pattern around romantic relationships and I felt at peace finally reaching a starting point to deal with this issue. An issue that had been dead and fused into my belief system had cracked open from the heat and washed out from the flood.
I slept so incredibly good that night. Blissfully good. I felt giddy and happy, with a squeaky clean body and soul.
It’s a strange soul that’s drawn to the desert. A place that’s known for its cliches of lone tumbleweeds blowing in the wind, abandoned ghost towns, wild west gunslinging, and random animal skulls just chilling on a fence post or something. A place that looks like death to many people. (It sort of seems to me like there couldn’t possibly be many evangelical Christians who love the desert like I do. Religion is muggy and has a large immaculate green suburban front lawn.)
One of my earliest memories as a kid is walking alone along the barbed wire border of our ten acre property in the high desert of southern Idaho and stopping in my tracks to watch dozens of maggots crawl over a coyote corpse. (I grew up saying “kai-yoat” rather than “kai-yoat-ee.” Apparently it’s a rural thing.)
Disgusting, I thought, at the kai-yoat carcass. Fascinating, I thought.
Maybe that experience set me on a course for my life. The more I get to know the desert intimately and the more I look death in the eye without any of its heavy perfumed niceties, the more alive I feel.
There is life in the desert and death completes the cycle of life.
It is beautiful and painful, joyous and heartbreaking.
I feel emotions more prominently in the desert. Everything is sharper here. Here is where I left the foggy haze of religion and found the stark reality of God. The shadows are darker here because the light is stronger. I don’t want to drip and drizzle my way through life. I want to be at peace in the heat or I want to rage within the storm.
This pattern shows up in many ways in my life, this ebb and flow, this parable hare. In my love of rock climbing and hatred of hiking. Why endure a sickening steady plod up a mountain when you could instead rip your way up a boulder and then kick back on a crash pad and watch your friend do it next?
Of course, I am learning to implement small consistent changes and routine in my life. Not everything is dramatic. If my life was a movie, the day-to-day stuff would either look really peaceful or really fucking boring. And I like it that way.
But in matters of the heart, things that bring out the strongest emotions in me like writing and rock climbing and nature and romance—I am not steady at all. I welcome the heat and the flood, the cracks and the blood, the ebb and the flow, the stop and the go.
Secretly I think I’m a phoenix, and that burning is good for me. Burn me to a crisp. Douse the heat with a storm. Emerge from the puddle, dripping black ash and red blood, a wobbling fledgling. Dry off in the heat. And take to the sky once more, stronger and sharper and freer.
I promise to love the desert with all my heart, until death do we part.
Letters to you with love from me
“You have found your style at last,” said her father. “You put your heart into it.”
—Louisa May Alcott, Little Women
I’ve noticed that the writings of mine I love the most are my notebook rants, where I just pour out the thoughts in my head, the things on my heart. It’s when I try to clean them up through editing that I begin to like them less and less.
It feels like mono-cropping. Editing feels like chopping down a diverse messy wooded area and planting rows of corn. Year after year of planting the same crops strips the soil of nutrients and richness.
My goal with writing is to connect with others who feel the way I feel, who see the world like me, to open their minds, to make them feel less alone. My goal is not to be professional but to connect.
Why am I so concerned with editing?
Because I’m afraid that the words from my heart don’t make sense to others.
When I was in bible college, I broke up with my boyfriend there because we were moving in with his parents in Mexico in a couple months and he wanted to marry me the following year. And I was afraid of losing my independence, afraid of binding my life to his. I felt too young. I hadn’t done anything with my life.
I became sick and feverish after ending our relationship and I began to write him letters while bedridden in my dorm room. I missed him, I loved him, I wanted to build a life with him, I felt safe with him, I was sorry for being afraid.
Less straightforward than that, more fever dream.
But the letters, while feverish, concluded with me saying I made a mistake, I wanted to be with him.
We met up a week after our break-up, on a bench across from my room. I gave him the letters and watched his face as he read them. His eyes were a mixture of blankness, confusion, and anger. Finally he looked at me, gestured at the letters in his hand, and said, “What is this?”
“I . . . “ My voice cracked. I cleared my throat. “I want to get back together. That’s pretty much what I was trying to say.”
“Good,” he said. “My cousin’s in town and going to be visiting campus in a few hours and I didn’t want to have to tell her we broke up.” He picked up his bike. “I’ll text you when she’s here. Make sure you’re ready to leave by then.”
And he biked away without another word.
I looked down at the bench. My letters were lying there pathetically, like a crumpled white rose. To you, with love from me. And he didn’t take them with him. I picked them up and held them to my chest, feeling cold and numb and afraid again.
We didn’t stay together for long after that. I broke up with him again, for good that time.
But that fear never left me, of giving someone I loved pieces of my heart on paper, and having them rejected.
I got into a pattern of writing letters to guys only after they rejected me. A love letter to an ex-boyfriend after he broke up with me because he couldn’t handle long distance. He texted me that he got my letter but couldn’t bring himself to read it, so he stored it somewhere, out of sight, unopened. Last year I told a friend I had feelings for him and he said, “I don’t know what to say.” The letter I wrote him afterwards is in a dresser drawer and I’m very glad I never sent it.
The biggest heartbreak I experienced was three years ago. I was in love with my roommate, and he with me, but of course it was all unspoken. But then he ran into his ex while at the beach and felt some sort of “sunk cost” with her, felt the need to try to rekindle things because they had so much history.
He came back to me, to our house, a few days later with whispered apologies, and my days with him after that were some of the happiest memories of my life. But he left again when he found out she was pregnant, and he tried to destroy my life after that.
I wrote him multiple letters of course. I’d never felt more myself, open and free, than I did with him, and haven’t felt like that with anyone since then.
I thankfully didn’t give him the letters but a year later I published a short love story about him teaching me how to surf. I didn’t identify him in any way, but an old roommate sent it to him and he unblocked me to tear me down. “Me and our old roommates had a nice laugh at that garbage you wrote. You’re delusional, and no one will ever love you.”
Why am I equating “writing authentically from my heart for my online readers” to “love letters I write to boys who hurt me”?
Well, why do I only tell people I love them after they’re gone?
I’m afraid of rejection. But I want to be honest. To admit to someone the depths of your feelings for them is to risk pain and rejection. So if I wait until I’m already in agonizing heartbreak pain, then additional pain won’t really be noticeable.
I guess I see the things I write and share publicly as love letters from me to you. “This is what’s on my heart. I know there’s someone else out there who feels like this. You’re not alone.”
I’m afraid that no one else feels like me, so I edit my heart words into oblivion. Try to mask them with style and professionalism. And thus, most of them rot away in my drafts folder.
Maybe the unedited writings from my soul will feel like fever dream letters to someone, not worth keeping, but that’s okay. I’d rather connect with the right people than make perfect sense to all the people.
While I’m not ready to risk more romantic pain any time soon, I am ready to put more “delusional garbage” on the internet. Because I love my words and I know I have good things to say and I know someone out there feels the same way I do.
And I want you to know that I love you.
Hold me down
Human feet aren’t planted into the ground, so most of us don’t think about how fundamentally connected to the earth our bodies are.
—Michael Gungor, This
For a man who had been so intimate and deep in his conversation, he was very detached in the moment. Maybe if you lived as many lives as he had, the only person you really had any kind of intimate relationship with was yourself.
—Matt Haig, The Midnight Library
Sometimes I have trouble sleeping.
It’s not like I’m tossing and turning, mentally replaying weird conversations, worrying about inflation, contemplating the meaning of existence. The “what if” anxiety that plagues many people. I don’t know much, but I at least know how to control my thoughts and meditate myself to sleep.
But it seems as though, instead, I suffer from nighttime vertigo.
I remember occassionally experiencing this as a kid. The symptoms were strange, though not cause for alarm. But now it’s happening every single week, multiple days a week.
When I’m in bed, lights off, and my body finally starts to relax, different body parts starting to get sort of warm and numb, the way it feels right before you fall asleep, sometimes that numbness makes me disassociate. My hands feel massive and so swollen that I can’t bend my fingers, and then my mind repetitively envisions me fruitlessly trying to pick up a tiny object. Or people flash close and far, as quickly as the ticking of a clock. Tick, they’re right in front of my face. Tock, they’re on the other end of a massive room. Tick, they’re in my face again. Or it feels like a very large person is sitting on me and I can’t move. Or I feel like my body is floating to the edge of the bed and that I’m going to fall off, but I don’t. Sometimes all of those things are happening at once. It’s not sleep paralysis. I’m fully awake and able to move my body. It all stops once I move and readjust. The problem with readjusting is that it brings me out of the warm sleepy state and I have to start the “trying to fall asleep” process all over again.
I’ve tried not moving, holding still and calm while my mind goes nuts, hoping that I’ll just fall asleep and be done with it all, but if I don’t move, it all just intensifies until I feel like I’m going to throw up.
I wonder if getting a weighted blanket would help, if consistent weight pressed down over my entire body would help me stop disassociating as I’m falling asleep. My brother Zach had a weighted blanket. I started thinking about it a few months after he died, wondering if anyone would mind if I claimed it. It seemed like a very comforting idea to curl up under it, in his specifically, the way it’s comforting to wear his t-shirts. I’m currently wearing his cute yellow and white striped t-shirt. It fits me perfectly. He had the best fashion sense out of all of us. But I wonder what prompted him to buy the weighted blanket. I remember when he got it, he excitedly showed it off to me. He seemed to like buying comforting objects. His weighted blanket, his big hooded robe, his fluffy bedroom rug, his lavender bubble bath.
The blanket was nowhere to be found in his tiny bedroom. My mom and I both looked, because she also out of the blue started to be curious of its whereabouts. Finally she decided to call, I’m not sure who. There were so many different people that day, that week. The police, the coroner, the perky emotional support lady who I wanted to punch in the face, the people in jumpsuits with a gurney and a body bag, the mortician, the dead body house cleaning service. Who did she call? I have no idea. But they said yes, his weighted blanket was taken. It had been soaked with blood.
Scratch the weighted blanket idea.
Maybe I should get a warm and breathing boyfriend and then I can ask him to lay on top of me so I don’t detach from the earth and fly out into the abyss. The last time I had an actual (Instagram official) boyfriend, four and a half years ago, he came to visit me and was supposed to sleep in my room while I was ordered by my mother to sleep on the couch.
But perhaps the second night of his visit, my mom fell asleep on the couch watching TV and I accidentally fell asleep in a chair in another room waiting for her to wake up so I could go to bed. It was super late and it was January and a bit chilly and I woke up to my boyfriend piling pillows on top of me to keep me warm. Everyone was asleep and he didn’t know where anything was so, pillows. He said “I used to do this as a kid.” I felt so warm and loved and safe under all those pillows.
Looking back though, I should have just cuddled up in my bed with him.
I respected my parents too much to break rules in their house, but I definitely broke rules when I attended bible college a few years earlier. It was super strict there and PDA wasn’t allowed. I remember being horrified one evening when this wannabe pastor boy did like a practice sermon at one of our chapels, and at the end of it he called his girlfriend up to the stage and proposed to her. I wouldn’t have said yes to that kind of garbage proposal, but of course the girlfriend did. Then they chastely hugged, until one of the head honchoes at the college whispered something in the pastor bro’s ear, and the lad pulled away from the hug and planted a smackeroo on his new fiancé’s lips. Everyone whooped and hollered “OHH SNAP THEY’RE KISSING” but I rolled my eyes so fucking hard. Like . . . they had to get permission to kiss after getting engaged. Gag me with a spoon.
I had a bible college boyfriend who I loved to go camping with, and sometimes we got super angsty and were just like, fuck campus. During weeks when we couldn’t get away to go camping, we’d occasionally drive off at night, park at the edge of the Winco Foods parking lot, and squeeze into his sleeping bag. We never had sex, though we did laugh at all the kids who got kicked out of school for getting caught doing the deed.
I loved the whispered campus gossip. “Hey, where’s so-and-s0? I haven’t seen them around for a while.” “Oh, so-and-so got caught sleeping with so-and-so, and they both got booted.” So good.
I didn’t want to have sex with my boyfriend, and he never did or said anything to suggest he wanted it either, so we’d just make out for a bit, cuddle up, and sleep. I loved the tight comfort of sharing a sleeping bag, being safe and warm with him. I loved that my body felt safe with him, but when we were done talking for the night, I was free to think and imagine whatever I wanted.
Safe body, free mind.
But eventually they want the mind to conform or they don’t like what the body is doing. When they start assuming or expecting, that’s when my mind starts to drift or my body gets rigid. It’s like the ease and connection between my body and mind never stay in tact for very long. Like passing through a veil. It’s either one or the other, only connected for fleeting moments.
Another bible college story:
I had a strange experience during my first semester there, in 2014. There was this outdoor worship night going on in one of the gazebos. It was pretty early on in the semester and I didn’t know very many people yet, so I was just sitting with my roommates on a spread of bohemian blankets. I always got pretty overwhelmed with drawn out worship events, so after a bit I just laid back in the grass and looked up at the stars, trying to detach from the emotional hype of the environment and not get anxiety about being stuck there with all that noise.
While looking at the stars, I suddenly got really cold and felt like I was floating. It was like I was in space or something, and all of sudden I found myself pleading with God to just free me from the earth, from my body, so I could fly among the stars. But after maybe a minute or two of that, I got really warm and felt like I was leaving the sky and being pressed into the earth. I could feel the vibrations in the ground from all the bodies that surrounded me. I don’t really know what that was all about, but at the time I thought it was a message about longing to go to heaven but being told that I was here on earth for a purpose and couldn’t leave yet.
Maybe that’s still the message, in a less Christianly way.
Every personality test I take tells me I value my individuality above all else, that I’m flighty and airy. If astrology holds any weight at all, I’m a triple air sign (gemini sun, libra moon, gemini rising). Floaty, detached, not all quite there.
I took this test called a “dosha” test, which according to Ayurvedic medicine is your body’s “bio-energy center.” I got “vata,” which represents space and air, the physical characteristics of which are: thin body frame, sensitive digestion, energetic, dry skin, cold hands and feet, and sudden bouts of fatigue and tiredness. Which very much describes me. One of the remedies for this energy type is to consume “heavy” foods like porridge, soup, stew. The remedy is always to ground. To not be so free that I lose awareness of my body, and in the process, lose my mind next.
I don’t know what my brain wants. I know I can’t fly. I don’t want to die. Maybe this is why I like meditation. It’s like a body/earth detachment in a very safe way. Maybe I should learn astral projection next.
Maybe I was a bird in my last reincarnation and there’s still some of that energy in me, my ancient body wondering why I’m tethered to the earth when clearly I was meant to soar. Maybe that’s my lesson to learn in this body’s lifetime. How to access freedom without my feathered wings.
I want to be here. I want to be grounded. I want to give love. I want to be present. I want to look someone in the eyes and say, “yes I’m here, I see you, I’m in this moment for you, I’m pressed into the earth for you.”
Maybe that’s something I have to learn to say to myself before I can say it to another person.
I will stay. I will stay. I’m not going anywhere. I’ll stay here for a hundred years if my body is up for it. If my body is willing to hold me down for that long.
But when I die, hallelujah, by-and-by, I’ll fly away.
Resistance is futile
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.
—Sun Tsu, The Art of War
There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: it’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.
—Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
I’ve forgotten about Resistance.
It’s often depicted as a dragon, either slowly circling above in the sky, easy to see approaching, or standing right in front of you, belching flames. It’s the ego, the devil, the toxic thoughts—the obstacle you need to get past to pursue your dreams or whatever. To get something that’s important to you fucking accomplished.
But the dragon is a terrible visualization of Resistance, because it leads to the delusion that it’s an external force or that it’s this big obvious thing you can see coming right away.
Unfortunately it’s all much sneakier than that.
To understand Resistance properly, one needs to understand the mind. Because that’s where all obstacles flow from. And from my experience and experiments, the mind makes things appear bigger or worse than they actually are. Because we perceive reality through our minds, any contrary thought that pops up in opposition to a lofty goal or worthy ideal appears as an insurmountable obstacle.
Hence, our thoughts are the sole reason why we don’t do what we fucking want.
So why haven’t I written anything this month? Because of my bullshit thoughts. Here’s a look at my “dragons” this month:
“I can’t write. I have more inner work to do on myself first before I can keep publicly displaying my thoughts and words. I need to heal more so I don’t accidentally put my trauma on display and make the world a worse place.”
“I can’t write. I’m too tired. I’m probably depressed or have chronic fatigue. I need to hold space for myself and take a break from writing until I feel 100% perfect. It’s just the season I’m in right now.”
“I can’t write. I need to organize all the documents and files of everything I’ve written in the past several years. This will actually really help the process of writing my memoir, so it’s okay if I stop writing while doing this organization project.”
UGH. Gag me.
The mind is so potent that when these thoughts were living rent-free in my head, they felt so practical and justifiable. But seeing them written out like this pisses me off so much, because now I see how stupid they actually are. There’s something about writing a thought down on paper that makes it lose its power (in a good way). You’re able to see it objectively, from a distance. (Of course, there’s a way to infuse your writing with intentional energy to make the thought MORE potent, not less, but that’s a topic for another time;)
I remember a couple years ago when I was still on social media, a writer I like named Amie McNee posted that one of her limiting beliefs she had to overcome was that she couldn’t be a writer because she sucked at spelling. At the time I thought that was so fucking lame, like rolling my eyes, thinking, “Some of us have actual real shit to deal with.”
But truly it’s no different, no lamer than my own thoughts. Lame or not, if these thoughts go unchecked, they WILL cripple us.
The thought I struggle with the most when it comes to my writing is all the capital “I’s” that infest my paragraphs. They look like flimsy toothpicks, standing tall but feigning stability. I love memoir and essay style writing, which requires me to talk about myself, or talk about things through the lens of Ally Brennan. And my thoughts love to attack me on this. They call me self-absorbed, shallow, limited, unhelpful, and that I’m not even egoic enough to at least be entertaining. My thoughts say I’ll never be a real writer unless I go back to writing fiction, or that I should be directly helping people solve a specific problem by writing in a topical niche style.
I guarantee that if I actually switched to fiction writing, my brain would tell me, “You’re wasting people’s time with these silly stories. The world doesn’t need them. You should be helping people by writing practical articles, with expert teachings and solutions, not hiding behind these made up fantasies.” Or if I honed in on a specific niche topic and wrote helpful articles on that subject, my brain would accuse me of being a sellout chump just trying to make a buck (because “the riches are in the niches”).
It doesn’t matter which way you turn, Resistance will follow you there. So you might as well do the thing that makes you light up.
And for whatever reason, I love writing sentences that start with the letter “I.”
I guess because I love reading other people’s “I” writing and getting a different perspective on things. I have a lazy eye, like my left eye really sucks and I can’t see shit out of it (no, you can’t tell that I have a lazy eye unless I try to go cross eyed, which I definitely won’t do unless we’re BFF’s). When I was a kid I would walk around the house with a small mirror held up next to my right eye, my good eye, trying to emulate what it would be like to have two normal eyes. I liked the different perspective I saw in this mirror world. I wanted to crawl inside of it. So I like to see different perspectives. The humanness of a stranger. They’re not trying to do anything but tell their story in a meaningful engaging way. I love that I can see pieces of myself in everyone I read, no matter how different they may seem.
And the other thing is that I don’t absorb dry facts unless they’re tied to someone’s personal experience or perspective. It’s why I hated school so much, because I couldn’t make any connections inside of the info dump I was receiving. I couldn’t make the information relevant. If a fact is associated with a person and their story, then I remember it, then the fact makes sense.
These are just small validations I have to give myself sometimes, in order to not freeze up when I want to write about myself. It’s okay, I say.
The thing that REALLY helped me gain some traction on these toxic thoughts was re-reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. I first read it a few years ago and then re-read it a couple weeks ago. And now I want to recommend it to everyone on the planet because it sort of feels like an instruction manual for life.
One section of his book covers pretty much every excuse I had written at the beginning of this essay for why I couldn’t write. Procrastination due to fear of facing the blank page. Never-ending “healing” as a form of distraction from the work. He even had his own example of almost not writing The War of Art because it was non-fiction and Resistance told him he was solely a fiction author and should be presenting these ideas through story form, rather than practically and overtly.
I’ve known of the phrase “know thine enemy,” popularized by Sun Tsu’s book The Art of War, but it never seemed like a relevant concept to me until now.
When I left Christianity I was all too eager to shed the existence of Satan as well, the admonitions to watch out for his temptations, to stay on the straight and narrow. But now I don’t think it’s such a bad idea, if you reframe it a little bit. If you desire something specific in life, you literally need to follow a straight and narrow (mental) path to get to it. And now I know there actually is a force, whatever you want to call it, that will do whatever it takes to keep you from reaching that specific desire.
Keeping these two thoughts in my head, that I’m actively pursuing the deepest desire in my heart of being a writer and that a toxic force is actively trying to stop me, it makes it easier to face the fears in my head. I don’t have to be caught off guard anymore. I know my enemy.
And even if my fears were actually true, should that be the reason I stop writing? Obviously not. That’s pussy shit. If I have the ability to sit down and write, then I’m going to sit down and write. Resistance is now futile.