On writing: a stream of consciousness

It’s one of those nights when you can’t make yourself write whatever it is you’re supposed to be writing. When you lay on the couch and press the button that says, “Yes Netflix, I am still watching. Yes, I know I’ve been watching for multiple consecutive hours. Yes, I know there’s definitely something better I should be doing with my time. But right now, right this minute, I’m going to continue watching West Wing and running away from my crippling insecurities.”

It’s one of those days when you know you haven’t written anything good. You know you haven’t written anything worth reading. You wrote an article, yes. It met the word count and it was submitted long before deadline, not at 2 or 3am when you normally turn in an article. But it wasn’t anything worth reading. It wasn’t particularly good writing. It was decent writing, submitted on deadline, content to entice readers, to gain views. You’re Hemingway when he wrote for the newspaper, before he published any stories. You’re writing to get paid.

It’s been one of those days when you wonder if you’ll ever actually be a writer who’s worth anything at all. When you wonder if you’ll ever write that one great article. When you wonder if you’re ever actually going to write the novel you keep telling everyone you’re going to write. When you wonder all day if anyone’s going to publish that story you think is really good.

When you fear that one day you’ll run out of ideas entirely. When you fear that someday you won’t be able to put words together anymore. And what if that day is today? What if I’ve run dry before I’ve even started?

It’s been one of those days when you wonder if you’re actually a good writer at all or if everyone else is just humoring you. If you’re just better than some and not truly extraordinary. Because that’s all you’ve ever wanted to be is extraordinary. Is that too much to ask? Perhaps.

It’s been one of those days when you wonder why you wanted to do this at all. Why you abandoned all other pursuits and chose to write. Do you really love it at all? Actually, that’s not even a question. You know you love it, but is it worth all this anguish? With a brain like yours, is writing really something you should be devoting your life to? A career that’s so based inside your head, which isn’t the best place to be. A career that’s so dependent on the acceptance and validation of others, where rejection is much more common than acceptance. Is this really what’s best for you, a hypercritical, overly sensitive fragile creature?

This would be agonizing if I didn’t know that this is the struggle of all writers. A constant paradox: the conviction that your voice is special enough to be worth hearing balanced with the conviction that nothing you write is worth reading. Walking the fine line between believing that you’re everything and that you’re nothing. Walking the tightrope of arrogance and self-loathing. I’m glad so many writers have written about these feelings because if I thought I was alone in this struggle I’d never have made it to my desk tonight. I’d never have sat down and put together words. And in the end that’s all that matters. Sitting down and putting words together to express a thought, a feeling. Hopefully in an order that makes sense to somebody.

I am a writer. I struggle to internally justify that existence to myself and the world. I want so badly to write that one thing that proves to everyone that I am a real writer, that I am really worth it. But I am already a writer. My mental anguish over being so proves it.

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The Value of the Struggle

I took a bit of an unplanned hiatus. Partially because I was visiting my family this weekend. We had a lovely time. But the other part of the hiatus is that I was having a really rough time last week. I’m still kind of having a hard time. I don’t like to admit that. I am more than willing to share the stories of my struggles after they’re over, when I’ve gotten through them and have some insight to share. I do not like talking about my struggles while they’re happening. It doesn’t matter what I’m having trouble with or how many times I’ve talked about it before. When I’m struggling I don’t want anyone to know.

I have spent so much energy throughout my life creating facades. I used to be much better at this than I am now. In the past, my entire life was devoted to making sure that things looked great on the outside even though I was suffering internally. I thought sharing about my struggles was a sign of weakness. I believed that I needed to be able to get through everything on my own in order to be respected. I believed that suffering in stoic silence was a sign of strength. So, I spent my life hiding my pain and smiling through my struggles.

Today it’s much more uncomfortable for me to lie and say I’m fine when I’m not, but I still do this more than I’d like. This is especially true when I am trying to craft a public image. I want people to like me. I want people to think well of me. I want people to think I am strong and cool and that I have my shit together. If it were up to my ego I would only ever post about the times that I am awesome, or the times that I struggled through and overcame adversity all by myself. I wouldn’t share about the times that I spent crying in my room, or zoning out to Netflix for hours at a time, or feeling hopeless. But if I eliminate those experiences from the narrative of me I present here then I’m not being honest or authentic, and I want to be honest and authentic.

So the truth of my absence is that I spent a lot of time watching Alias instead of writing so that I didn’t have to feel lonely and abandoned. I smoked a cigarette instead of bingeing. I got trapped in the bad neighborhood that is my brain and didn’t come out for a few days. I looked in the mirror and didn’t like what I saw. I looked at pictures of myself and wanted to cry. I built a blanket fort on my couch and stayed there instead of hanging out with friends. I was emotionally stuck. The other truth is that I still went to all my scheduled appointments. If I’d made plans prior to getting stuck I kept them instead of canceling them. I didn’t use behaviors to deal with my feelings. I just got stuck feeling lousy and rode it out.

I was reminded during this time that I was exactly where I needed to be and that there is value in the struggle. I can learn more from these stuck places than I can when I’m happy. The growth comes from the pain, not from the contentment. Over and over my experiences have taught me that these things are true. Once I’m on the other side of the emotional stuckness I can see that I have gained new knowledge and insight about myself, but when I’m in it, like deep down in it, these mantras infuriate me. I think, this may be exactly where I need to be, but fuck it, I don’t want to be here. I think, I’m probably learning something valuable right now, but why does it have to feel like this? I think, when will this end? Because when I’m in it it feels interminable.

Right now, I’m beginning to see the true value of the struggle is actually just sitting through it. I never used to be able to sit with my feelings. I always believed I felt too much and it scared me, so as soon as I felt something I reached for a drink, a smoke, or a bag of chips so I didn’t have to feel the feeling anymore. Or if the feelings got too out of control I just starved to prove I could control myself. I didn’t ever allow feelings to happen in their natural course. Today I know that no matter how I feel right now it will go away eventually. Today I know that I don’t have to chase the feelings away, I have to feel them. If I don’t feel them now they’ll just be back later insisting to be felt. I just have to build a blanket fort, be gentle with myself, and wait until the feelings change.

It doesn’t feel good to be in the struggle. It never will. But now I know that I can survive the struggle without falling apart. And I know that I can speak honestly about the struggle. I don’t have to pretend to be anything.