Some Light Blinds, Some Illuminates: I Once Was Right But Now I See

In the chaos of upended routines and travel and summer heat, words have been coming to me fast and wild, unplanned reflections and questions and poems born out of a swirling cacophony of new experiences and ideas crashing into old rhythms and assumptions. Like pouring from a full pitcher, each time inspiration struck the flow was heavy and relentless to the last drop, and then there wasn’t any more. Now all of those words sit on my computer, untouched, unseen. I’m unsure what to do with them. The passion they were written with evaporated like water from swimsuit on a line. A limp memory, waiting for a body to set it back into motion. My body? I’m at a loss. 

This kind of creative existential crisis has struck before, though I have no new insights about how to steer out of it. It usually involves blankly staring at the blinking cursor while wondering who I’m actually writing for and if it’s actually useful, or if it’s just my private therapy that I foist upon the public. (The public! I have to laugh at my own vanity. I love you, dear readers, but you hover in the double digits.)

Some expert writers tell you that you must clearly define the question your writing answers or the problem that it solves. That way your readers know right away if they need you. Others encourage free-form stream of conscious writing, they passionately declare the craft an end to itself that should never be bridled with platforms or marketing strategies. I’ve also read that writers should always be responding to the world around them, engaging with the issues of the day in order to stay relevant. Of course, “they” also say it is our unique voice and interests that make this whole pursuit worthwhile, and losing touch with our own lens would be catastrophic. Naturally, my response to all these competing perspectives has been to attempt to appease every last one. The radio silence on this blog tells you everything there is to know about how that went down.

I didn’t always feel this way. I remember writing with urgency and conviction when I was younger and still firmly bound to the traditions and ideas of my childhood. Certainty was a brilliant light that blasted all competing questions to the shadows. I knew just what I wanted to say, and I knew that everyone needed to hear it. The light was my guide and my home. It burned so bright that I could not see anything else beyond some vague awareness of the dark periphery. Why would anyone go there when you could gaze into this luminous purity? It burned through my whole being until there was nothing left of me and I was pure light too.

black and white lights sun ray of sunshine

Photo by Little Visuals on Pexels.com

But no matter how intently I focused on the brightness, the shadows converge. It’s simply not possible to move through life without bumping up against these dark forms and ripples that filter and bend the light. As I turn my gaze from the single minded conviction of what “ought to be” and encounter what I thought were shadows, I realize my eyes were actually being blinded, not illuminated. There is a whole universe waiting to be taken in and explored.

Do you know this sensation? It takes a while for our eyes to adjust and make sense of what we are seeing – a riotous display of colors and textures and music and emotion and creativity and, of all things, light! We begin to realize all that we were missing in our single-minded pursuit of pure light alone. We realize that the people we thought were “lost” to the shadows were merely on their own journey of exploration, many of them now reaching out towards us in compassion and love. We can finally really see them because they are no longer others. This new dimension, blending together color and emotion and music and light, it unites us without rules or doctrines or creeds.  There is Divinity here. But also Humanity. We are not in tension. We experience freedom we didn’t know we were longing for. Bit by bit we learn to honor all the parts of ourselves, our bodies, our experiences, our needs and desires. The purging, forging, and burning of our former reality seems absurd in this new realm. And to think it was here all along!

sea of clouds sunrise wallpaper

Photo by Rahul on Pexels.com

And yet, I still find myself longing for the old binary. Fear, doubt, insecurity, stress, pain, the weight of any of these emotions can send me reeling back to familiar certainties. Just like staring into a bright light leaves a temporary mark in your field of vision, I think that all my years staring into the floodlights of certainty has left a lasting blind spot. I am learning to trust other senses to compensate for the loss, other voices too, but when I become disembodied – when I feel shame about my emotions or experiences – I feel my eyes searching for that light again. I want the complexities to fade. I want the simple answers. I want to feel right and pure and clean. I want what it promises, even though I know it can’t deliver.

If this summer is any indication, I think that the times when we are flourishing and growing in new patterns and self care are exactly the seasons when we are most susceptible to falling back into old ways. We are like children hungrily taking in a wonderful new experience. When our senses become overloaded our emotions follow and without the compassionate embrace of a friend or guide, and sometimes even with it, meltdown is immanent. And that’s okay.

I want to explore this experience. To be more present to my feelings as they surface rather than trying to stuff them down or shame them away. I wonder why I continue to revert to old, self-defeating habits just after spending time listening to what my body needs. Why do my heckles still rise when I hear stories of lives lived so differently than my own? What tools can embodiment offer us as we navigate this vibrant and difficult world? How can we walk with one another in postures of compassion and love on a journey that is anything but linear? Why does the shame spiral of a loved one so often trigger our own reflex of self-preservation and denial, and what can we do about that? I have so many questions about how my body and mind are working together in all this – I hope some research will help me gain a better understanding about how our physical and mental/emotional and spiritual forms impact one another. But I also want to follow the questions that wonder why, and why not, and what now, and what if?

It was a strange summer, a failure by any measure of productivity. I didn’t accomplish a single one of my writing goals. And yet, I feel that I have grown. I write to you now, this first week of September, with fresh eyes and gratitude to all those writing teachers who insist on the stream of consciousness sort of writing. They were so right.

symmetrical photography of clouds covered blue sky

Photo by James Wheeler on Pexels.com

 

 

Standard

what does she call herself

I’ve been trying to muster the confidence to tell people that I’m a writer.

I feel like such a phony even typing that sentence – a little kid playing dress up in her mother’s clothes. Pretending. Wishful thinking. The last English class I took was in high school. I have no formal training. Nothing published. “Writer” is a title I try on in the privacy of my own home, comedic anywhere else.

And yet, when people ask me what I do with my time while the kids are at school, something deep inside me pushes out the words “I write!” And in that moment, I believe it. I feel a rush of gratitude for this season of life. I feel proud. They smile, leaning in a little, and say, “Wow! That’s wonderful!”

But of course they can’t stop there. Oh no. Friends, strangers, even those endlessly cheerful Trader Joe’s grocery baggers, all united in delivering the gut punch that both affirms my vocation and decimates my confidence: “So, What are you writing?” They smile expectantly. I blink and think “WHAT AM I WRITING?”, internally spiraling into an identity crisis while they wait for my answer. I stammer out “I’m doing this workbook…it has exercises…there’s a group I go to sometimes…” and the silence hangs heavy, pulling my head down in shame as they give a little confused nod, drawing back a step or two, glancing sideways for the exit.

And then, and I cannot believe I am admitting this because it is HORRIFYING, I hear myself saying, “I actually have my workbook here with me…if you’d like to see it” and then I watch helplessly as my hands (My hands! What are they doing! Make it stop!) rummage through my purse and, in painful slower-than-slow motion, produce the workbook. I hold it out to them with holy reverence as if they will, upon feeling it’s paperback glory in their own hands instantly understand the authority it grants me to do seemingly frivolous things like sit at home and do writing exercises instead of getting a real job and paying off my student loans. (I am so sorry if I have done this to you. I have lost all control. Forgive me.)

Needless to say, I’m staying close to home these days.

And that is how I find myself here, sitting at my dirty kitchen table, surrounded by abandoned breakfast dishes and wondering if this was a mistake. Wondering where to begin. A mug of half finished tea sits cold in front of me, an oily film forming on top. I can hear our unwelcome mouse guests scurrying through the heating vents. Sunlight is streaming in through the window, warming my slippered feet. It’s beautiful outside. One of those perfect fall days that starts with frost on the grass and has you shedding layers by lunch.

I glance at the clock every two minutes, feeling guilty. I need to get groceries. To fold laundry. To finish sewing a baby gift. There are emails to respond to. A ballet costume to arrange payment for. Dishes.

So much of writing, like any creative work, seems to be just holding space for what could be. Like a weekly coffee date with a friend, creative work is sacred time that can only come alive without the weight of expectations. Sitting across from a person I love I must set aside my desire to control the conversation and simply be open to where it leads. Maybe today we will talk about our parental failures. Maybe we will speak our greatest hopes and fears into our mugs. Or maybe we will trade brownie recipes and Netflix recommendations. The gift is in the presence.

So I keep coming back to this question: How much should I try to shape this work to be one specific thing – an answer for an identity crisis, a launching point for a career, an exercise in embarrassing oversharing; and when should I honor the unknown and let it simply become whatever it can be?

This creative crisis seems like a mirror reflecting something much larger about life. In the work of writing I notice how fragile we all are. Longing for connection. We struggle to see through the humid anxiety of our insecurities to understand that a lengthy Netflix binge list is probably code for “I’m lonely too.” Code for “invite me over”. Code for “I’m stuck and need encouragement.”

man and woman having a tea conversation

Photo by Burst on Pexels.com


I want to tell you about this flurry of writing that came to me this morning, memories of high school and college rushing in faster than I could write them down. The smells of cleaning agent on linoleum, the feeling of the scratchy dorm furniture, the metal sound of a hundred slamming lockers, all of it came flooding right back. But what I wanted most was to remember how it was to BE that younger version of me. To understand why that person didn’t, or couldn’t get off the fundamentalism train for so many years. What held here there?

I want to tell you about the challenges of our marriage and also the enormous progress we’ve made as we practice better emotional hygiene and boundaries and extend more grace. I want to tell you how confused I am by people who don’t seem to struggle in marriage – how I wonder if my expectations for honesty and intimacy are too high or theirs too low. How I hate the comparison game but I honestly do not understand how it is possible to live life without doing it. How mental illness has been a monster but also a freedom – forcing us to name rather than ignore our beast. With a name, it can be conquered.

I want to tell you about the loaded conversations Evelyn keeps lobbing into our laps at the dinner table, challenging my lofty ethics to engage in the mess of real life. How she says these things that cut so deftly to my core that sometimes it feels like she’s knocked the wind right out of me.

I want to pour these things out, clear the piles of ideas I’ve got stacked up in the corners of my mind. I want to invite you in. To hold the tension of these difficult questions together.

But.

I’m worried about hurting family and friends as I recall memories of difficult times. Painful beliefs. Unresolved conflict.

I’m worried about exposing myself to criticism of my heartache, my questions, my dreams.

I’m worried about accidentally sharing stories that are not mine to tell, and also about not sharing stories because I am too afraid of what they will stir up.

And, ultimately, I’m anxious about marking the way I’ve come, exposing all the cringe-worthy moments (years) of life lived in zealous pursuit of something I now realize was so dangerous and dehumanizing. I’m terrified that I could get duped into something like it again – even after years of therapy, of unpacking these questions and hopes, dreaming new dreams and daring to step into them.

And that’s the core of it: I’m still staring down the same perfectionist fears I’ve been facing my whole life.

I want to share this journey because I know I’m not the only one with baggage and questions, trying to settle in and do the slow work of growing, always yearning for the curious unknown.

I want you to know you’re not alone. I want more than your Netflix recommendations. I want to help you honor who you have been, who you are becoming, and the magnificent wisdom, love, scars, and light you carry with you today.

Because it’s the becoming AND the unbecoming that marks the path of growth.

So let’s un-become together. Honoring our histories, loving our younger selves. Let’s look with anticipation to our future wisdom and her warm embrace. You are beloved. You are just right. Can you believe it?

IMG_1894

Standard