It’s Terrifying Imagining Getting What We Want

This essay was published by Elephant Journal on June 30, 2020 titled, “I Am Digging into My Fears and Desires (It’s Humbling as F*ck)” at https://bit.ly/3guTv42

I believe we can choose any path for our lives.  I also believe that if we commit ourselves to doing work that makes us feel good (which is different for every person), it’s likely we’ll see rewards in some form or other for our efforts.  I believe we often fail to measure success outside of fame and wealth, and I believe that putting in the work does not guarantee us any rewards or specific outcomes other than having done the work that fuels us.

An example of this is I wanted to see my book in bookstores, and it came to be.  This fact makes me happy to think about, but achieving goals that we set, I learned, does not necessarily promise any deeper satisfaction on an emotional or spiritual level like we may have hoped.  As a result, I found myself at a crossroads with my writing.  Somewhere along the way, I became confused and wanted something other than the satisfaction of having done my work in exchange for my output.  I believe this is why writing became exceptionally difficult for me and I went through a prolonged period of writer’s block–because it was no longer about writing.  I had confused writing with Being A Writer.  And there’s quite a difference.

Recently, I sat down to think about what I truly want to spend my time doing and I realized that yes, I do in fact want to write.  As in, regardless of the outcome, I would feel like I spent my time here on earth well if I spent my life writing.   When I then tried to imagine where I want writing to take me, I realized I want my life to be about learning and my writing to be about those lessons.  So then why wasn’t I writing?  When I then tried to imagine that life coming into fruition and what that would feel like, I panicked.

Multiple days in a row I sat with the idea of this life coming to be for me, I’d try to embody the feeling of such a life, and day after day, all I’d see were my fears about such a dream coming true.  When I did this, all kinds of blocks came up for me.  “What if too many people see me!  and know me! and judge me!  What if I succeed and become too visible! or vulnerable!  or known!  What if everyone then hates me!!  What if I’m meant to be small!  and unseen!!  What if I am asking for things I don’t deserve or am not good enough to have or would embarrass my family if I got!!”

Whoa.  I truly had no idea these thoughts were in me.

“Ah,” I thought, “My dreams and wants aren’t motivating me, my fears are.”  Because I hadn’t admitted what I actually wanted, I was living in a sort of Limbo Land dictated by my fears–the fear of being known prevented me from doing too much but the inability in me to just let go of writing, kept me from doing too little.  I was praying for something (success as a writer), but deep down very afraid of that becoming a reality.  This made a lot of sense when I looked at my patterns of throwing myself into writing and then backing off when I started to see some success from it; or when I’d start to be published a lot, and then react by feeling that if I asked my network to read what I had written — even passively, by simply sharing a link — I’d feel ashamed and like a burden to those that know me.

Writing is just one example in my life of refusing to admit what I want and the reasons I was afraid to have it.  I could see this pattern in my romantic life as well.  I was saying I wanted a different situation than I had, but then when I would try to imagine having it’s opposite, I’d feel trapped and scared and resentful.  Oh, again, my wants aren’t aligning with my beliefs, and my beliefs are the stronger force of the two.  I can see that I have exactly what is possible given what I am most afraid of in every single area of my life.

Once I could see the internal struggle in myself by watching what came up when I imagined actually having what I wanted, I saw the literal representation of that struggle in my physical reality.  It’s not magic, it’s just physics (readers note: I am not a magician or a physicist, so apologies if I am mis-representing facts about either one’s reality).  If I am pushing something away, or running from something, then my words about wanting it are irrelevant.  And if I don’t get to the root of my fears, then it doesn’t matter how hard I work or want or pray, I will never be in alignment with myself and thus always just living out variations of the same struggle.

When I realized I wanted to write because of how good it makes me feel, the end results of wherever that took me stopped mattering.  But when I wasn’t writing but wanted to “Be A Writer,” that had nothing to do with actually writing, that was about fear and control and validation.  And I was battling with myself (and The God of Writing), saying that I wasn’t going to write if there wasn’t some promise of reward at the end.  Well the God of Writing called my bluff, I stopped writing, and lo and behold, no rewards came.

That moment was humbling as fuck.  “Oh, so you mean nobody cares if I write or not?  You mean nobody is going to beg me to do it?”  I thought, “Ok… well, I guess I’ll do it anyways.”  I felt about 6 years old and 3 feet high but also ready to write and badly if I needed to, but I was finally ready to write for no other reason than it felt right and good to do so.

We can have an idea in mind of where we would like our life and our work to take us, but when we fail to show up daily for the experience of our life and our work, then what we are after most (intimacy, satisfaction, joy), become elusive to us and we end up missing our lives.  Knowing what I want, doing my daily work with joy, and releasing any entitlement to the outcome — that is where I am at, and it feels wonderful, but I had to get really, really clear on what I wanted, why I wanted it, and what were my underlying fears about achieving it were.

My Teacher or Why We Need A Teacher

This post was published by Elephant Journal on June 19, 2020 at https://bit.ly/3e0zNLy with the title, “Why We Need Spiritual Teachers, Even When We Think We Don’t”

I have an aversion to “Teachers.”  Not those who stand at the heads of classrooms of kids, but those who pre-suppose they have something spiritual to teach.  Which is unfortunate, since I adore self-help.  I don’t trust the glorified guru.  Anyone proposing there is anything outside of oneself to look to for the way — I hate being told what to do (unless it’s in bed).  I think as soon as someone is on a stage then the likelihood of humility (which I see as the most necessary requirement for wisdom), is too greatly reduced for legitimacy to remain.  It scares me because generally I see people confuse the messenger for the message.  And then people are abused and we’re shocked that the person others handed their right minds over to wasn’t above abusing.  And I get it.  I get how and why people want to put free will aside and follow a set of directives and I get how, with unchecked power, someone can become an abuser.

That being said, I believe we need meditation instruction.  I asked for a teacher to show up in my life a couple of years ago (maybe not realizing how hard it would be for me to accept just about anyone into that role) and about a year and a half ago, one showed up.  And she showed up in the only form I could accept her in: a sweet, kind of goofy, lion of a woman whom my first memory of was her explaining to me the meaning of Grace in terms I could understand, 10 years before she officially became my teacher.

Up until last year at my first silent zen retreat, I was flailing around in the dark thinking that that was what I was supposed to be doing.  Thinking that it was all magic and mysticism instead of direct, translatable experience.  I thought I was a magical unicorn on the path of my own journey, when in fact I am just one of the masses who has come to meditation for answers.  My experiences are not unique, which is why she is able to answer my questions before I even ask them: because oh so many have traversed this path before me and everything I experience, though it may appear unique through my eyes, is phenomena that preexists my experience of it.  My questions are expected, my back pain is the norm, my constricted breath is the process.

“You may experience light, or you may not.  You may experience heat, or you may not. You may experience love, or you may not,” she says.  I often want her to stand before her students in all her glory and demand that we recognize her superiority.  But of course, this is not her way.  And I wouldn’t be able to listen to her if she did.  When we first walked and talked last year, she called me “defended.”  I thought this was such a  nice change from being called “defensive.”  At least she was creative about it.  And often she knows (because I’m not shy about telling her) that I am fighting her instruction in my head, that I am refusing to do as she guides, still, just to prove that I am still the one in control.  It doesn’t seem to bother her.  Sometimes she just gets a sad sort of look on her face, all patience and total understanding, “I’ll get there if it’s right for me to get there,” she seems to be saying.

It’s a little bit horrifying and a whole lot relieving to realize how much I don’t know.  It’s like because she demanded no power from me, it allowed me to open my hands to her.  I accept both truths: that I can’t get where I want to go on my own and that it is wholly up to me to decide to do so or not.

Sitting With Absence or How to Let Go of the Wrong Things Even Before You Know What’s Right

Published by Elephant Journal on June 15, 2020 titled “Letting Go is F*cking Hard” at https://bit.ly/3dVVmgB

God I tried to make it work for me.  To make my job the area of my life that brought me the validation I was looking for.  I needed a goal, something to strive for, some area I could point to and say, “See?  I am a success!”  So much of it felt like a fight, nothing about it came easily to me.   I was always fighting something or someone — whether it was a policy that I thought was bullshit or a person that I thought was stupid.  I was the only smart one and the only one working hard enough.  (Sidenote: I should mention that I was also the only one without a life and thus nowhere else to divert my energies except into making the lives of the people I worked with miserable.)  So I clawed and I scratched and I moved ahead.  I advanced and my parents were proud of me.  And I liked what my business cards said.

Where did I think that I was going?  How would I ever know if I’d gotten there?  And what would happen once I did get there?  These were the questions I never asked because had I asked them, I would have seen that I was building a tower of a life that was top heavy and soon to collapse in on itself if I didn’t start paying attention.

I do not always know what is right, but I’m at a place now where, if I listen, my body will tell me definitively if something is wrong.  Without knowing why, I have to concede that when I cried in a meeting with my boss about our plans for me moving forward, my body was telling me: this is wrong.  Consciously I was onboard with our plans. I understood me moving into this role made the most sense, but my shoulders were getting tighter, my posture was getting stiffer, and one wrong move and I knew it was all over.  I’ve had similar experiences in romantic relationships when my head still believes it’s in love but my body no longer wants to be touched.  In both situations, my body knew first.

And it’s hard.  Watching my company rebuild without me.  Staying behind because this is what I wanted, right?  Well no, I have no idea what I want, I just know, that in the moment, I cried.  I didn’t want that, what was being offered.  And so, with nothing to rush in and fill the void, and nothing to direct my energy to to avoid feeling like I’m missing out, I’m stuck just sitting with absence.  Staring at the space where once before there was a career or relationship that I could point to to orient myself.  To tell anecdotes about so people felt they “understood” me and could pinpoint my trajectory in relationship to themselves.  (Because isn’t that all any of us are doing when we ask each other at parties, “So, what do you do?”)  So now, it’s just me.  Here I am, with no answers to give as to why I am standing still (alone) as the parts of my life that are no longer mine (because I let them go) move on without me.

Absence, though uncomfortable, is not something to be avoided or afraid of.  It’s awful.  It’s the bringer to light of all of our discomfort that we have avoided, sometimes, for years.  Absence feels.  Even though you think that it shouldn’t.  Even though this is the one sensation you think shouldn’t feel like anything, it does.

More often than not, for me absence feels like reaching.  But this is just my reaction to the sensation — when something itches, we scratch it, right?  Reaching is my denial of what is and my refusal to accept the here and now.  It is the enactment of the belief that I need (and am in control) to change it.  So instead of sitting with my bruised ego or lonely heart (what if he was the one???), I’ll look for something to reach for — accolades, validation, another body.  But the scary, pain-staking alternative I finally see after years of reaching, is to finally stop running from the result of my actions, the result of having let go of something wrong for me.  I can now (on the days I’m feeling strong, I’m only human after all) allow for mere moments at a time, the absence to spread out, to stop trying to contain it or stuff it down, folding it into the smallest possible size and stuffing it into a pocket of myself I never visit, hoping to forget its existence entirely.  I am in the midst of this right now.  I do not have an answer as to what happens on the other side of absence, but I believe that settling in in this moment of fear and uncertainty is one of the first times I’m not just letting go of what’s wrong and instead, actively choosing what’s right.

When You Avoid Doing Your Work, All You Miss is Your Life

This essay was featured on ElephantJournal.com on June 13, 2020 under the title “When We Avoid Doing Our Work, We Miss Out on The Lives We’re Meant to Live” at 
https://bit.ly/2ZR9T8n

I have always had trouble remembering that I am an individual and therefore a separate entity within a relationship when I am dating someone.  My body and brain seem to jump to the excellent idea that I am a New!  Shiny!  Hybrid! of an identity that resulted from the merging of him with me when his love smacked into my love and we thus got to stop being ourselves (which was exhausting, if I’m being honest) and now got to take on the world as a Terminator kind of being never having to be our lonely selves again.  (I never saw Terminator, I still feel like this metaphor works, though, so go with me.)  I seem to have been humming 2 Become 1 by the Spice Girls for the past 14 years.

When you’re 32 and you can no longer avoid staring at your relationship history thanks to Facebook’s adorable way of not letting you forget anything, I’ve been forced to realize that I may not have the healthiest set of patterns in romantic love.  This was not an easy conclusion to draw and took many, many instances of crying inappropriately (see: drunkenly) and making unreasonable demands of many exasperated men.  When I look at my spotty dating history one thing stands out unfortunately clearly: I have never managed to write while in a relationship.  I have existed within a push-pull menage-a-trois between writing and commitment because I can’t live without either (or I have no desire to), so I swing between relationships, finding my writing practice in the spaces between them.  I am forced to chalk this up to the routine I have of abandoning myself in the hopes of getting to be someone else with someone else for the duration of the relationship.

Writing, for me, requires going to that place inside myself that is wholly isolated from everyone else.  It is the well from which springs my whole personality, art, words and expression of any kind.  It is inaccessible to anyone on the outside and sometimes, if I am not careful, can be avoided or not visited by me for (detrimentally) long periods of time.  This can happen because of intentional avoidance or because I become so caught up in outside distraction that I forget to do the work of reconnecting with that part of me. Anything can be that distraction — some are better at it than others — vices like shopping, eating, drinking, netflix, social media, but these ones are rather shallow and it’s hard to fool yourself into seeing them as legitimate.  The better ones, the ones you can trick yourself into buying into for much, much longer periods of time, are the socially acceptable “adult pursuits” of romantic relationships, career ambitions, motherhood, etc.  When pursued from an authentic, grounded, heartfelt place, these pursuits a life do make.

But if you throw yourself into these “smart” pursuits without wisdom and connection and authenticity, they are vapid and draining and soul destroying (I don’t have kids, I’m guessing that’s obvious by now).   Full commitment of energy without a connection to your deeper self leads to burn out and dissatisfaction and resentment.  And then you blame your life and the areas you decided to put your energy.  You may have thought it was virtuous to avoid or ignore the yearnings of your heart, you may have thought that by doing so you’d be rewarded in some way and yet instead feel vacuous and empty, let down and resentful (she says from personal experience).  But the only way those pursuits can be affirming and life-giving, is when they’ve been done in conjunction with a captain in connection to her own compass (Yep.  I just said that.).  This is what I have always been lacking in my own pursuits, whether it be love or travel or career.

Or Art.

And I say that with zero judgement or scorn towards myself.  I completely understand because it’s goddamn scary to go to that place and then do it again the next day, and it doesn’t seem to become less scary the more you do it.  But this is also what I have discovered, and it is something that I am not good at: I have to force my intellect to trump my emotions in this instance.  I am going to be afraid, and then I have to choose to do it anyways.  Every. Single. Day.

If you are looking to make these changes for yourself, first you must figure out the way that most easily and efficiently taps you into yourself.  For me, it’s writing.  Free write, by hand for 30 minutes.  One way I can be sure that this is my way and my work is because of the neon sign that is my avoidance and aversion to doing it.  I’ll avoid writing like nothing else in my life.  I picked up and maintained a yoga practise for three years simply to avoid writing.  Do you know how fucking hard it is to start and maintain an exercise practise for three fucking years?  Well not very, it turns out, when your sole motivation for doing it is avoiding the one thing you are actually supposed to be doing.

Once you have identified what it is you should be doing (maybe by noticing what it is at all costs that you are finding reason not to do) you need to commit yourself to doing it for 3 days in a row.  And just notice how you feel.  Really pay attention to how different it feels during these three days compared to the days you’re in avoidance mode.  If it doesn’t feel any different, then you probably aren’t doing your actual work.  And now, the choice is yours.  Now you know what your life requires in order to be fully yours.  It is entirely up to you.  No one will know if you choose not to do it, many in your life may prefer it if you don’t because you doing your own work will likely reveal to them the work they are avoiding in their own lives (and no one likes to feel inferior).  And you will likely get no external rewards if you do decide to do your work.  But in the days of doing it and the days of not, you will see what choice is right for you.  But a choice it is.

I had to see that I will never be able to trust a relationship — or myself within it — if I am not doing my own work outside of that relationship.  It is not the easy way out, it is the goddamn hard as shit way through.  It’s identifying what area of your life is less than you anticipated and asking yourself, really truly, why?  I liked feeling like a victim, choosing unavailable people to have relationships with and then chalking it up to bad luck.  I liked waiting for someone to show up and save me from myself.  And I liked running away from myself and towards another person for as long as I did.  But here’s the thing: no one is coming, and there is no reward for blind participation.  You have to choose to show up for yourself every day if you want the reward of a life well lived.  You have to commit to digging out the muck every day, to clearing the slate even when you don’t feel like it, and to committing to yourself first and foremost again and again.  If it sounds like it sucks, then I’m describing it accurately.  The whole doing it bit does kind of suck, but when you see the alternative, it’s also the only option.

You May Not be a F*ck Up After All, You May Just Have PTSD!

Have you been suffering from extreme wanderlust, poor relationships, social anxiety, work anxiety, family anxiety, or grocery store anxiety?  Or maybe just an unhealthy attachment style in your romantic relationships? What about binge and/or emotional eating?  Shopping addiction?  Social media addiction?  Love addiction?  Really, any kind of addiction??  Have no fear!!  You may just be suffering from PTSD!!

She said it as if she wasn’t dropping a bomb onto my entire life thus far.  The way she said it was actually pretty flippant, she just kind of casually dropped it on the counter while she was moving between rooms, very little thought involved: PTSD.  Like I must have heard this time and time again from medical professionals.  I hadn’t.  I’d never heard it said in relation to me before.

All of the self-help, all of the seminars, personality quizzes and speakers — they were all just dancing me around the one central issue that it would have been impossible for them to diagnose because even I didn’t believe it warranted remembering.  So I didn’t (remember it).  I knew that it had happened intellectually, but I didn’t REMEMBER it happening (like the feelings or that it was me that it happened to and not just an abstract story).

And then, once she said it — again, I cannot stress this enough, flippantly — I dove into the internet for solace.  Looking to understand what had been going on for all of these years — all of the moving and dissatisfying relationships and overeating and running and simultaneous ability to cling to people and drop people at the drop of a hat — while simultaneously looking for a reason to feel inferior.  I was certain that a full-fledged adult (which I must not be) would not have needed 17 years to uncover this.  There must be something wrong with me that ISN’T explained by post traumatic stress disorder.  There must be something even more pathetic and abnormal about me specifically.  (Always the goddamned need to be special, even in this, the desire to be too advanced for help or too far gone to be saved *face palm emoji*.)

But I didn’t find it.  I found no timelines on what was a reasonable and respectable expanse of time to recover from trauma.  The doctor said “childhood trauma,” I felt like this was giving me too much license to milk it.  I wasn’t 9, I was 15; I wasn’t sexually abused, I was beat up.  Get the fuck over it already, I thought someone should be saying.  So I looked (hard) for an article to do just that, but I didn’t find one.  The audio book she recommended was based on the premise that I deserve compassion not because my pain is legitimate (something I was highly skeptical of) but because I was in pain.

Oh.  This was not going the route I expected it to go, nor the route I felt I deserved.  But I went with it anyways and I did the exercises she told me to do.  I called them “My Feeling Work,” kind of to mock myself, kind of to not.  I did a lot of sitting and crying for two weeks (I was super fun to be around, let me tell you).  One day, early on in the process, I (naively) told myself, “Ok.  You have today.  Get it all out your system then tomorrow you’ll be better.”  So I tried.  I thought about all the sad things I could think of and I forced all of the tears I could manage out of my eyes, but that’s not really how it works.  And the next day, I had to do it all over again.  Some days I’d touch on something especially poignant and cry especially hard, touching something visceral inside myself and feeling almost positive that that had done it, that I’d cried myself better and to prove it I would go the entire next day without needing to cry.  But then, the next next day, my throat would hurt, my jaw would ache, my chest would be tight and I would know there was still more to do.

One day a particular such nerve was struck as I was practicing being in my body, remembering everything I could about that period of time.  This time, I was remembering the first time I went back into the school, which had been where it had happened.  I remember myself (and whether this is a real memory or not, I’m not sure) standing alone looking up at it and deciding in that moment that I decided to go it alone.  I know now, with near certainty, that It was then that I decided I wasn’t interested in allowing others along for the journey with me, I would need to do it (life, I’m assuming) alone.  When I realized this, I cried and cried.  I felt so small and so young and so unprotected.  I spent two or three days on this memory alone.  When I got to the point that I no longer cried thinking about it, I then imagined standing in front of that building at 15 and making a different choice.  Instead of shutting such a huge part of myself down, I tried to rewrite my memories as if, at that time, I’d felt safe enough to break as I’d been broken, and let those around me stand by me instead of refusing to admit that any harm had been done even though the evidence was written across my broken nose and black eyes.  At that time, I believed that acknowledging I’d been hurt was letting my attacker hurt me again and I was unable to give that power to anyone.  That belief and the choice that followed, resulted in only living half of a life for all the years that followed.

When I remembered what I had chosen to forget, I imagine it looking like the moment Buffy re-entered her body at the beginning of season 6 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  She’d been dead for the summer after jumping into a vortex of Hell to save humanity (as one does–but please, do not confuse this with the first time she was brought back to life in season one which was death by drowning/vampire bite to the neck), and her friends decide to use magic to return her soul to her body. But really, I’m sure nothing external happened, instead just the internal discovery of a pocket I’d long ago decided to not know was there anymore.

Just like other times in my life, whenever I’ve had big realizations, a feeling of peace comes over me momentarily as if I’ve solved something (I liken it to an emotional orgasm, though I’m sure counselors would call it something boring like a breakthrough).  It’s always short lived, because I don’t mean it feels like I’ve solved a specific problem in my life, I mean it feels like I’ve solved the problem of life.  But of course this is impossible because it presupposes that there’s an end point, that life can be solved, that there’s a point of completion to reach.  And there isn’t.  If it is a puzzle, this thing called living, then it’s like the universe itself or a set of beaver’s teeth: it just never stops expanding.  There will always be more to learn.  This was a really big piece of my puzzle, it answered a lot of questions that I have been grappling with for nearly two decades, but of course, it’s not everything.  Nothing will ever be everything.

I believe that the point of my life is to get better at being kind and honest.  I was very focused on projecting those two ways of being outwards, being those things to others, but it hadn’t really occurred to me that offering those two things to myself would be what I was most in need of.  Directing my kindness and honesty internally finally allowed my nervous system to believe itself to be safe enough to reveal what I had been hiding from myself for 17 years and that allowed me to do My Feeling Work.*

*Legit can’t believe I’m ending an essay with “do My Felling Work.”  Frig.

From (and for) the Writer Who Doesn’t Write and is Sure as Hell Not Going to Start Now

This essay was published by Elephant Journal on June 11, 2020 under the title “Uncomfortable Emotions are Wretched. Here’s Why We Should Feel Them Anyway” at https://www.elephantjournal.com/2020/06/uncomfortable-emotions-are-wretched-heres-why-we-should-feel-them-anyway-pamela-stewart/ 

I don’t know why I ever write about anything other than the struggle of writing itself.  It’s the only thing that comes naturally to me.  It reveals a stubbornness, rebelliousness and a relentlessness in me that I thought I outgrew at 9.  This may be the beginning of a series, though I’m not sure if it would be titled “How Not to Write” or “How to Write.”

I’m afraid to start.  Or more specifically, I don’t know what the point in starting is.  I’m quite certain I have nothing to say, I’m nearly positive of that fact.  So then why the niggle, the frustration, the anger with no discernable source.  In these moments I feel like a dude, wholly disconnected from the root cause of my emotions so severely so, that I don’t even acknowledge the existence of the emotion in the first place.  But what I do know is that going to the park feels empty, watching TV feels empty, reading, having a bath, going for a walk–it all feels empty.  And I can pretend not to know why for an impressive amount of time.  And dammit have I been doing a good job of that.

I have been ‘not knowing’ so hard that yesterday I literally did nothing, that was me avoiding doing what I knew I should be doing.  By avoiding sitting down to write and avoiding the feeling of emptiness that would come from doing anything that wasn’t sitting down to write, I had nothing left to do but nothing.  So I sat.  And I stared.  And sometimes I paced.  I ate when I was hungry, but even that, even food, my once most cherished friend of avoidance, even that I chose not to pretend with, not to lie to myself with.  For whatever reason, yesterday I was past the point of lying.  I was so indignant in my stubbornness, that lying felt beneath me.  So instead, I chose the truth.  And the truth was that I was not going to write and I was going to feel miserable for not writing.  So I sat with that for an entire day.  Unmoving, unrelenting, and refusing to look away.

This was a staredown between me and God.  If God wanted me to be happy, I thought, then GOD shouldn’t force me to do something that I don’t want to do.  I was calling the Universe’s bluff.  I was not going to move, I was not going to write, and if that meant I was going to be miserable for all time, then so be it.  This was Spirit’s fault, and I was not going to lose this game of chicken.  So with spite in my heart, I sat.  And I stared.  And sometimes I paced.

“Wretched” is the only way to describe the feeling.  Like coming off of your drug of choice (mine taking many forms, but for simplicity we can just call it Distraction), you now feel everything you’d been avoiding feeling.  It’s not quite pain, it’s just on the edge of pain, it’s the fear of pain: it’s uncomfortableness in its most extreme form.

But you are too far in by now, and far too stubborn, to respond to the desire to crawl out of your skin with more distraction, so you sit still out of spite.  You demand more.  You are proving a point, proving how much you can withstand and how determined you are to not write again, and you know that at some point, It/They/She will break.  Because They must.

It feels like giving the finger to some deserving and unseen force.  It feels like hearing voices.  It feels like having an argument with yourself, throwing your straightjacketed body against the walls of a padded cell.  It feels like if you withstand the horridness for just a tiny bit longer then everything will turn dull and snowy and fuzzy like a non TV channel that’s not connected to a station.  And you are too blinded to realize that what you’re hoping for isn’t to feel better but to stop feeling at all.

When I’m in the stages of distraction that come before this one, there isn’t any calm or self-containment like there is now.  There’s excessive activity juxtaposed with nth degree lethargy  — it can look like both depression and obsessive compulsiveness.  It can look like crying over a relationship, excessive online shopping, over-absorption into American politics, and making plans to move or quit my job.  And what’s so tricky about me and the writer who doesn’t write and the painter that doesn’t paint, is that often we are so damn articulate, making us doubly slippery and thus difficult to pin down.  I can point to the literal dumpster that is on fire, the actual open wound seeping blood, and the very real baby at the bottom of a well.  I can demonstrate with certainty and legitimacy concerns warranting my attention that ARE NOT doing my work as a writer.

My apartment is spotless, I fly through novels and self-help books alike, my relationships are tended to, my legs are muscular.  All of these facts I have been using as justification, a punitive whine (to who?), “See?  I have done EVERYTHING that I am supposed to do.  I am a full-fledged and functioning adult.  See??”  And nothing.  I get no response and no relief.  The ache continues.  The guilt, the pain, the hope that there’s got to be some other way.  And yet, the stages of creation as I have discovered them to be: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.

I exhale.  I swear.  I set a timer, because I will be GODDAMNED if I am going to spend ONE SECOND longer than I have to on this.  I vow to suck.  “You may get me to the page, but you’ll get nothing of value out of me, cocksucker.”  You smirk, because you’ve never said ‘cockcucker’ before.  Cocksucker, cocksucker, cocksucker.  You think it’d be nice to get laid again at least once before you die.  And then you sigh with frustration and write one damn sentence with malice as your only motivation.  And then you write another.  All the while refusing with a creativity of denial you didn’t know you possessed to admit to the just slightest sensation of easing you feel the second you begin.  Refusing, even now, to give even that to the asshole you have been fighting this whole time, the asshole you cannot name or see or describe, but know is involved somehow.  You’re not sure what it is, but you’re fairly certain it’s male because only a dude could rile you up like this.  And then you smirk as if you’ve beaten the system.  Like you just spent 30 minutes writing only about how you won’t write and that the Writing Gods can go straight to hell for all you care.  And then you walk away feeling, inexplicably, like you’ve won.

And then tomorrow comes.

Fuck.