We have had the most lovely cool week, a few days with modest showers! In my garden over the past few years I’ve been rehabilitating our planting beds with native varieties, including Oregon Grape (mahonia), sword fern and salal, red flowering current shrubs (which is loved by pollinators!), evergreen huckleberry (no berries, but very drought-tolerant!), and vine maple (drought-tolerant, can have colorful autumn leaves!). This year I noticed that my efforts have started to pay off, with some of these varieties self-seeding and filling in the bare areas. Gardening takes time, both the time to work in the yard, and the time to wait for one’s efforts to take hold. But when it does, it makes you feel great.
In this photo of my yard, the red flowering current bush is up front – bright green leaves, no flowers! – surrounded on all sides by the mahonia-Oregon Grape, and backstopped by a lovely sword fern. All was bare dirt or grass when I started. Cool, huh?
What I am doing now
I have been stuck. Stuck-stuck-stuck-stuck. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but if I sit down to write, I feel afraid to work on a promising project because if I touch it, I might ruin it. If I think about writing, I hesitate even to sit down to write, because it feels doubtful that I’ll have anything to say that delights, surprises, or enchants … which is what I hope for, but which seems very far off right now. I’ve been consulting resources on procrastination and on not-writing, but I’m still feeling stuck. This is not new for me; I’d hoped I was beyond feeling paralyzed by the Blank Page, but it is an affliction that I’ve had all my writing life, and I thought I had developed techniques and strategies, in graduate school or after, that would ensure I would not feel this acute paralysis again. Unfortunately not.
Last week at the suggestion of a creative friend who plays music for a living, I finally dusted off my copy of The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron’s book about creative recovery. My friend said, “I don’t know why it works, but it does. Try it again!” So I decided to follow his suggestion, and I very reluctantly pulled out the book, which I’d read years and years ago.
When you’re at a loss for words (or ideas, or paintings, or sculpture, or …), the problem is complicated. One can feel discouraged and uncreative and disheartened all at the same time. Even evidence to the contrary – like the daily poetry work I’ve been doing – can sometimes not help to dispel the sense of creative doom that seems to hang overhead.
Well, I didn’t think it would help. But some of the exercises have shown me that the critical voices in my head have been working overtime. Doubting my work. Tearing down my ability as a writer. Throwing stones at my creative dreams. Who knows why these voices come up, at this particular time, and even when I can point out several successful writing efforts to these inner critical voices, the discouragement continues. It’s a puzzle, and it’s a non-logical one. Emotional, irrational, repetitive arguments that erode one’s self-confidence.
Those of you familiar with this well-known book and approach to creative recovery will know the basics: morning pages and artist dates. Today, as an “artist date,” I went to the Seattle Japanese Garden on a quiet drizzly Seattle morning. It was quite lovely.
One of the bridges that crosses the garden is a bridge for thwarting evil spirits! Earlier this month my daughter and I, participating in the tea ceremony at the Japanese Garden, heard from the narrator-host that this bridge is in the shape of zigzag, or offset, pattern, because it is believed that evil spirits cannot turn, and can pass only along a straight path. The bridge is made in this shape to prevent evil spirits from passing. So, next time you want to obstruct evil spirits, make your path into a zigzag instead of a straight line!
In spite of my ultra-stuck feeling for writing prose, I’ve been continuing my poem-a-day exercises from The Practice of Poetry, by Robin Behn and Chase Twitchell. At least it puts me in the pond playing around with words and language, I figure! Here is one I wrote yesterday. We were to write five pages of “stream of consciousness” writing, then underline words or phrases that caught our attention, and then write a poem using those.
All the late nights and the bone-chilling mornings,
All the anxious nights keeping watch in case the power goes out.
The bitterness in the winter,
The heat in the summer,
The incessant work,
The incessant list of tasks,
The natural world going against you.
The unforgiving nature of the weather.
The constant and continual cycle of work, work, work,
All to almost make it,
“Next year we’ll break even.”
I am from the Iowa – Nebraska – Colorado farming family
Who stick it out, blizzards and heat waves,
Cattle and water and government regulations,
Drought and flood.
We’re not travelers, we’re not nomads,
We put down roots and we stick.
English, Irish, German blood in my veins,
No exotic mixes there, much as I’d wish it.
But I work hard. I’m here to stay.