Starting Over Again
I’ve been Word Stalled for over a month now.
Even typing this out is hard. I feel the familiar clenching of the muscles around my spine, my mind spinning in so many other directions, and my shoulders creeping up towards my ears.
I’ve been avoiding this all day.
I’m constantly thinking, and I have plenty to say, but it’s agony to make myself do it.
It’s never the things that you expect that cause this, you know. It’s never the sermon series you were wary of that throws you off, or the phone call you stilled yourself for on the way home, or the piece you wrote that you predicted would cause an upheaval.
It’s the sideswipe that’s the worst.
But even that, too, is part of the process of life. It’s to be expected, even when it surprises.
So here I am, nearly two months later, ready to try again to hit publish on a regular basis.
It’s been a good summer. I’ve traveled to see family and friends, put many miles on my car, dated like a champion, said what I think a little more boldly in person, celebrated weddings and new babies, grieved with friends over losses of marriages and miscarriages, listened to countless comedy podcasts, chased new ideas, gone back to counseling, started a pile of books and finished a few, ignored a lot of emails, spent less time on Twitter, celebrated the start of a new year for me, and chanted wildly at a number of soccer matches.
I believe that Internet Life is real life, but it’s been good to sink back a little and regain my balance. Turns out when I go quiet online, I can hear everything else a little better.
I have to admit though, that part of my silence is out of fear.
I simply don’t want to write it out.
I don’t want to expose more of myself. I don’t want to say things that I think people are ready to hear and pour every bit of smart kindness I have into my work and be dismissed as a crazy bitch.
I don’t want to be that girl.
I don’t want more rugs pulled out from under my steady feet. I’ve grown so much in just a year of public writing, but I still hate all of that. I hear from people wiser and much more seasoned than I that it will always be there, and they always hate it, too.
This isn’t a call for people to be nicer online, or to be nicer to me.
All of that is beyond my control, and ultimately, silencing other people’s opinions and processes doesn’t help me handle my own any better. I want to build up this boldness to stand up for myself and let it all roll, just as I want to strengthen my resolve to let myself be affected by criticism and be changed by other people's stories.
More than anything, I want to be in reality, and that means the uncomfortable parts, too.
My fear of offending people with my writing is real, just like my giddy excitement that one person is encouraged by my work is real. So here I am, in this process, willing myself to tell you about it.
It’s not fun or easy and more than anything it reminds me how powerless I am over many parts of my life. I’m still trekking through most of this, and a lot of it is haphazard and sends me back to the start, but here is what I have learned to do, and what I am trying to do:
The first thing I have to do is accept reality. The basic truth of life, darlings, is that not everybody is going to like you. I don’t even think they’re supposed to like you, at least not all the time. I certainly don’t like or agree with everyone all the time, even when I generally like or agree with them.
It took me a few weeks to even admit that I’d lost my footing, because I was caught up in summer adventures and it’s easy to brush off a post when you set your own deadlines. Then I started noticing a pattern: I’d say I’d write, and then I would schedule four hundred events into my week so I would have no time to think, let alone take the space I need to write. I’d collect more shiny things to write about, and then never put them together. I’m a bit of a magpie, really.
The second thing I have to do is grieve. This is the worst part of the sitting here. Once I finally admitted that I was scared and sad and frustrated, I had to actually be scared and sad and frustrated. I had to pick up, examine, and acknowledge the places that hurt. I hurt other people with my words and analysis and eager arguments. That’s reality. I had to grieve the rough places I'd caused in someone else.
It doesn’t mean I was wrong, but it’s reality. And sometimes reality sucks. For a while. This is the part of the process that feels the most out of control, because you aren’t avoiding it, and you have no guarantee how long it will last.
It gets to the point with me where I have to schedule time to be sad. Like, not even kidding, I put “go home and cry” in my planner. It seems ridiculous, but it works for me. I also recommend rolling down all the windows while blazing down the freeway and yelling obscenities.
Both are important sides of the same grieving coin. Just don’t tell my mom about the second one.
The next thing to do is force myself, gently and with careful attention to my readiness, to start again. Maybe it’s lacing up my running shoes, which notevenkidding were full of cobwebs in the back of my closet, and going on a short, slow jog. Maybe it’s calling a friend I’ve been avoiding, and asking her to dinner. Maybe it’s giving a firm “no thank you,” instead of drifting off after a mediocre date.
There is a time to start moving forward again.
Maybe it’s opening a blank word document, and starting to describe the things that I think and hear and see and feel.
So here’s what I’ve got: Right now, I am sitting in the loft of a cabin in eastern Oregon, listening to my entire family arguing brightly about the best way to cut a watermelon. I am watching a moth circle around the light on the ceiling fan. I can hear the ripple of the river outside our open front door and the pat pat pat of my tiny niece’s shoes on the wooden floor.
I’m not totally okay. I’m still scared. But I think I’m back.
I'll write that out, too.
Now you, dear. How was your summer?