Getting Back On The Horse
I’ve been off the grid for a while. It has been a very… trying… six or so months here, and my mind has been everywhere except where I wanted it to be. For the first time in a very long time, I found myself unable to focus on being creative. I will spare you the details, but let’s just say I lost two very influential members of my family, one being my father, whom I had just made a solid connection with after many years of barricades being built between us.
While some might think it silly, the other family member lost was my sidekick, my traveling companion, and, really, my best friend – a Shih Tzu who had been a part of my world for sixteen years. She was by my side since she was two months old. She often sat on my desk next to my computer as I wrote, where she could listen as I talked my way through plot problems, dialogue issues, and would give an affirmative sneeze when I hit upon the solution to whatever problem I was having.
It probably goes without saying that, with these two losses, my creative efforts waned. I found myself staring at a blank screen, watching the cursor blink, taunting me, daring me to put words together. I had writer friends call me or email me, making sure I was getting by, encouraging me, all letting me work through what-all was clouding my mind at my own pace. As has been said by so many, and documented on any of a hundred internet memes, grief does not follow any sort of clock. It lingers quietly, peeking up every now and then, sometimes for a moment, sometimes for a full-scale three-story road-block, not just for creativity, but for living in general.
After a while, your brain seems to throw a switch somewhere deep inside, and the desire to create becomes more powerful than the desire to dwell in the dark recesses of your own soul.
But, how do you jump-start yourself? How do you start playing Word Tetris and begin building paragraphs when you’ve been away from it for a long time?
For me, it was a relatively simple exercise. How did I start writing again? I started writing by starting to write. Every writer has the legendary file cabinet full of ideas, opening chapters of books that faded out, chunks of dialogue that felt so perfect you saved them just in case you could ever work them into some other piece. I’m no different. I have file folders full of cocktail napkins, pocket notebooks, envelopes, and any other pieces of paper that could hold ink, all chock-full of ideas. And for a while, I studied every word on every sliver of paper I had kept over the years, looking for that one bit that caused a spark, which, in turn, would set a wildfire to burning.
Nothing was catching fire. Nothing was glowing ember-red, waiting for the right scrap of tinder to fall on it, igniting the inferno. Hell, let’s be honest. Nothing was even warming up my coffee pot.
The cursor just sat there, taunting me. I felt like those kids in “A Christmas Story,” double- and triple-dog-daring one another to do something, yet never responding to my own dares. So I did what any good Southern man does when triple-dog-dared to do something. I started cussing the damn cursor out. Not out loud, although I cannot guarantee I didn’t yell loudly more than a few times.
I just started typing. A direct line of stream-of-consciousness, full of anger and sadness, frustration and loneliness, sorrow and pain. At the risk of being grotesque, I let my brain vomit up everything it had been holding onto. Tears over my father being gone just when we had gotten to be close again fought with tears over the loss of my four-legged soulmate poured out of me and onto the screen as I let those words escape from the lockdown I had built inside.
It seems academic now, letting all those emotions run free. Writers are supposed to be able to observe the human condition and relate it to the world, without letting it effect the process at all, right? I will be the first one to tell you, though, all that “observe without attachment” stuff is complete and utter bullshit. Grief may not respond to any particular clock or calendar, but there is no way to live with it and not have it affect your daily routine. If anyone tells you otherwise, they have never tried living with it.
You have chosen to be a writer, a creator of worlds, cities, kingdoms that would never exist without your documenting them. Characters crying out to be born and to live, dialogue begging to be said, if not out loud then at least to be put on paper so others can share in it. And, ultimately, it all comes from one specific place – you.
Sooner or later, you have to hit that power button on the computer, or grab a Dixon Ticonderoga #2 and a legal pad, or roll a sheet of paper into your trusty Smith-Corona, and start that Word Tetris game again. Let the words fall out of your mind as you catch them and put them in the order that makes the best pattern. And I’m not gonna sit here and tell you that you’re gonna start back by writing To Kill A Mockingbird or Life of Pi or Gone With The Wind. It’s more likely that those first few days will be nothing more than bits and pieces of a hundred different things, nothing connecting to any other, and probably making less sense than IKEA instructions printed in Sanskrit. But, perfect or not, garbage or not, it’s writing. And little by little, shapes will start to form. The jigsaw patterns will start to come into view, and you can put one piece with another and have a nice bit of the picture you are trying to form.
For a brief period of my teenage insanity, I rode in rodeos. Hardly anything to rival the pros, I assure you. I was more of a “Coca-Cola Cowboy,” doing my thing in 4-H rodeos and county fairs.
Eventually, I did quite a number on my knees and was told that, if I wanted to continue walking without crutches or canes, it was time to find a less-destructive hobby. The main lesson I learned from those days, though, is one I had let myself forget over the years.
“If a horse throws you, you get up. If you’re injured, take time to heal. But, before you walk away for good, you get your ass back on that horse, because, if you don’t, that injury will never be healed properly.”
Be it some life-changing moment or a simple case of writers’ block, you have to decide when it’s time to push through it and regain the power once more.
I’m back, still working with the jigsaw puzzle right now, but suddenly, the pictures are starting to make sense again. And I am not stopping until the whole damned glorious panorama is visible.