I came down with COVID a couple of weeks ago.
My mother fell in her home in Colorado, where she lived alone with her animals, a year ago on Halloween. Now she’s dead.
What a year.
My week at home during the worst of the illness was the first time I’ve sat quietly and let the events of the last year wash over me without distraction or the exigencies of day-to-day life. In the months before her death my focus was on managing her situation, traveling, working with my brother, and supporting Mom long distance as her dementia deepened. After her death we faced weeks of estate work and disposing of her real estate.
Now, nearly a full year later, the dust has settled and everything has changed. I’m only just beginning to recognize how profoundly my life has shifted on many levels.
It does not surprise me that I finally caught COVID during this particular time.
One of the things I’ve thought the most about is my creative work.
I have almost finished posting the entirety of my first book, The Hanged Man, here on Substack. More than 100 weeks of serial posts. It’s hard to believe. It’s been enormous fun. I can’t wait to start publishing the second book, which is also written.
I have begun writing the third book; however, a couple of years ago I lost my momentum and I’ve never regained it. It’s true we moved, a traumatic and agonizing process for many reasons, and a half a year later Mom fell. These are good excuses for putting the third book aside, but they’re not true. Something else happened. Not writer’s block. I’m never sure what that means in any case. I have ideas, I have notes, I’ve written a couple hundred pages of the third manuscript, and I want to be working on it, I just … don’t. I work on my blog, Harvesting Stones. I do my weekly serial posts here, along with an occasional essay. But I don’t work on the third book.
I have wondered, in a distant kind of way, what’s going on with this, but immediately the snarky voice in my head starts to jabber. It tells me I’m a coward, I’m lazy, I’m not really a writer, I’m afraid of failure, I’m wasting my time/life, nobody will ever read it, etc., etc. A well-worn monologue I’ve been hearing all my life.
During this enforced period of rest (COVID does not easily let go), I have allowed the experience of wanting to get back to my book and not doing it come and sit with me. Together, the experience and I have been reading, and in our reading we find guidance.
First, I read a post from.
I have loved Whyte’s work for years. I own most of his books. In this piece, he writes about the rest of silence, the rest of solitude, the rest where we sink down into the bedrock of ourselves. His words struck a chord with me. Being too ill to do much more than breathe in and out, I have focused on silence, on internal spaciousness, on sinking into myself and leaving behind external concerns, chaos, and distractions. In this rest and solitude I also sank beyond hearing my snarky, jabbering, internal voice.
Then, I read a post byfrom The Problematic Pen.
I began to get a glimmer of understanding about this long creative pause. I realized I stopped writing just about the same time I began planning how to monetize my blog and my work here.
Next was a post by. I have yet to read anything from her that didn’t make me smile and feel better about myself.
In this particular piece, she writes about urgency, particularly creative urgency, as well as the ways in which we judge creative value, such as money or grades. She points out the arbitrary frameworks most of us accept without challenging: deadlines, timelines, what makes work good or bad, rigid production routines, goals, and schedules.
The glimmer of understanding became a little brighter.
It occurred to me to forget about The Right Way To Be A Writer and The Way To Succeed On Substack With Paid Subscriptions. I put aside all the reading and research I’ve done, my notes, my goals, my plans. I was left with a childish desire to “show them,” to prove, once and for all “they” were wrong and I am worthy of pride, of love. I am not wasting my life. I can be a “successful” writer (meaning, of course, I can make money with my writing, because that’s the definition of success I grew up with. Note: I’m almost 60 now, not 6!)
But the main person I was proving myself to is now dead. A fact I have not yet emotionally caught up with.
As for that snarky voice, it’s woefully inaccurate. I am many things, but cowardly and lazy are not among them. Failure is an old friend and holds no horrors for me. I believe in both myself and my writing.
After I scraped all that away, what was left was the deepest, wisest, most loving version of myself, and I could hear her counsel.
I don’t want to monetize my work right now. I’m sharing it because it’s my greatest joy and passion. It’s the place where I’m most free. There isn’t anyone to “show.” I don’t need to prove myself anymore. That’s all old, outdated programming. I can just … let it go. I can throw it away, along with the latest batch of sodden Kleenex and the most recent used tea bag. It doesn’t matter what others are choosing. Paid subscriptions work well for many wonderful writers on Substack. I myself pay for subscriptions toand David Whyte, with plans for more. I also read amazing writers who have no paywall up.
I know myself. My tendency toward people pleasing and perfectionism would quickly kill my pleasure in the most joyful activity of my life. The minute I ask for money I will begin tying myself into knots trying to be worth the ask. Part of me knew that and stopped the whole thing. In the chaos and distraction of the events of the last two years I haven’t pursued a deeper form of rest, in David Whyte’s words. I haven’t given myself a chance to hear wisdom and intuition from the roots of my being.
I do want to add some facets to both my Substack and Harvesting Stones, but in my mind they were connected with paywalls. Now they are not, and I’m excited about growing and trying some new things. I’m excited about innovating. I love working outside the box, which puts me directly in opposition to being safely marketable!
I don’t want to be safe. I want to provoke. I want to be wild and sexy and politically incorrect. I want to play. I want to evoke passion. I want to make people think. I want to push the rules and boundaries on genre, on length, on subject matter, on complexity.
I want to be free.
I can choose to be free.
Please pass the Kleenex.
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