And then months later, I met a man who asked questions of me that I wasn't able to answer which led to more unanswerable questions. It would have been easy to blow off the questions--and him--and move along with my life unexamined. I don't do unexamined well. The tune-up came sooner than expected, but meeting with my counselor was the best way to navigate these newly unearthed and unexpected questions and accompanying emotions.
In these sessions, she encouraged me to write my way through the things that this new (and brief) relationship drudged up. The things I am exploring have nothing to do with him, and yet he was the catalyst to the new level of self-awareness. It's interesting how life unfolds when you navigate it with curiosity and an open heart.
In the past two years, my mind has become an attic full of a motley collection of things: old hurts, anger, memories, mistakes, disappointment, etc. I think of them as boxes long ignored, but making it trickier to navigate. It's become easy to stumble into or over these things on my way to the stuff I want. Fear stood in the way of clearing out these boxed emotions. It's scary to open a box, rifle through the mess and say, "This. This right here. This is why I am sad, mad, hurt, confused, disappointed."
With the help of my counselor, I now had the courage to do the heavy lifting. To move the boxes around, examine the contents, and purge what I no longer needed. I coupled the need to declutter my head space with my desire to write more pieces that could be submitted to publications outside of the comfort zone of the 300 Rejections community. (Bless you, dear hearts.)
I mapped out a series of three essays--they can stand alone (and hopefully will soon.) Or they can tell a larger story as a collection on my blog. But they have to get rejected in the big world first.
I've been working on (and stewing over) essay two since last fall. I kept visiting the words, but then I would get overwhelmed and walk away for a time. I can't describe the sense of relief and release to get those words out of the mental attic and onto the computer screen. With that box of stuff gone through, the attic was clearer. The decluttering gave me breathing space to tackle what felt like the hardest, scariest bit of writing I have pursued thus far. I would wake up with fully formed sentences scrolling through my mind and words on my tongue, and when the haze of sleep lifted the words would be gone. I heard the essay take form on my commutes to and from work--never when I was seated in front of my laptop. I jotted these snippets down. But they were clunky and weren't sounding like they did in my head. This made me panicky, and so I'd stay away from it for awhile longer. All the while, I was carrying these words. Feeling their weight, and the need to unload them.
Then Sunday morning as I scrubbed the shower walls and floor, I heard the essay take shape. Words came fast and clear. I finished my tasks and made my way to my computer. An hour later a 600 word first draft was on my screen. I knew there was a lot more work to be done before I could consider it ready to submit, but it wasn't haunting me anymore.
And outside my head, it also wasn't so scary. I had been true to my aims: to tell the truth, to do no harm, to help readers not feel alone. I needed a witness to this moment, so I sent it to Dan and went about the rest of the day.
The most remarkable thing came over me as the hours wore on. I felt lighter, calmer, more at peace than I had in weeks of carrying that essay's theme around. Another image came to me: poison. The stories I am telling have been poisoning me. The noxious effects have colored every area of my life for longer than I care to admit. The writing is like activated charcoal to a poison victim. It's helping me no longer absorb the harm that life has doled out.
In all of the years of journaling, where I've poured out my thoughts and emotions, I have never thought of the act of writing in this way. Now I can't stop thinking of it.
I came across two amazing quotes from authors today. Their words reinforce what I know firsthand about the healing nature of creative pursuits.
In a series of tweets, J. K. Rowling shared writing advice she needed to hear early in her career. This was the most potent piece for me:
"Even if it isn't the piece of work that finds an audience, it will teach you things you could have learned no other way."
And from Jen Hatmaker:
"You are not required to save the world, or anyone for that matter, with your art.
It isn't valuable only if it rescues or raises money or makes an enormous impact.
It can be simply for the love of it. That is not frivolous or selfish in the slightest.
If the only person it saves is you, that's enough."
My writing is saving me, and it is enough.