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Posts Tagged ‘mind’

  1. The Agony of Writing

    January 25, 2015 by Diane

    hand opening red curtain on white.

    Here’s how it is with writing…

    You agonize over the words. You wrack your brain trying to figure out how to say a thing, how to word it just right, how to spill the beans on the page in a seamless fashion. You try it six ways from Friday (or is that five ways from Sunday?) and when you read the thing in your post-writing haze, it stinks. The whole darn thing, whatever that thing is you’ve spent hours homing in on…stinks. But you don’t give up. You keep at it, banging away at the keyboard, working the pencil down to a nub, emptying the ink cartridge of your pen in your determination to get it right, to get it somewhere in the neighborhood of right.

    Are you with me?

    And it’s midnight, and your mind is mush, so you stagger off to bed. But your brain is still working–vroom, vroom–like a hard drive on overdrive. Behind those closed lids you’re still trying to figure out that passage, that page, that piece, your muscles straining with the effort, your body screaming: go to sleep already!

    And finally, finally, you drift off.

    For two hours.

    At three o’clock you’re wide awake, the passage you were laboring over now pristine in your mind, the words laid out like a banquet. And the words keep coming. You know you should leap from bed and fire up the laptop and get it all down before you forget, but you lie there, your muscles begging for sleep, and vow to remember it all.

    Yet you get up anyway, because you’re a writer. That’s what you do. You slog through the night, and agonize through the days. You try to force the words for hours during normal waking hours, and the whole thing comes gift-wrapped in the middle of the night with a tap on the shoulder.

    And here’s the kicker…

    You send it off, this piece you’ve labored over, this piece you’re proud of that you think you’ve nailed, and the feedback you get is that you’re way off base. You’re not even in the ballpark. And you call yourself a writer?

    At least that’s the feedback you hear. In reality, the feedback is spot-on. But you can’t hear that now, not after two hours of sleep, not after pulling an all-dayer and giving up afternoons in the park. Your heart rises up in fury and then sinks, knowing you have a night of rewriting ahead.

    And it’s back to the keyboard.

    This is how it is with writing: you can’t not do it. If you’re a writer, you write. And write again. And again and again and again because it has you by the throat and won’t let go.

    So, all ye writers out there: I know whereof you struggle.

    And ye non-writers: sleep well, you lucky ducks.

    Takeaways this week:

    You’re onto the game now, so don’t agonize over the words. If you’re stuck, back away from the keyboard, put down the pencil, click off the Uni-ball Signo gel pen. You might as well get a jump-start on your sleep instead, because those elusive words will come a’ knock knock knockin’ in the middle of the night right on schedule.

    When you find yourself laboring over a passage, use that as a cue that your brain is full. Be aware that you need to clear the cache. An excellent method for clearing the cache: take a shower. I don’t know what it is about standing in a tiled box with water jolting down, but it dislodges all the gunk clogging up those neurons, and ideas come faster than you can towel off.

    Write, and then set the piece aside. Grab your jacket and take a walk. Sip a cup of tea. Curl up in that spot of sunshine on the window seat and take a five minute cat-nap. Then read the piece again. Don’t send it off until you’ve had a day, an hour, a space of time to review it with a clear head.


  2. The Message in the Madness

    March 10, 2014 by Diane

    Business woman looking, isolated on white

    He tries to slip into the library unnoticed, a thin, elderly Japanese man wearing a beige work shirt and beige trousers rolled at the cuffs, brown moccasins and socks. But as the official Observer of Humanity, I notice him from my post at a table near the window where I’ve set up my laptop.

    He carries a plastic grocery bag overflowing with papers: junk mail, newspapers—I’ve seen him grab a stack of free literature by the front door and stuff that into the sack. He lays a paper towel on a table, and another on the wooden chair, but he doesn’t sit. He stands there, systematically reading each piece of paper with a pair of long-handled shears in one hand. Then he proceeds to cut the papers up—clipping coupons?—but the scissors veer off in strange directions and he clips each piece into strips, and the strips into pieces, until the pieces are shreds.

    He’s a human shredder!

    One day The Human Shredder arrives with his usual plastic grocery bag, but instead of pulling out the scissors and junk mail he slides out a couple of paper plates fit together like clam shells. He sits down, lifts the top plate off and sets it aside, revealing a hamburger. When he pulls out a pair of chopsticks, I stop writing. He has my full attention.

    With the chopsticks he transports the top bun to the empty plate. Then he snatches up the tomato slice and sets it on the bun, followed by the onion slice and the pickles. He peels off the yellow cheese, adding that to the growing stack, picks up the meat patty, examines it, and sets it aside. Lastly, the bottom bun gets his perusal and it too is added to the stack.

    I wait, wondering how he’s going to eat the hamburger with the chopsticks.

    He lifts the bottom bun—which is now the top bun—off the burger and places it face up on the empty plate. Then he transfers the meat patty, switching everything back: the cheese, the pickles, the onion, the tomato. The woman sitting next to him is noticing too: she has an expression on her face that says, Are you going to play with your food or are you going to eat that, because there are children starving in this world.

    The man is rearranging his food. When he cuts up the newspaper, he’s rearranging the words. I have a friend whose mother-in-law rearranges the kitchen cabinets when visiting. Some people have this need to take the world apart and put it back together again in a way that makes sense to them, or soothes them, or fits their reality.

    When I was five, I started a book club with a couple of neighborhood kids. We sat around a card table in my bedroom and ripped pages out of picture books…until my parents walked in. End of club. Looking back now, my mother tells me I was destroying the books to create new ones. I suspect it was my anxiety disorder manifesting at an early age.

    At the pool where I swim, a plump German woman takes endless showers in the locker room. She uses a long loofah and scrubs her skin, starting at her neck and working her way down, scrubbing every crevice, then starting all over again. On the tiled wall a sign reads Please Limit Your Shower Time to Five Minutes. But she ignores the sign. Or she can’t read English. When I catch her eye, she doesn’t falter. Her face is full of pain, but she can’t stop.

    I want to walk over and place my palms along her cheeks (the ones located between her ears) and tell her it’s all right, she’s clean enough. But it won’t matter. Her brain is stuck in a groove. Her synapses are firing a warning that if she doesn’t wash every inch of her body five times, or seven times, or whatever the magic number is, then something bad will happen. The Japanese man can’t just eat the hamburger. He needs to complete the ritual of rearranging it three times.

    There’s no shame in anxiety. We telegraph it all the time…some better than others. The trick is to recognize it. Say, Hello, anxiety. I know who you are. I won’t fight you. Welcome. Now what are you trying to tell me?

    Anxiety has a language all its own. If we pause with the scissors, the chopsticks, the loofah, and just listen, we’ll hear its message.

  3. Thinking Distortion #3: Rejecting the Positive

    February 10, 2014 by Diane

    Distorted thinking

    Here’s the hypothetical…

    You just finished writing a short story for a contest; or a report for your boss; or a school paper on Why Climate Change is Really Really Happening. You barely make the deadline, but you make it.  Then you celebrate. You mentally pat yourself on the back. You buy a double latte, a fudge brownie, maybe some Twinkies. And you settle down to read the copy of what you submitted.

    You cringe.

    You nitpick.

    You bang your head in the palm of your hand and rush out and buy a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Therapy ice cream and devour it with a spoon.

    I’m a failure, you moan between mouthfuls.

    Hold on.

    That’s jumping ahead in the list of thinking distortions, to number seven: name-calling.

    Let’s stick to one distortion at a time.

    You handed it in, right? You spent five, ten, forty hours rewriting the darn thing. You did the best you could with the knowledge and experience that you currently have.

    So put down the spoon.

    Stop reading the copy.

    Take a walk.

    And when your mother or your boss or your teacher congratulates you—well done! Great job! You did it!–when you get a high-five and a thumbs-up and an A-plus don’t say…yeah, but it could have been perfect. So-and-so would have done it better.

    That’s thinking distortion number three: Rejecting the Positive.

    And number six: Expecting Perfection.

    And number eleven: Comparing Worth.

    And…well, be mindful of the games your mind can play.