I’ve tried more times than I can count to write my recent thoughts down. I’ve sat at my kitchen counter at eleven at night scribbling thoughts onto a scrap of paper I later mistook for recycling and set out for collection the next day. I’ve walked the streets of my neighborhood with my dog at dawn and dusk thinking of what I’d like to say, realizing I should maybe record the thoughts on my phone. But I didn’t have my phone, so the thoughts slipped away into a brain stuffed to the brim with unfinished ideas. If I felt that what I wanted to say was so important, then why was I having such a hard time articulating it?
Find inspiration. Gather some quotes. Sketch an outline.
All the usual strategies for getting my thoughts out of my head and onto paper are things any real writer would advise, too. But as I attempted to break out of my writer’s block, I realized this wasn’t about writers block. I couldn’t write not because I didn’t have something to say; I couldn’t write because I wanted my communication to succeed. I did not want to flounder in the topic. I wanted to write something that made people feel something because if I made people feel something, that would make me feel better.
In an ironic attempt to use writing as a means of healing, I came to see that I was only using writing to injure myself even further and take other people with me. “There is nothing to writing, all you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed,” Ernest Hemingway once said. I wanted to take Hemingway’s advice because — after all — he’s Hemingway. He was a master at articulating an idea, capturing a feeling, putting words to a moment…But he was also an addict, a deeply jealous man, and died a lonely death by his own hand. Just because someone is a good writer doesn’t mean I have to take their advice.
Maybe I don’t need to sit down and bleed. Maybe I just need to sit down.
When I think about Hemingway’s statement on writing, I can’t help but see that writing from a place woundedness doesn’t necessarily help heal the wound, it just makes the gash deeper — sometimes in me, sometimes in others.
In more primitive medicine, doctors would exercise a practice called bloodletting where they’d withdraw blood from a patient to prevent or cure an illness or disease. As you may guess, the majority of folks who bloodletting was practiced on were not helped, but harmed. Bleeding was not the solution. Medicine or even just time was a better remedy.
All those times I’ve recently tried to sit down and express my thoughts, I’ve wanted to just bleed. I’ve wanted to be raw and real. But far too many times, I’ve taken moments in my life and made parables out of people. I’ve made my sadness into a sermon and perverted my joy into boasting when I needed to just shut up. Here I am doing it again — writing when I should probably just be shutting up.
But consider this a call for accountability.
I do not want to use you as an object lesson. I do not want to make a sermon out of you. Perhaps the best thing I can do with my thoughts is not make them into something, but to let the complexities within me be what they are at the moment — inarticulable.
A NYT writer named Tim Kreider articulated this so well in an column I came across in Mockingbird. Krieder writes: “I won’t say that writers or artists are more sensitive than other people, but it may be that they’re less able to handle their own emotions. It may be that art, like drugs, is a way of dulling or controlling pain. Eloquently articulating a feeling is one way to avoid actually experiencing it. Words are only symbols, noises or marks on paper, and turning the messy, ugly stuff of life into language renders it inert and manageable for the author, even as it intensifies it for the reader. It’s a nerdy, sensitive kid’s way of turning suffering into something safely abstract, an object of contemplation.”
So instead of eloquently articulating the thoughts I so wanted to wrestle down, I’m going to leave it at this messy, grammatically incorrect blog post. I’m going to try to continue sitting in it. Not rushing through. Not trying to make the present into a tidy life lesson. Leaning into the inarticulable. As instinct and art tells me to “Just write!” the Spirit that lives inside of me is pleading back “Just rest!”
For once, I hope I’ll listen.