|A snippet of Lynda Barry's inspiring book What It Is.|
Working two jobs came to a head for me this month; when my body was in one place, my attention and energy were moving away from it at high speeds. I didn't stop going until I hit desert.
Every book and instructor on creative expression has encouraged me towards discipline in my craft. I've had the discipline, but I still didn't have the right conditions. If I wrote during this month, I wrote single sentences or piled up the same words on different sheets of paper. If I drew, I drew jagged lines on the margins of sticky notes at work. I made my non-work life very small. I got back into watching television. The search for water was on.
Desert animals conserve energy during the heat of the day and spend their nights in great activity. I spent Sundays in front of the stove or the oven, writing in my head, focusing. When you haven't got a lot to work with, sometimes you have to play tricks on yourself to make it through.
At 1am on Friday of last week, when it was all over, I crawled into bed and shut off the lights. If there's one thing that desert animals are good at, it's surviving. But with the work that I do for my day jobs, It's hard to give myself permission to rest and recuperate. There's a huge guilt in not giving your all for other people, and a selfish desire to be wanted. Then on Saturday I re-opened Lynda Barry's book What It Is.
The book has a bit of a history with me - I bought it in pre-college more than 6 years ago as part of a creative writing class that also had me making my first zine (gasp!), and it's one of those staples that I can no longer go without. The book isn't instructional. It doesn't give you exercises for writing or drawing or dancing or singing. Instead, it just asks some very good questions.
When I got to the page photographed above - a comic book panel of an older Lynda Barry (presumably) reflecting on her worries - I knew I had to have it with me everywhere. If I worked at the same desk every day, I would have photocopied and posted it on the wall. Instead I took a picture of it with my cell phone camera and wrote a version of my own:
"Worried about your work?"
"Oh, there's my work, the magazine, healthcare in the U.S., things I did in past relationships, unanswered emails, lost contacts, what a jerk I am, the suitcases cluttering up my house -- and I can't stop worrying about stepping in dog mess."
It made me laugh! Listing out my worries made them seem funny, and manageable. I kept turning the pages of the book and finding new things to smile about. I felt like I'd struck oasis.
It's a process, we all know, to build and re-build your creativity - you try different things, you fail, you rattle around with your worries until you find another set of things to try. Me, I'm looking for stillness. As we move out of my birthday month and into National Novel Writing Month, I'm carefully cultivating my energy, and looking for moments to laugh at myself. Join me, why don't you?