I’ve been needing to heed my own advice these days. As I find myself with a book to appear in the fall, paradoxically, I also find myself not writing. In all my years of creating books and essays, I’ve never before experienced this void. I was always writing something—an essay, a book chapter, a curriculum for a class I was teaching—and my ordinary life cooperated by frequently offering topics for new writing. “This seems important,” my life would say. “Write about it.” “Think more about that. You may want to write an essay about it.”
Not now. Now, when I ask myself what I want to write, I draw a blank. And if I try to push to the other side of that blank, certain there must be something hiding there, I panic.
For a writer, not writing is a lonely place. A barren landscape empty of trees and plants, colored in grays and tans. My days used to be defined by what I was writing. Now, with non-writing days stretching into weeks, I am beginning to become unsure of my contours, unable to recognize my voice. When I write, I know who I am. Putting one word after another on the page, I hear myself think and speak. I know I am here. Alive.
I didn’t understand this until recently. Didn’t realize how alive my writing was to me. How much it kept me company. Affirmed my existence. But today, after walking and having coffee with my friend early this morning, I came into my studio and felt utterly alone. It didn’t matter that I am married, the grandmother of two adorable girls–who live 15 minutes away—and can count on a circle of close friends. This morning, I was absolutely alone.
I’ve recently planned a writing course called “Thinking Small to Write Big,” which asks participants to write regularly about a very ordinary activity they engage in daily. It could be brushing your teeth, I tell them. Making coffee or tea. Exercise. Meditation. Making the bed. And you can write about any aspect of that activity, I also tell them–from describing your teacup to exploring toothpaste and the choreography of brushing. Just use the activity as your mantra, and if you find yourself venturing too far, remind yourself to return.
I once wrote about walking around a local track for a year. It was that year of walking and writing that breathed life into my relationship with writing, and transformed me into the writer I am today. At the outset, all I did was promise myself that I would walk around the track five days a week and return home to write about my walking. In the end, I had renegotiated my relationship with the world.
I’m going to do this again. Maybe not for a year. But for some weeks at least, I’m going to begin practicing the Buddhist loving kindness mediation each morning. May I be happy, may I be well, may I be peaceful and full of ease, may I be filled with loving kindess.
And I’ll do just what I ask my students and clients to do. I’ll just begin. With no preconceptions. Each day when I finish meditating, I’ll think about the meditation, noticing if any moments call to me, appear more vibrant than the rest. And then I’ll start to write.
Already, at the simple prospect, I feel my heart lighten.
Rust and Mud on Machinery