seeking the mechanism

Since November 9, 2016, all my creative efforts have failed. All my cooking has flopped. My baking, just awful — even things I’ve been making for decades and can make in my sleep. Knitting? Fail, fail, fail, frog frog frog. My writing has been clenched and just kind of awful, though I have had a couple of things that worked, inspired by deep veins of emotion about my family, in one way or another.

Why is this? Why has the election of this monster (and the assumption of complete power by the evilest group of politicians that have ever skulked in the halls of power in our country’s history) had this particular effect on me? I wonder about it all the time, because cooking and baking and knitting and writing are such common activities for me, things I do for comfort, for pleasure, for myself and others, and for a creative outlet. But even uncreative things are failing too, like housecleaning. I bang into things, drop things, break things, knock them over. Putting the dust mop away, I realize there’s a wide swath of dust on the tile in the small hallway, how could I even have missed that, anyway? Like, how would it even be possible, given the width of the Swiffer and the narrowness of the hallway?

I’m less interested in suggestions to fix the problem (except for complete overthrow of our government and restoration to sanity), because I feel like I know the things to try, and have been trying them: I slow down, take a deep breath, create a setting that’s conducive to my enjoyment of the task, be present, note each step, take my time, etc., and still it’s all failing. So, OK. I don’t assume this is some kind of brain damage that’s happened inside me, I assume it will pass somehow. But I am interested in the mechanism, in finding some kind of explanation for it.

I’m sure it will notch right into a larger question that’s also confusing me: why am I this devastated? My own very specific life is not affected, if by “my own life” I draw the circle tightly around my personal physical boundary and don’t include “my care for vulnerable people.” Setting aside my real and surely justifiable fears that the Monster-in-Chief will get the world killed in a nuclear holocaust, this too shall pass, and we’ll get him and all his cronies out of office and if we have learned nothing else, we’ve learned that rules and norms don’t matter one bit and that one person can just sit in the chair and on day 1 sign a bunch of papers to completely change everything. So, OK. We’ll set it right, and in the interim it’s just going to be hard going. Why am I this completely devastated, four months and three days later? And of course it’s not just me, we’re all still shellshocked, pulled inward, trying to figure out how to take the next step. We’re mobilizing, fighting, having small victories and planning big ones. That feels good, it allows for the idea of the possibility of perhaps a spark of hope. (Note the distance to hope.)

But why? There are parts I get; I learned that there are enough people in this country to have fallen for his monstrousness and cast their votes for him, and that shocked me. They walk among us too. I knew they were here, I guess I just didn’t realize how many there were. So is it simply that? I don’t live in the country I thought I did? They aren’t just the fringe lunatics? That’s destabilizing I guess. But it doesn’t feel like the answer.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers have been running sweeps all around the country, snapping up hardworking people, splitting up families — kids come home from school and their parents are just gone. That’s devastating to know about, it goes against everything human and humane and that I care about. Just typing those two sentences made my breath get stuck, brought hot tears into my eyes, and gave me a kind of panic. But that response feels like a symptom not the cause, and it’s the cause of the enormity of my despair that I’m struggling to understand.

Then I look around the world and see this virus of hate spreading from one formerly tolerant country to another. There was a terrible-wonderful passage in a book I recently read, Ill Will by Dan Chaon. One character in the book, Russell, is an agent of destruction, and the scenes that describe the abuse he had suffered as a child were almost impossible for me to read, even though they were presented in a peripheral vision kind of way, hinting and just letting the taint seep into you through your eyes. When he’s in prison later in life, a counselor says to him: “When you’ve been abused in the way you were, you have a virus. And the virus will demand that you pass it on to someone else. You don’t even have that much of a choice.” Russell thinks, The idea that I passed on a virus, and the virus would turn around and it was my own doom? That was so fucking funny. That was so sad and so funny. [Do read Ill Will, it’s powerful. Here is my GoodReads review.] But YES, a virus. It feels exactly like the world is being infected with a murderous, deadly virus, and I hope it’s not fatal. Maybe that’s why I feel sick.

You don’t have the answer either, I don’t think anyone does. Mark Halperin (senior political analyst for MSNBC and Bloomberg Television and contributor and former co-managing editor of Bloomberg Politics) said the election has “convulsed the country” more than any event since World War II, including the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. I agree with him. I guess we’ll all grapple with this until we get it figured out, and that is likely to take a long time because every single day the administration hurls more horrors at us. Every. Single. Day. It’s so disorienting.

I want my pleasures back. I want to knit beautiful things again and not have to just rip everything out.

I want to bake sumptuous cinnamon rolls for people. I want to make really delicious vegetarian food for my dinners again. I want to make.

Even though I’m not asking for answers, I am wondering: is this happening to you too? Is it still happening to you?

shut the hell up

“Who do you think you are!”

“Why do you think anyone would be interested in anything you have to say?”

“You’re full of shit.”

“You’re nothing but a liar, and if you tell, no one will ever believe you.”

“You’re nothing.”

“You’re nothing.”

“You’re nothing.”

“What makes you think anyone’s interested in what you have to say?”

this woman is NOT my  mother but looks like her to a frightening degree. her voice is the one in my mind.
this woman is NOT my mother but looks like her to a frightening degree. her voice is the one in my mind.

Welcome to my mind. Not all of my mind, of course, but the part that tries to shut me the hell up. The part that sneers at me, that exists solely to knock me down a notch or hundred.

This voice drips with contempt. It assures me that it has known me since before I was born, and no one knows me as well. No one knows who I am but that voice, no one knows the corners of me the way that voice knows me. And who do I think I am. Just who do I think I am.

This voice is screaming at me because I’ve decided to go ahead and try something, I’m going to do something with my own writing — or try to, anyway. I keep putting my hands over my ears and going into my bathroom to look in the mirror. I put my hands on the sink and lean towards the mirror and say, “You are too a writer.” I say that over and over, even though I do not believe in the Power of Affirmations. But this is not an affirmational effort, this is an effort to shut that voice up, to claim that I know more than she does.

Please, this post is not about whether I can write or not. I’m not wanting you to leave comments about my writing, whatever you think about it. This post is about cruelty and harshness and the way our inner voices can have so much power.  It’s quite terrible, how truthful they sound — because for many of us, I suspect, these terrible inner voices are the sounds and words of parents, whether they were meaning to be dismissive or not, whether they were simply not paying attention or trying to destroy, as in my experience.

But of course I haven’t heard her voice in real life since 1987 . . . on purpose. So at this point I am responsible for that voice, for maintaining it in any way, for giving it any weight or credit. I know it’s not as simple as just brushing my hands off and walking away, it’s not as easy as thinking, eh, shut the hell up. One way to talk back to it is to go ahead and prove it wrong. Just go ahead anyway. Oh yeah? Who do I think I am? I think I am a writer — good or less-good, strong or weak, but I am a writer. I am, actually. A writer is someone who writes, and I must write every day. Why do I think anyone would be interested in anything I have to say? Well, let me just see! Will people be interested? I think enough will, I think some people would like it, and that’s enough. One needn’t be the Best-Selling-Author-Of-All-Time to have something to say, to have people interested in it.

One of the many risks in going ahead and trying something is that I will fail, and that mocking voice will then sneer, “See! You are nothing.”  I’m preparing myself to fail and I have a lot of ways to think about it. Everyone fails when they first try something new, I have to have permission to do that or I will be too clenched and frightened — and that may guarantee failure. Failure is giving up.

I’m not a unique snowflake; lots, maybe most people have critical inner voices. If you don’t, I am so very happy for you, from the bottom of my heart. If you battle a critical inner voice—whether you’ve learned how to get around it or whether it’s an ongoing struggle—I’m very curious about your approach(es).  My dear friend Marian has written about it, and has developed a successful program to help people with this struggle. If you have found something that works, and if you are willing to leave a comment, I’d love to hear about it.

My not saying more about what I’m trying is not about caving to that harpie voice, it’s much more ordinary than that. It’s just about superstition. It it happens, you’ll be among the first I tell. 🙂

I hope it’s a good week for us all, with some blue skies in the mix, some laughter and happiness, and all kinds of things to be grateful for. xox

inside art

ubud alam jiwa ganesh3One reason Bali was so utterly amazing was the omnipresence of art — but it wasn’t art for art’s sake, it was art for just living’s sake. Stone carving, wood carving, fabric, flowers and plants, marigold garlands around statues, hibiscus blossoms tucked alongside the ears of statues, small banana leaf trays of blossoms and garlands everywhere. Exquisite carved doors, statues everywhere. All just because it’s life, it’s how life is lived.

And while I was there, I felt bursting with creativity, unable to stop thinking of things I wanted to make when I got home. Beautiful clothes I wanted to make, embellished in so many ways, and even my own design. Jewelry I wanted to make. Beading to do. Music to make. A pottery class to take, so I can make beautiful things for my home. I’ve never felt that way so intensely, so constantly. I didn’t even make notes, everything I was thinking was so clear and compelling, and I felt so urgent to get started, as soon as I got home.

Then I landed in NYC after 35+ hours of traveling and there was a giant dead (and decomposed) rat and I was ready to get on home to Austin, and then there was the terrible day of travel just trying getting from Houston to Austin, and then I had all the re-entry stuff to get done — laundry and grocery shopping and putting stuff away — and then yesterday I was strangely exhausted and spent the afternoon zoning in and out of naps.

Now I can’t quite remember what all I had been thinking. Clothing? Embellishing? Design? Jewelry? Pottery? Yesterday I looked up pottery classes in Austin and thought well, maybe. I don’t know. Bali felt moist and lush and bursting, and it made me feel that way too. It worked on me from the outside in, and the deal here is that I need to find my way from the inside out, I guess.

Too, it’s possible that I’m pooped. I mean, I am pooped, definitely; what I really mean is that being pooped might just be making it hard to find my creativity. The 12-hour time difference has left me feeling kind of dazed. Also, I’m dieting and exercising while tired, so at this point it’s adding to my tired feeling rather than energizing me. One of these days I imagine that’ll turn around, and as I start feeling more physically fit and zippy it’ll be easier to work from the outside in. That feeling of regained control is also energizing.

Most of you who regularly read my blog are extremely creative, in one form or another (or multiple forms). How do you get yourself creatively energized? How do you get the fires stoked, the ground watered, the sky full of balloons? I’d love to hear your thoughts.



exploring the world

A few years ago, I participated — with 500 people, mostly women, around the world — in a project called Tuesdays with Dorie. The group’s founder had bought Dorie Greenspan’s book Baking: From My Home to Yours and wanted to systematically bake every recipe in the group. A couple of her friends wanted to do it with her, they started a blog, and before long it was a big old Internet deal. Each week a member got to select the recipe and the group would bake it; there was a board where we could ask each other questions, describe problems we had, our own twists, etc. Then, each Tuesday we’d all post our efforts on our own blogs and it was so much fun. I made recipes I would’ve skipped otherwise, read about so many twists that never would’ve occurred to me but improved the original recipe, and annotated my book to indicate changes to the recipe, like baking times that differed from the book. Really, so much fun.

explorerLast week I ordered a book called How to be an Explorer of the World: Portable Art Life Museum, by Keri Smith. Just under $10 on Amazon. Here’s the description from the Amazon page:

“Artists and scientists analyze the world around them in surprisingly similar ways, by observing, collecting, documenting, analyzing, and comparing. In this captivating guided journal, readers are encouraged to explore their world as both artists and scientists.

The mission Smith proposes? To document and observe the world around you. As if you’ve never seen it before. Take notes. Collect things you find on your travels. Document findings. Notice patterns. Copy. Trace. Focus on one thing at a time. Record what you are drawn to.

With a series of interactive prompts and a beautifully hand-illustrated two-color package, readers will enjoy exploring and discovering the world through this gorgeous book.”

The Table of Contents will give you a good idea of the exercises (click to enlarge so you can read the chapter titles):

I got my copy yesterday and hope/want/plan to work my way through it systematically. If you want to do it together, let me know! My first thought is to take a week for each exercise, which would make the project last just longer than a year, 59 weeks. Even the effort will change me, because the exercises are designed to help the reader pay closer attention to the world, feel a bit strange, look at the world in ways that make you think differently, conduct experiments on a regular basis, and see inanimate objects as alive.

My curiosity and creativity need a jump start. In the wake of last year’s tragedies, I’ve been quiet and still and inward, but the bulbs are starting to break the surface, crack the hard dirt. In the month of January, I did almost nothing but sit in my chair and work, every waking moment 7 days a week, for 31 days. I was burning out, and at one point I thought is this life? If this is it, who wants it,  living just to work. Learning to be alone in the world has challenged me in such a deep way, because there is no one to share it with, and sharing it has always been the center point of my life. So if there’s no one to share it with, is it worth going out in the world and doing things? Of course it is, but I had to get there. I have arrived.


I’m going to spend the coming week getting ready, reading the first part of the book before the exercises start. My plan is to post the results once a week. Want to play along? I’ll wait while you get the book . . .