I mentioned last week that I was feeling overwhelmed by life lately, which is true. Part of it is just Normal Life Stuff, the things we all have to deal with, the things that, with luck and practice, we all eventually figure out how to balance. For a while I felt like I had everything under control, but I'm having some trouble with that balance lately. There are days when I wake up as the sun is rising and spend all day at work sitting in front of a computer and I get home as the sun is setting, eat dinner, fit in those small things that fill my evenings, then suddenly it's bedtime and one day blends into the next that way and before you know it weeks have passed and I haven't done a single thing that means something to me. Not a single thing that feels like it adds something important to my life. And that provokes a deep anxiety, because how many lives are we guaranteed, really? What am I doing with what I've been given?
This isn't new. I think we all go through periods where we have to try and re-focus, re-prioritize. But in my case, right now, it feels bigger than that. It feels like things are moving, like deep-seated things in my life are in transition. Which is odd, considering I'm in a stable relationship, working a stable job. I am well-cared-for, well-loved. So what is all this churning aching upset about?
I'm not sure what the answer to that question is, but I feel it swirling everywhere around my writing.
Writing is unsettling. Not always, and maybe not for everyone. But for me, it moves things around, rearrranges things in my head and forces me to confront parts of myself that are sometimes difficult to acknowledge. And that's what I feel happening now: I am being unsettled. Displaced. Disrupted.
The feeling is there in the thinking about writing, the planning to write, the actually sitting down and writing. There is the disappointment at my procrastination, at my paltry wordcounts; there is the fatigue, the constant fight to carve out space for myself, to enforce quiet so I can think. There is the shame of having to confront the person I want to be - the peppy early-riser who finds time for everything and never sets a goal she doesn't keep - with the person I am - the girl who's stumbling from one activity to the next in a haze, who can barely keep up, who sets goal after goal only to find herself falling short. There is the discontent of knowing that I should be nicer to myself, and failing at that, too.
There is the very different disturbance that comes with actually writing, those brilliant sacred moments when I sit down and create a scene out of nothing, out of dreams, and suddenly my characters are asking me unsettling questions like, "Why am I here? What is my purpose?" There is the struggle to answer those questions, of how to do my characters justice, how to give them meaning, and the fear of not knowing what those questions mean for my own life. Am I living - really living? Am I a good person? Am I focused on the Important Things, or am I just going through the motions? How do I feel about the answers to those questions? What am I going to do about it?
And then there is the uncertainty of existing in two worlds, the world in my head where I am a writer and maybe, one day, someone will pay me to do this work, and the world that actually exists, where I am still me, still me. There is the discontent of not trusting that my dream will ever be realized. There is the fear that maybe I'm lying to myself, maybe writing isn't in my future. There is the feeling of never being assured.
In other words, the act of writing forces me to confront my weaknesses, to contemplate my place in the world, and to re-envision my life's trajectory. Heavy stuff, for something that I do in my spare time.
So why keep doing it? Why not just stop?
Because the poison is the medicine. Growth is painful, yes, but it's a teeth-grinding pain that gets you somewhere. It's easy to say that I want a life that has meaning; it's easy to say I want to connect deeply with myself and other people, that I want to study and investigate and experience and know. It's easy to want wisdom. It's another thing entirely to do the hard work of engaging. Grappling. Struggling.
Writing tears meaning out of my bones. It makes me grow, it makes me confront, it makes me question. It makes me angry and uncomfortable. It scares me.
And it should.
These are the things that will save us, these things that grab us by our shoulders and force us down the path. These are the things that are worth doing.
And so I write. And I keep writing.
I write into the discontent.