I'm on a writing retreat. At a bed and breakfast in the middle of nowhere. For a week.
my backyard this week.
I can count on one hand the number of words I've said out loud today. I can NOT count on one hand the number of words I've written. As I, ahem, may have mentioned once or twice, this hasn't exactly been my pattern as of late, so I'm a pretty happy girl right now.
There are gorgeous red-and-yellow trees outside my window. A squeaky bed. A desk, a table lamp. I came armed with 12 pens, 500 notecards, 3 legal pads, and Scrivener. I've gotten more done in the last 24 hours than I have in the last 6 months.
I need to put this quiet space in a bottle and take it home with me.
Law school didn't actually teach me all that much about the law. The basics, sure. But the thing about lawyering is that you mostly learn by doing - it's the procedural stuff that people pay you for, really, the ability to navigate unnecessarily difficult waters without drowning. (I mean, don't tell anyone, but... the actual law? It's all right there, written down in books. IIIII KNOW.) It isn't that statutes and regulations are even all that hard to understand - they're just frequently complicated in their interpretation, their execution. Hence: the lawyers.
So while the law itself was ostensibly the focus of my education, I didn't walk away having memorized, y'know, every case ever. What I really learned in law school was how to think in a very particular way. How to contextualize; how to identify and exploit ambiguity; how to anticipate and preempt counterarguments. I learned to read closely, and then even more closely, to parse every clause with care, because a single word can mean the difference between winning and losing an argument. (Really: I cringe to think of the number of trees that have given their lives to heated debates over the statutory distinction between "may" and "shall"). I wasn't aware of it happening at the time, but as I look back, I can see it so clearly - the way my brain shifted. I started out a liberal arts grad who was used to making impassioned arguments that appealed to emotion, goodness, righteousness. I graduated with the ability to search and destroy, to identify loopholes and widen them until they took on the shape of valid arguments, to craft theories out of something as mundane as comma placement. This is what it felt like: that law school changed the landscape of my mind.
Something like that is happening again.
Last April my anxiety disorder got so out of control that I finally started therapy. It was something I had been thinking about for a while, but when my panic and fear reached the point that I was seriously considering never leaving my house again, I finally made the call. I was incredibly lucky to end up with an amazing therapist on my first try. She's quite good at appealing to (and out-arguing) my lawyer brain when I'm in stubborn logic mode, which is vital - but she's also right there with me when I talk about signs from the universe or whether or not there's a Grand Plan or people's "energy" or what happens to our souls after we die. She cites scientific study and Buddhist theology with equal ease. It's a good combination for me. But mostly - and this is the crux of her job, really, I suppose - she challenges so many things I have unquestionably believed to be true, and in that questioning an empty space opens wide. I stare into the darkness of that place. And slowly, slowly, I begin to shine light into it.
This is what it feels like: like I'm expanding, unearthing, pushing apart and coming together all at once, amplifying, releasing, drawing my first breath. Like I'm constructing galaxies in my heart. For so long I was living in a tiny airless room, concrete walls pressing against my chest, fluorescent lights buzzing in my eyes. And now, suddenly, there is air. There is sunlight. Suddenly I am infinite.
It's a little bit awesome. No, actually, it's truly awesome - and I mean that in the literal sense, in that I am filled with awe, I am awed. The world looked one way, and now it looks completely different, and nothing changed but me. It's exhilarating. It's also some of the hardest work I've ever done, exhausting, mind-razing work. There are THINGS in that darkness, things that inhabit darkness for a reason, things that hiss at the light and glare at you with sunken sun-starved eyes and glittering teeth, things that threaten to devour you whole. Sitting with those things is hard. Banishing them is harder. Loving them, taking them into your arms, showing them compassion - that's the hardest thing of all.
(Isn't it always?)
"I feel like I don't have the words for this," I said to my therapist a few weeks ago. I was frustrated, unable to articulate a feeling, unable to move past it. "It's like... it's like I'm having to learn a new language to talk to you." I was grasping, literally, my hands opening and closing around nothing.
She nodded. "Yes. I know," she said. "You're finding your voice."
She watched as the words sunk in, as my hands finally stilled.