Listening. And Melancholia.

When I started my writing life almost 2 years ago, I charged forth, eager to create “WRITING” in all its artistic glory, in all capital letters each and every day. I said yes to every opportunity that came my way and ran like hell at every chance that presented itself. I was going to be the best, the biggest, the brightest. Basically, I attempted writing as a job. With every job I’ve had since I was fifteen, I charged forth and swore I would be the best and outshine everyone else. The first to get promoted, the first to get accolades. In development, as a teacher, office manager, even a bartender. I charged forth, got there early and eager and excited. I finished projects, or got the biggest tips, or earned gold stars before going on to the next challenge.

But writing isn’t about product, it’s about process. In most jobs you’re working towards a finished goal, it’s linear, you have an endpoint in mind, whether that’s making a drink, raising a certain amount of funding, or getting a student’s SOL scores up, that goal is always at the forefront of your brain. With writing, there is no endpoint. Sure you have projects, but writing is circular, amoeba-like. You write a little here, snatch some time for a journal entry or vignette there, come back to your main project here, post a blog there. It’s like raindrops of paint falling on a Pollack canvas, where my other jobs were linear, concrete shapes like Miro or Calder. Point A to B. Writing is point A to Z to G to H and every point in between.

In my eagerness to get to point Z, I forgot to get quiet and listen. But my muse, the lady with her hair up in a bun who wears overalls and paints pictures in the basement of my mind reminded me that to create you have to listen. And if you’re charging and achieving like some AP high school student with an Ivy League in mind, it’s hard to listen. It’s much easier when your neck is injured and you can’t move. When you can’t move, all you can do is listen. So that’s what happened.

My body broke. I hurt my neck and it felt as if somehow I’d been broken right down the middle, like a tree that’s been struck by lightning. My insides charred and died. The bolt tore through the middle of me, tearing away the old as it went. And from the smoldering ashes a new me has gradually begun to grow. My neck injury was just a physical manifestation of what I’m feeling emotionally and creatively.

The lightning struck and my body broke and it was all I could do to sit or sleep or lie or do much of anything EXCEPT listen. My body broke which felt physically terrible, but even more awful emotionally. I felt like a job failure. I canceled engagements, stopped writing, and was convinced that while I had been successful at every other job known to man, in this one I would fail. I just didn’t have the discipline.

But my body breaking was the best thing that could have happened. Because I began to listen. It was the only thing I could do. And when I listened, I discovered my muse. I began to meditate, to get really quiet, to simplify, and I discovered that in fact, I was stronger than I had ever been. My body healed and as it did, the gash created by that lightning bolt remained open rather than healing over like a scar. It remained open allowing the light to come in. It kept me awake. Where before I traveled through life covered in blankets of junk food, liquor, video games, and shopping, now I was able to stay awake and aware and really HEAR what life had to offer. I have a strong flow of creative river that runs through my soul, and if I had never injured myself, I never would have realized it.

Now I know that to write, all you have to do is listen. You are not creating anything. The life force, your muse, has the creations. You only have to take dictation, to listen for her, for it, and to write down what is said. I sensed this so strongly after my injury, and when I by chance happened to read it in Julia Cameron’s book, the hair on the back of my neck stood up. It resonated so much in me. And it was so validating because my gut knew this all along.

As I healed, and listened, I also discovered life presents things to you only when you’re ready for them. You only have to listen. I read books about meditation and Buddhism, about getting quiet and as I did, I discovered friends who meditated but had never told me. Kismet. I read books on writing that so closely paralleled my study of meditation, books that talked about writing as prayer, writing as play, writing as no big deal, that it made me stop and say, “WHOA”. As my dad always says, it’s all too random to be random.

These books, these moments came to me now, in this time, because only now did I have the ears to hear them. Only now did I understand what to do with the information.

For so long I’ve looked for comfort in outside things to quell my anxiety and sense of doom and fear that constantly permeates my every cell every time I walk out the door. I put on a shell of courage and pretend I’m all right. But by getting injured, being forced into retreat and solitude I was able to get quiet and learn you only have to listen. Listening give you strength. Listening to the world, it will tell you what you need.

By listening I was finally able to give up the notion that I’m a bad person. That little voice inside me was silenced. I always compare her to a woman standing there with a clipboard, checking a big red “X” every time I do something wrong. For the first time in 40 years she was silenced. I’ve stopped looking for validation from my family and friends. Or learned to stop looking, can’t say I’m there yet. But of course if I was, I’d probably be enlightened. We all look to others for validation. But I swear, I’m learning that just by getting quiet, by listening, we will hear all we ever need to hear.

All those criticisms and suggestions people give you that make you feel bad about yourself? They are only beliefs. Beliefs are not facts. They. Are. Not. Facts. To finally realize this was huge.

The BIGGEST obstacle I’ve overcome by listening is finally becoming comfortable with groundlessness. I hate it, as we all do, but now, if I can remember to be aware, when I confront a situation where I feel uncomfortable, where I feel groundless, I say to myself, “This is the perfect moment,” even if I don’t believe it. Then I just listen. I listen to what my gut is telling me to do about it. And usually it’s to do nothing. What will be will be. All I have to do is breathe.

Today I watched the Lars Von Trier movie, “Melancholia”. Talk about being groundless! A planet is careening toward Earth. What do you do? There is nowhere to hide. The only thing you can do is gaze at the sky and watch as this big blue ball gets larger and larger with each passing day. Your breath becomes struggled and shallow as the interfering planet takes your atmosphere. Hail falls at odd times, snow in the middle of summer. Birds freak out then go deathly quiet. Electricity emerges from your fingertips. And you know you’re going to die.

The dynamic of how the characters react was fascinating. Where the most melancholic, “crazy” (note the quotes) sister turns out to be the most steadfast, the most comfortable with this most groundless and uncomfortable of situations, the calm, collected scientist is the one who goes mad and kills himself before the big event. The “fixer” character, the sister who’s always in control and making sure everyone is having a good time, ends up being hysterical, and the roles are reversed with the crazy sister taking care of her at the end. Only the child and the melancholy sister are able to breathe through the groundlessness. This most ultimate of fates.

I won’t lie, the movie gave me the creeps. It freaked the hell outta me. I’m learning to get comfortable with uncertainty, to listen. To breathe. But I ain’t quite THERE yet, and I don’t honestly know how I would react to something like this. Something tells me I’ll be up many many nights thinking about this movie. And listening. I’d love to talk about it with someone, but then I ask myself, what would that accomplish? You already know what would happen, how you would react. You deep down already know, and you don’t need to validate your actions and reactions by discussing it with another person. That’s just security blanket talk. That’s something to grasp, something to hold onto in the event a planet is somehow whirling you toward your ultimate demise. In the end you know what happens. You only need to get quiet to find out what that is. To listen. You know in your heart that’s the case. Right?