the pause button

Posted: September 6, 2011 in A Day in the Life

I can’t seem to buy inspiration today. I woke up early this morning determined to make a dent in the world as a writer. But I sit here, freshly uninspired. And it isn’t as though there are not enough good things happening in life for me personally, that’s not it. The flashing light of the pause button is really starting to drive me mad. It’s hard to recall this morning when I hit it, or maybe accidentally bumped it. But there it is. And here I am.

Now I know the tricks, the writing exercises for helping the stuck get unstuck. I know the philosophies of setting down the pen for a while and going out to experience people and relationships and “finding inspiration”. And it isn’t as though I haven’t amassed an array of the more enviable subject matter and titles like Monkey Poop, Life Lessons From The Hardware Store, and Winter’s Hope. (who wouldn’t want to write about monkey poop?). So where I’m at this morning is not unequipped. Just uninspired in view of the pause button.

What do you do when you reach to seize the moment, only to realize the moment has seized you? Well I’m not entirely sure. But this morning as it feels as though there’s no other choice, I’m going to let the moment have me and see where it goes.

I take one step back and right away I realize that what’s in the way isn’t a lack of inspiration at all, but rather a lack of motivation which stems from my disappointment that the process isn’t looking like I thought it would. Maybe it’s even due in part to my refusal to allow the moment to teach me something, even to lead me. Regardless, this disappointment has me gridlocked.

If you’ve spent any time hanging around artists and writers, you know that they can be a somewhat neurotic bunch. So it doesn’t take much before we find ourselves questioning our abilities, even our identities to the core. Not that any of us rationally think that the world has turned upside down in a moment and what was true of us yesterday is completely untrue today. But in that moment of disappointment and frustration, I am prone to be led by what feels true in the moment and so are a majority of the artistic types that I know.

I decide to see if baseball can offer any wisdom on the matter. Somewhere in the middle of an article on “how to break a hitting slump” it occurs to me. A hitter who is suddenly gridlocked at the plate isn’t gridlocked because he’s no longer a baseball player, or even a top hitter. In fact, that he’s frustrated at all presupposes that he has something to be frustrated about. On the other hand, if a guy who’s never held a bat in his life steps up to the plate, he ought not be disappointed when he can’t get a hit. He has no reason to expect that he would (and I should think he would be surprised if he did). But the hitter, the true player feels the deep frustration of disappointment because he knows who he is, what he is capable of, and that he belongs there at the plate.

It won’t surprise you to learn that one of the more effective methods for breaking a hitting slump happens right where a hitter belongs: at the plate. The trick is really no trick at all. He just takes a step back from it and simplifies his swing, swinging at first with just his upper body and no motion at the feet at all. He isolates parts of his swing. As he gets more comfortable with his mechanics, he begins to engage his lower body as well until he is, well, in full swing again. And if this doesn’t work? He steps up to the plate and does it all again. And again. He stares down the ball and knows that, eventually, he’ll win.

So it is with the writer. We know we’re capable of this and we know what “should” be. But some days are just off days. Some seasons for that matter. But what was true of us yesterday is still true of us today. So when the moment has me seized, maybe I can benefit from taking a step back. Simplify my stance. Approach writing not from a perspective that is hellbent on making the moment cooperate with my agenda, but from a perspective of allowing the moment and the subject itself to speak to me. And once I’ve done that, I step up to the plate again. And again. And again. Then I stare down the pause button and know that, eventually, I’ll win.

  1. dbh4asong says:

    I love this line, “What do you do when you reach to seize the moment, only to realize the moment has seized you?”

    I think this whole concept is huge for any creative mind to allow themselves to experience so you’re right on the money. It reminds me of what Anne Lamott talks about in Bird By Bird so you’re also in good company. She says that she believes that you have to literally wait out the channeling of the thoughts and ideas while the committee sits behind you in metal folding chairs taunting you and telling you that you should have never thought of yourself as a writer in the first place.

    Then, hours later, the thoughts begin to come and the committee has to leave.

    She suggests writing about school lunches or losing your keys just to get an idea flowing because the truth of what you’re going through will always come to the surface in the most mundane exercise.

    So, you my friend are exactly where you’re supposed to be today. Not letting the frustration win and the fear get the better of you. You filled the page with words, and some damn good ones at that!

    • Thanks David. I saw your use of bold lines to bring out some good take away lines and really thought it was effective. Hope you don’t mind me shamelessly stealing from you:)
      Bird by Bird needs to find its way onto my nightstand again. She’s so dead on; even just reading those thoughts of insecurity as a writer, saying my own version aloud, is freeing. It’s always SO nice to know when you’re not alone!

  2. Gary Forsythe says:

    Yep! That’s Texas for “I’m with you”. Been there done that. Living there, doing that. What you say about questioning our abilities, our talent, our identities, etc…. So true. Neurotic? Yep again. There are days I actually despise the gift that is in me because it bears so much responsibility for the neurotic person I am. It opens me up to insecurities, fear, disappointment, and a bunch of other issues. When those days come and I’m questioning everything about my musical soul, I envy bankers, accountants and computer technicians. Oh to be passionate about the black and white. Seems much simpler than creating lyrics and music that have never lived before. There are times I’m determined to quit, and to give up. But, before I know it, I”m back at it again. The need to create simply won’t die. Even when I’m uninspired. Good word, my friend.

    • Gary, thanks so much for reading this! Thank you even more for the affirming words. I’m right there with you. Isn’t it true, especially when we finally give ourselves permission to dive headlong into our art, how it happens? And you would think that the really great writers and artists out there become exempt from their own neuroses at some point. But the painful truth is, when we dive deeper and become more consumed in those creative moments, it is not just our art that is amplified, but those voices (the committee, as David reminded me) grow louder as well!
      Thanks for the words my friend!

  3. Kristi McIntyre says:

    Loved it, Jonathan. Thanks. I needed to read this right now because I have really been feeling like I’m “brain dead” creatively of late. Think I’ll keep swinging!

    @Gary, At first I thought I NEVER envy bankers, accountants, etc. but then I read what you said again…….oh boy, if you were actually passionate about the black and white….wouldn’t that take the pressure off? Solve the math problem, find the right answer, determine the bottom line and you’ve accomplished what you set out to accomplish! Seems lots easier, huh? You don’t choose your passions, I’m afraid…..or do you?

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