When everything comes undone


Things don’t always go according to plan. Or maybe they do, but you’re not in on the plan. 

Stories unravel in the telling and the pieces fray and pucker with working and reworking. The fabric wears through. You remember what it was like to erase parts of your math homework so many times there was a hole in the paper. You rub the edges of the holes with your finger. No answer. No way to turn this into something with the eyes you have right now—and they feel like the only ones you’ll ever have.

Or you have a better week, relaxing into your process, but trying not to jinx it by adding some extra layer of ego or making too much of the ease you feel. You show up every day and find scenes you can feel in your body as you’re writing. You can sense the breath of something new moving through you. You want to use words like “finally hit my stride,” but naming what’s going on might make it disappear. So you just clear your head and sit down the next day and the next. You keep going. Yes. Yes. Yes.

And then the glitch. It’s not what you expected. A little test for you.

Mine was certainly a curveball. I was working at the library yesterday on my new computer, one I’d gotten for its feather weight, its intimate scale. In recent weeks I’d faithfully let my morning writing, that new project of mine, filter from my dream-filled mind onto its screen. I’ve been collecting images, moments.

For the first stretch, I decided not to look back at the writing except to quickly capture one element that’s visceral enough to stay with me to seed the next day’s work: a feral cat. A sense of Midwestern boys in their pickups, roaming like centaurs. My own personal mythology floating in a free space, unedited for a while.

Gone. Just gone.

Leaving the library, I put down the computer to check out books. The next time I reached for it, it was gone. The little machine’s on some wild journey of its own now, some of which I watched in real time as GPS tracked it, a glowing green dot on a map, courtesy of a “find my computer” app.

Though it was tempting to imagine sirens screaming after the getaway car (or bike), that wasn’t part of the story. I’m told it’s pretty safe to assume the little silver notebook is gone for good.

So I’ll begin again with those poems of mine. And this time I’ll back up those files to the cloud. They were all copied to a thumb drive, and that’s gone too. (Let me be your cautionary tale, friends.)

I’m sad, no question. But since my wallet disappeared at the same time, I’ve been busy with the logistics of canceling and replacing. Every once in a while a little sigh escapes. All that work. Those nascent poems will have to find their way back to me.

In the next quiet space, I’ll say thank you to the images gathering around me these mornings and take a moment to grieve losing that first form they took, their handsome shapes, the surprise of them. I feel like a kid with a skinned up knee in Bandaids and Mercurichrome,  wanting to wail.

And when I’m done, I’ll begin to summon those glimmers up again.

Symbols, for soothing

It happens that this week, a client was caught in that space where nothing seems to be moving—empty well, punishing Inner Critic. For her, I conjured a ritual for putting the problem aside, letting solutions grow in the dark, and rinsing away the feeling of frustration, even despair.

It’s my offering to you (and myself) this week, for times when something comes at you from the inside, or the outside, and you need soothing before you go back in and start again. We’re always entering the symbolic realm to find what’s true, what’s been lost to us. Going there with rituals has always been powerful medicine. I could use a double.

Maybe you’re having one of those times in your life, too, beautiful writer person, and it’s time to pick up and start again. As writers, that’s what we do. It’s our bravery and genius and insanity. We lose our way—or sometimes, more literally, lose our work—but we keep coming back to the writing we have to do, the beauty at our core. We are one fragile, resilient, stubborn tribe. I’m almost smiling for the first time today, thinking of us.

Ritual for another beginning

Print out the pages that are frustrating you, the ones that need to change and won’t let you in. Read them one more time and then make a list that starts: “I wish you would tell me…” (I wish you would tell me what happened in that moment I can’t remember. I wish you would tell me what’s up with the horse. I wish you would tell me why I keep seeing cats….)

Put the pages and the questions in an envelope, and seal it. Plug headphones into your computer (or iPod) and listen to raining.fm. The rain is vivid. Add thunder if it feels healing. Sit in the rain and let it rinse away the frustration. Watch any pain you feel flow away.

When you feel soothed, put the envelope aside for 3 days, or if you’d like, till the next new moon. Let the problems work themselves without you. Trust that knots are unkinking the way stems folded into seed coat do as they push toward the light. See what answers are there for you when you return.

Listen to the rain anytime you want that feeling of letting the past wash away so you can be yourself in the present, or when you want to water something deep inside that you can’t see yet.

Healing, a post-script

I sent this post out in the newsletter that goes out to my mailing list (there are places on this page to sign up if you want to receive it), and my husband got up in the night, read it, went back to bed. Then he dreamed a dream for me.

“I dreamed you wrote a poem called ‘Love from Gone,’ and your Airbook and poems and hotspot were sending you love,” he told me. “I woke up and knew I wanted to remember it, so I needed letters—LGH. They weren’t even the right letters, but I thought LGH. That’s short for laugh.”

We did laugh, for the joy of it, I guess. Yes, that loss still stings. But I’m back writing, working on a poem called “Love from Gone.”

Tell me about your rituals, your ways of coming back and back to your writing when something knocks you down. I’ll look for you in the comments below.

(Photo by longhairbroad, via Flickr.)

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