Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Your Brain on Mute

If I pulled my brain out of my head and rubbed it across a blank piece of paper what sort of messy thoughts would smear the surface? Would phrases like "gas tank," "the dishes," "finish term paper," and "dentist appointment at 4:00 or 4:30?" soak through the page like a glossy grease stain?

Life is messy. But my head feels messier. Am I to just sit down, whip out the laptop, and let my fingers dance when my head, in all its festering, garbled clutterness, is in much need of pesticide poisoning?

Anne Lamott's book, BIRD BY BIRD, gets right to the meat of how we can begin chewing into our imagination's material when our skull's about to explode from a brain clot.

She writes:

"You try to sit down at approximately the same time every day. This is how you train your unconscious to kick in for you creatively. So you sit down at, say, nine every morning, or ten every night. You turn on your computer and bring up the right file, and then you stare at it for an hour or so. You look at the ceiling, and over at the clock, yawn, and stare at the paper again.

Then, with your fingers poised on the keyboard, you squint at an image that is forming in your mind- a scene, a locale, a character, whatever- and you try to quiet your mind so you can hear what that landscape or character has to say above the other voices in your mind.

The other voices are banshees and drunken monkeys. They are the voices of anxiety, judgment, doom, and guilt. Also, severe hypochondria. There may be a Nurse Ratched-like listing of things that must be done right this moment: foods that must come out of the freezer, appointments that must be canceled or made, hairs that must be tweezed. But you hold an imaginary gun to your head and make yourself stay at the desk. There is a vague pain at the base of your neck. It crosses your mind that you have meningitis."

The solution?

"Some days it feels like you just have to keep getting out of your own way. It is a little like when you have something difficult to discuss with someone, and as you go to do it, you hope and pray that the right words will come if only you show up and make a stab at it.

But the bad news is that if you're at all like me, you'll probably never read over what you've written and spend the rest of the day obsessing, and praying that you do not die before you can completely rewrite or destroy what you have written, lest the eagerly waiting world learn how bad your first drafts are."

I suppose in the end we all have busy times. Groceries. Deadlines. Visiting relatives. Until those busy times move to chaotic. Broken car. Bronchitis. Visiting relatives. Before long life is spiraling out of your hands once again with your teeth being the only glue to hold it together. Crashed car. Kitchen fire. Knee surgery. Visiting relatives. Then you finally claw some sense of order into your shredded life to keep the tide from rising above your chin. Meteor strikes. Relatives' funeral.

Amidst this repetition between bad and worse, can we just sit down and spew all of our thoughts, and rants, and memories, and pretend castles on the Microsoft screen and pray something sticks?

Sure! Why not.

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