You hear about artists neglecting their house, their children, their hygiene while whirled in the throes of a creative project. When I started the Gateless Writing Academy in October, a long-dreamed-of book-building program, I thought I would be wild and intense too.
But instead, I have become a ballerina of efficiency, self-care, and domesticity. Mail gets opened and filed as soon as it drops through the slot, forlorn blouses are ironed and shrunken wool sweaters are restored, tumbles of lotions get organized and expired medicines tossed. The house is in full repair, I’m more well-rested than I’ve been in years, and the local yoga studio knows me by name. I even determined that this was the moment, after years of pondering, to begin the process of covering my gray hair.
It all makes sense. In exactly the moment I was about to do something decisive, another part of me began to inch away. Just as I tense my shoulders when I’m stressed, meticulousness was a instinctual leaning away from risk and toward some kind of protection.
But all the attention to my house, my body, and my things wasn’t allaying the fear. My outer tidying seemed to translate into an over-carefulness on the page. Personal care and relaxation is important, but was I also trying to anesthetize myself? And once my gray was covered, all I could see was a fake dye job, so I felt just as self-conscious as before.
Then I had a vision that helped me see a way out. Last Saturday morning, I was emerging from a dream state and saw an image of a coiffed and tidy me in a jail of perfectionism. The steel bars that were meant to protect me from criticism were also preventing me from expressing my full bold self. Then I saw another me — a transparent version — detach from my body, slip through the bars, and fly away.
My social and emotional body may feel trapped in a culture of praise and shame, winners and losers. But this vision shows that there is a part of me that is always free.
What if the underlying urge in writing this book were not to prove myself in this society, but to clear a space so my spirit can be expressed? Can I focus less on protecting my human self — the one that fears internet trolls and toxic critics and editorial rejection — and focus more on protecting the innocent spirit inside?
Once I heard about a writer who kept a note by his computer that said, “I am an angel in disguise writing a book.” How can I sit at my desk and simply write down what the soul wants to say?