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Posts Tagged ‘writer’s block’

neil gaiman, jason poole, accidental hawaiian crooner, molokai, panic attacks, halawa valley, writer's block

Last Friday, I read some of Neil Gaiman’s novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, while I was on the subway. I love his writing.  I love being able to “hear” his voice on the page.  (I’m familiar with his voice from interviews I’ve watched.  And on those rare occasions when I can’t “hear” it in my mind, I substitute the voice of British actor, Alan Rickman.)

Gaiman’s writing style is something I’ve been studying.  It’s slow, not rushed.  It’s like settling it with a good friend who wants to share a story with you, a friend who happens to be one of the world’s best storytellers.  You know you’re in good hands when you read one of his books.

For about thirty minutes, I was immersed in the world he created on the page. When I arrived at my stop on the train, I got up from my seat and realized that I was having a full-blown panic attack.  My muscles were tense, fight or flight mode; my breathing shallow and fast.  At first I couldn’t figure out what had triggered it and then it dawned on me–Gaiman’s narrator in the novel is a young boy who faces fantastic-and-yet-very-real monsters.  Something in the novel had touched a place deep inside me.  Something terrified me.

I recognized the panic attack and I reminded myself it would eventually pass. It did. Eventually.  I made it back to the apartment, sat on the couch and SHUT DOWN.  When I experience a panic attack, that’s all I can do, shut down.

The following day I sat in front of my notebook, poised to work on the BIG PROJECT but frozen.  It was an all-too-familiar scenario. For months I’ve found myself sitting at my desk, excited to write, and then after a few minutes of scratching at the page, I freeze.

Part of Project Natalie includes a massive writing component.  When this project began, I was excited to be working on this piece, something I’m passionate about!  But while the passion has remained intact, I’ve been extremely frustrated with my own lack of progress.  I started out strong and then hit a wall.

In therapy this week (“What? A New Yorker in therapy?”), I had one of those a-ha! moments that I’ve come to love: I was able to see that in my writing life, I’ve been experiencing panic attacks, complete with racing pulse and short, quick breaths.  And just like I saw it happen on Friday, when I’m faced with one of ‘em, I shut down.

So the pen has been frozen with Project Natalie.  For months.

I’ve still managed to squeeze out some writing, but not with Project Natalie.  Actually, I’ve been writing a lot lately.  Or maybe I should say that I’ve started a lot of new pieces lately, new songs, new poems, new essays.  More output than ever in all sorts of directions. And each of them show great promise. I’m the proud owner of a notebook full of strong starts, but no finished pieces except for the song I wrote as a Christmas gift for my parents.  (And that song was cobbled together at the last minute.  Thank goodness for unforgiving deadlines.)

I’m extremely grateful for my notebook full of starts.  It shows me that I’m not completely frozen.  It shows me that I’m able to continue a writing practice–especially when it comes to letting go of any outcome.  I write those mini-pieces. those hopeful beginnings, as a way to keep moving.  A practice of showing up to the page.  A practice that guides my day.  I’d feel lost without it, this anchor made of paper.

When it comes to Project Natalie, I am trying to be gentle with myself.  I recognize that something inside me panics.  There is a part of me that digs in his heels and doesn’t want to budge. A part of me senses danger ahead and freezes.  And I’m trying to be ok with that, trying to be compassionate. (Self-compassion is not one of my strongest suits.)  I

There’s also a part of me that recognizes there’s work to be done.  A story that needs to be written.  So I allow myself to stop for a moment.  And instead of pushing or pulling, I nudge.  Shorter writing assignments.  ”Just a few words.”  ”Just write for 15 minutes.” And I’m seeing that by turning on the heat gradually, the iceberg is beginning to melt.  V-e-r-y slowly.  (Slow and steady… Right, Neil?)

Panic attacks are not fun.  Being frozen is not fun.

But everything changes.

Sometimes, just being able to see what you’re dealing with helps.  The lights are on.  I can see the monsters. And yes, seeing them makes them a little less terrifying.

I mua.  Onward.

Right on.

How’s YOUR week going? 



A beating heart buried in the snow.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Jason Poole, Accidental Hawaiian Crooner, Molokai, NYC writer, writer's block, Inwood Hill, buried heart

We’ve seen a lot of snow here in NYC this winter. I took this photo this morning. Haunting. (NYC 2.18.14)

I woke up this morning with an image burned in my mind: A bright red human heart beating beneath the white snow.

(I know… I know… sounds kinda gross, right?)

Normally something like that would just pass though my mind and be forgotten by the time I’d finished brushing my teeth.  Interesting, yes, but fleeting.

But this image would not let go. Dang! It stayed with me all morning, even through two cups of coffee.

So I took out my notebook and decided that I needed to explore it.  I needed to see what was so important about it.  What did it mean?  My mind had created it and was demanding I pay attention.

Here are my “What-The-Heck-Does-This-Mean” notes:

The image of a heart beneath a blanket of snow and ice.  The heart continues to beat—faintly.  But as long as there is a heartbeat, there is the promise of warmth.  The promise of heat.

That’s how it’s felt to be working on these projects: the stories, the essays, the songs.  I’ve felt like I’m buried in an avalanche.  Like somehow I’d been snowed in a cabin deep in the woods, high on a mountain.  The snow continues to fall and accumulate.  More snow on top of snow.  And then it’s like WHAM!  I’m snowed in.  Stuck.  Buried.  Doomed. Done.

What does the ice represent in this image?  Fear.  Paralyzing fear.  (Fear of what? Need to explore this further.  Fear of failure as well as fear of success.)

What does the snow represent in this image? Doubt. Overwhelm.  Fatigue.

But wait… The heart continues to beat.  That’s my story.  A courageous little heart that won’t give up.  It can’t give up.  And from that little spot of warmth, the snow and ice begin to melt.  Slowly.  So slowly.

With each break in the ice, with every snowflake that melts, it grows—this little hot spot.  And then a clearing happens.  And it grows and grows until there is finally enough space for the story to breathe.

And then spring comes.  The warm golden sun replaces the garish, cold white light of winter.  Green replaces the snowy white.  And there, in the distance, is the story that everyone (that I?) thought had vanished and died.  It’s still alive!  Search parties had given up.  No one was looking for it anymore.  But there it is—walking down the mountainside!  It leans on a cane for assistance, but with each step, it grows stronger and stronger.  That’s how this feels.

Was the recent writing retreat a last ditch attempt at a search party?

No.  It was the heartbeat of the story still pulsing and sounding out a faint but consistent S.O.S. signal.  “I’m here!  I’m still here!”

And I’m so thankful that it is.

Right on.

Please stay tuned for more updates very soon.  The heart is still beating.