[41.0] becoming unstuck
ungodly writer’s block
When the house had been solitary, it had understood Beti’s work. It had sat by quietly and respectfully. Beti would lean over an open page for an age. In obeisance to the Goddess of Work. At any given moment, the Goddess may be pleased and slip in softly to sit down beside her. The pen rises by itself and begins to move across the page. An article a story a book begins to take shape…
The Goddess of Work peers in. She is frightened. Here’s a party in full swing. But I am the Goddess of Solitude. She slips away.
– Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree
Read the room! Meet the moment! Adages beckoning you to yoke time to lexicon and say the right words at precisely the right moment. I’ve found myself at a loss for words recently. Caused in equal parts by: recent personal losses kicking up dust in the emotional processing queue; this fucking stubborn wildfire smoke refusing to leave the Seattle atmosphere, and, by extension, my alveoli; grappling with what that smoke symbolizes in terms of imminent doom; texting, the slog that it is; having my time disrespected (don’t ask lol); doubts over vocational and spiritual purpose; hegemony; malaise.
These shitty variables have congealed and extruded as an unfortunate haggis of writer’s block getting in the way of work one can be proud of. So not a total inability to write, but taking two weeks to draft a semi-coherent book review that nobody will enjoy reading, finding sloppy typos in emails right after I hit send, feeling gravely misunderstood via iMessage or over a spaghetti-and-meatballs dinner, and so forth. A flop era.
Like other writers facing constricted linguistic pipes, I’ve turned to writing about writing as a form of treatment. (Which has made me wonder what personal travails have turned other writers to this Inception-esque genre. What, too, ails you, Geetanjali Shree? And how’d you get through to write my favorite book of the year—did the Goddess of Work pay you an auspicious visit?)
On my first pass of writing this issue, my buggy brain thought of the relationship between selfhood and productivity, and the finicky equilibrium between the two that, when right, makes for prolific and insightful writing. And, if not, an indication of being too much of you in your head or not enough. The Oracle of Delphi, who doled out (vocal, not written) advice on behalf of the Gods of Ancient Greece for over a millennium, may have breathed in petrochemical fumes seeping through the foundation of the temple to find out-of-body inspiration, so to speak. Both not yourself but immanently of yourself. An Ur-performance enhancer that can claim adderall, weed gummies, a hazy IPA, Burning Man, and many more as descendants.
While the Oracles established and maintained their prominence through stream-of-consciousness-type exclamations, more contemporary figures revered for their insights have taken a different approach. Robert A. Caro, author of The Power Broker (that really thick biography about Robert Moses), found the ability to write a 1200-plus-page book by being a quiet investigator and allowing others to fill his head. In his smaller and more recent book Working, Caro recalls writing “SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP” in his notebook while interviewing subjects in order to push interviewees to fill the awkward silence of his own abnegation. Delaying gratification and gathering more knowledge through the void, letting his fingers flow once interlocutors emptied themselves into his synapses.
Binders full of friends, meanwhile, have encouraged me to shake myself out of a funk by structuring my day more explicitly. Letting the inspiration pour into that explicitly bounded space and time. As author Meghan O’Gieblyn puts it, finding “something transcendent in the pleasures of repetition.” Refusing to submit to the tyranny of total freedom by making up rules for yourself. Beckoning a flow of rewards thereafter.
But with a first pass at writing comes Vanessa’s erudite editing! Amen! Most notably, “the strangeness of believing that writing (our best technology) is reliant on a mysticism somehow.” ⚠️⚠️⚠️
And call this newsletter a Protestant-ichthyologist rag, but something’s fishy if we only examine the practices that attempt to alleviate writer’s block, and not the accompanying beliefs/mysticisms. Shree, Oracle, Caro, O’Gieblyn all seem to submit to a higher power but name it different things. A muse/Goddess, vapors/whispers, the void, presence. And, across the board, an idea that something has to be sacrificed, whether your social life, your homeostasis, your desire to be heard, whims.
Assigning such spiritual value to writing explains so much lol. The ills of Twitter! The way creative writing groups devolve into chaos! As well as a tendency to call your grass greener than someone else’s. The idea that there’s writing as a task and writing as a calling. Some of that “don’t take me seriously until I tell you to take me seriously” energy. A permeable boundary between “lol” (funny!) and “lol” (passive aggressive). Appreciating that writing doesn’t actually need fixing could let a broken clock tell time twice a day. Decent technology!
Divine Innovation is a somewhat cheeky newsletter on spirituality and technology. Published once every three weeks, it’s written by Adam Willems and edited by Vanessa Rae Haughton. Find the full archive here.