Sunday, March 05, 2006

On Being Blocked:

Last night I went to bed early after not being able to write. Of late, I have been newly inspired to take back my writing life after watching some incredibly thought provoking movies--Capote and The Dreamers. I went to bed early because after sitting down to write, nothing came. Like every day--nothing came.

I've been wanting to write about this for awhile now, but rarely have it in me to do so. Right now I'm supposed to be working on my thesis. I am half a semester away from graduating with a Masters in English--except for months now, I have been unable to write. Last semester I produced a couple strong pieces that I am happy with, but other than that--nothing--nothing other than blogging and journaling. To be honest, this is becoming both discouraging and frightening.

This degree has challenged me more than I ever thought possible. The funny thing is that applying for the position was a relatively last minute decision--I wanted the teaching experience that came along with it. Never in my wildest dreams did I anticipate the complete and utter hell I would go through to get to the other side of all this. The artist within me has struggled deeply these past 2 years to succeed in an environment that often feels contrary to who I am and who I want to become.

In last weeks reading, Cameron wrote, "...academia harbors a far more subtle and deadly foe to the creative spirit. Outright hostility, after all, can be encountered. Far more dangerous, far more soul-chilling, is the subtle discounting that may numb student creativity in the academic grove." There is one person in particular that caused me to lose my self-confidence in a way that I never thought possible. And now--I am trying to heal the damage that has already been done. Using Cameron's term, he is my "creative monster"--and a very ugly and vindictive one at that. And what does he matter? He doesn't. Except that there are many, many more like him to be encountered in my future.

I chose to do an creative thesis because I feel like I've stuffed myself numb with critical and theoretical writing. The part of me I value the most is my creativity. And so it only makes sense to foster that creativity, to give it the time and energy and attention it desires. For the my thesis I plan to write a collection of essays on my travels in India and will also be studying the role of travel writing as a sub-genre of creative nonfiction. I find both topics endlessly interesting. BUT--I am the QUEEN of BLOCKED. I have not been writing and, to be honest, it is eating a hole inside of me.

I came home last night completely inspired to write. When the words did not come I felt myself sink. It was a dark and hopeless feeling that started to swell. The darkness was ugly enough to send me to bed several hours earlier than usual. Why? Because I can't write and it is making me afraid that I will never will.

I strongly related to Cameron when she acknowledged that "[c]reativity cannot be comfortably quantified in intellectual terms. By its very nature, creativity eschews such containment. In a university where the intellectual life is built upon the art of criticizing--on deconstructing a creative work--the art of creation itself, the art of creative construction, meets with scanty support, understanding, or approval. To be blunt, most academics know how to take something apart, but not how to assemble it."

Granted, there are several professors that I am in contact with who fully support my creative endeavors--for them I am thankful. But the problem is that I find it impossible to play these two opposing roles at once--that of an academic, and that of an artist. They are not the same roles.

And I don't know how to be both.

The truth is that I love teaching writing. It is my passion. I wouldn't bother with this degree except that it allows me to teach. I am passionate about teaching writing because I am passionate about words. I just hope I can get through this and still have myself intact. I want my writing self back; I want my artistic self back--fully, completely. When Capote said in the movie: "It's the book I was always meant to write."--I felt my heart crack open. Right now the book I am meant to write is about India. Not writing it feels like quicksand. But I feel caught between worlds. There is a wall in my brain that I can't seem to break past.

And I am tired of being only half a person.

I want myself back.


Blogger Kristine said...

When I read this I could not help but to picture you wearing a bendi anound the house, eating indian food and playing indian music, perhaps visiting some indian stores or an import store like Cost Plus. Have you done anyof this? Maybe your artist needs a date in India. You may need some time to play...

12:22 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

You say you are only able to do blogging/journalling - and yet, what you have written here is powerfully evocative. It makes me want to cry for your hardship, to comfort you although I have no idea what would do so. I feel your pain from this. I wonder if it is partly expectations - that here, you are just saying what you feel, not trying to Write?

I often find it easier to post online than to work on my poetry - and I know at least part of that is my expectation that the poetry has to be meaningful, or good, or something. Maybe this has no mirror in your situation - or maybe it does.

Or maybe it's the fact that you know some of those same academics will be looking at it. They don't have to be the only ones, surely; you could share the work with others afterward, if they view it only with an academic eye, and not with the heart?

I would not have thought of what Kristine said, but I think her comment is also very insightful.

Regardless of whether or not any of this is of any use - I wish you well and wish you luck, also.

12:38 PM  
Blogger GreenishLady said...

Oh, my. This feels like a very hard place to be, but I think in saying it, in sharing what it is here, you may be ready to break into that block. The two suggestions already offered seem to me to be hopefully useful. I don't have any specific suggestion to offer. I just want to say Be easy. Yes. Play with India for a while, as Kristine said. Try not to look at the end ("This has to be a Thesis") but at the now ("I'm writing a piece of something about India"). I can't make a blanket if I think I'm making a whole big blanket, but if I make patches and pieces, they come together to make a great whole in the end. Perhaps this view is very simplistic. (I am in thesis hell too, but at least it is an academic subject and not calling on creativity.)

What might help? It would feel easier if....?

1:30 PM  
Blogger megg said...

hi there -

I UNDERSTAND how you are feeling! It sounds to me like you are trying to 'Write' because you have to make it into something. Perhaps you need to sit down with your journal and write about India as if it was just for you. Stop making it be about the thesis that is controversial to some, due to others, and has to be GOOD. Make it be about your travels and who you were and who you are now. Make it be for you again.

When I finished university (English AND history at the same time - I was a lunatic) I didn't read another book or write another word for almost three years. I had forgotten who I was. It took me that long to remember again. I think you are already on the right track to healing because you already know what the problem is.

Make your writing about YOU first. STOP worrying if it's good enough to be a Masters. Just tell us what India smells, tastes, feels, looks, dreams like. You are an amazing writer. You'll be okay!

4:37 PM  
Blogger gkgirl said...

i am so sorry
that you are finding
this so hard
and that it is causing
you so much stress...

i wish
that i could
find the words
to give you...

but all i can
is to listen...

8:53 AM  
Blogger Julie said...


When I think about being blocked, I always remeber Anne Lamott's words from Bird by Bird. When you feel blocked, what you are is empty, go and get yourself full.

This mirrors what Kristine said...go experience India where you are, even if it is in your own living room. Go to an Indian restaurant and hear the accents, smell the food, close your eyes and BE in India.

I did one AD in the beginning of the AW where I went to Ikea but they played this song (U2 Beautiful Day) that brought me back into Africa. What will take you back to India?

The other thing I'll mention is that I've started writing a book and realized I can't write in Word or even wordpad. I found I can only write in a blog format, so I created a new blog and I keep posting drafts to it so they won't be on the Internet. The auto-correct features of Word were blocking me - it was like having a critic sitting on my shoulder! Will you give yourself permission to write a completely imperfect first draft?

If you close your eyes, can you picture this block? Can you draw this block and then burn the page??

Maybe in your best impression of a three year old you can stick out your tongue at those mean teachers and tell them: YOU'RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME! or something better :)

Sorry for the long post and I hope I don't sound preachy. When I hear the call for help, it is hard not to respond. Julia C has a great breaking through block exercise at the end of Chapter 9 that I found useful too.

And breathe. Give yourself a break.

much love,

11:03 AM  
Blogger Joy Eliz said...

I was thinking about IF and how that alone got me to draw everyday. I've looked for some kind of weekly writing challenge but cannot find anything.

My idea is a weekly challenge just like IF but it would be a one page story.

11:08 AM  
Blogger Living Part Deux said...

I SO relate to being blocked in the academic discipline, and longing for the freedom of creativity. I write for a living, and my major clients, by far, have come from the medical industry and commissioned me to write about medical technologies and revenue management in large part, neither of which I am passionate about in the least. My primary client is spectacularly critical - although for some reason she keeps hiring me. Recently I accepted a huge job and became blocked about a third of the way through, after having accepted a sizable advance. PANIC. I froze at the sheer magnitude of the assignment, and my growing ineptitude. All this to say that I don't think your position is uncommon. I'm sending you encouragement that the words are indeed there. Chipping away at my block as the door to free air on the other side was a metaphor I could cling to on a daily basis. I finished, the clients were happy and I could breathe once again.

You are a terrific writer. Your creativity is not dying - rather it is fighting a good fight to prevail against the enemies you have described! Good thoughts coming from me to you!

1:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh god. I am sending you so much support. I feel this pain. I understand this pain. I wish I could help but all I can do is tell you I am sending you loe and support and know that you will shake free of this twist-- what great timing of the chapter on the hidden emotional potholes in academia . . .

You are a writer. you will write your stories. Don't attach to the block-- it will fall off. It will.


3:27 PM  
Blogger Endment said...

Sending you lots of sympathy and encouragement

4:39 PM  
Blogger Jana B said...

I so totally agree with what Kristine said!! As a matter of fact... LOL I may do it!!!! A night of Indian food, music, and of course a Bollywood film (how could you have a truly Indian evening without that?) would be heavenly!

I love India and everything Indian! (At least from the outside looking in, ya know? I haven't been there yet.) I have read anything about Indian that I could get my hands on forever...

So here's an idea, purely selfish in nature...

You want to write about India, right? So, maybe instead of thinking about big scary egg-headed people, write you essays to ME! Picture yourself writing the essay to a fellow enthusiast, who has not yet been to India but wholeheartedly wants to go, and will happily feast on any tidbit of info you throw her way. And of course... really send them to me!!!! :o)

4:53 PM  
Blogger Sky said...

Why don't you consider doing a couple of things - first take a 2-3 day trip away from your current writing environment. Go some place stimulating but a place that allows you to be WITH you in a quiet way. The break from the normal routine (which has now become one of pressure) will be fabulous for you and may open a door which has been closed.

Can you remodel or rearrange the furniture in the room in which you write at home? The refreshing atmosphere of a new space might open you as well.

Next, please write me a letter and tell me about the India you know. I will be traveling there next year, and this information is going to be helpful to me.

Feeling blocked from your creative self sucks. When you have a deadline looming, it is scary. This is not permanent - trust me.

My mother used to ask me why I went into social work instead of jounalism. I told her that I loved writing. If I had gone into journalism I was afraid I would begin to hate it due to the artificial life the deadlines would enforce around it. I think you could be associating an artificial aspect to the demand for the "product" and it is this which is blocking you. There is a way to make them compatible long enough to complete this dissertation. I promise.

I hope you will consider these suggestions and am eager to get the letter! TD can give you my address.

7:20 AM  
Blogger Sky said...

oops I meant *thesis*. sorry.

7:23 AM  
Anonymous Lynn said...

I just joined the AW project a few weeks ago, and I found you through Kat's Paws.

I have a dual undergrad degree in English and creative writing, and I have felt the strain you are talking about between the two ways of thinking and writing. I managed that strain pretty well during school, shifting fairly easily between both types of writing.

Then, shortly after I got my degree, I was blocked as a creative writer for five years. It happened when I was working on a poetry manuscript with my editor, and he began dishing out some very harsh criticisms of my work. His response to one of my poems was that it was "Not wry enough. Not funny enough. Tepid oatmeal." That's not even the worst thing he said, but it's lodged in my brain, and I now use it as a litmus test for everything I write. I sometimes live in fear of churning out "tepid oatmeal."

So I think I understand some of what you are going through. And it is with that understanding that I say these things: 1. You will be able to write again. 2. Your writing is always, always for you, no matter who your audience is or what kind of assignment it is. It is yours, and if you love it, if it speaks to you, it has worth.

Just a thought. If you like the format of the blog, could you start a private blog in which you do some of your thesis writing? It might help you to unblock if you use a new mode, one you are already comfortable with, for your ideas and drafts.

8:36 PM  

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