Out of My Depth
writing is hard
A few years back I joined a writers’ group. We met once a week to share our work and gently offer each other feedback and support on our solitary writing journeys. For two hours we would indulge ourselves in the writer’s favorite fantasy - that the process of writing can somehow be made easier, which, of course, is not true.
Writing is hard.
In a nod to the difficulty of creative pursuits, the Greeks gave us no less than nine Muses, born to the god of gods, Zeus, and the Titaness, Mnemosyne (memory), their purpose being to bless our creative endeavors with inspiration and insight. In the midst of a creative project, you want the muse ‘to be with you’.
Unfortunately, there appears to be no known direct line to the Muses, no certain route by which they can be found except for the age-old formula of sitting at your desk and putting pen to paper or fingertips to keyboard and venturing forth without hope or help into the abyss of the blank page, praying that something will float up or fall down or blow in.
Writers are intrepid.
At one writing group session we were sent out of doors by our writing coach to look for an object that ‘spoke to us’. We were to allow ourselves to be drawn to a natural object, a rock, a stick, whatever, something that, to our mind, resembled an animal. Trying not to overthink the exercise, I noticed a smooth-ish gray stone near my right foot partially covered with decomposing alder leaves. I picked it up for closer scrutiny. It was a whale.
Back indoors, clutching our finds, we were encouraged to write out a guided meditation that involved a voyage to the center of the earth where we would meet-up with our special animal and hopefully receive a message or writing insight. In spite of the complexity of this inspiration-seeking exercise and my inward skepticism about its efficacy I remembered the very catchy melody line I had composed recently for which I could not find any lyrics, no matter how much I futzed. My creative well was dry. Maybe a trip to the center of the world was the answer.
Writers get desperate.
As I stared down at the whale in the palm of my hand an image of the magnificent white birch growing on a hillside just around the corner from my house suddenly popped into my head. Silent, strong, majestic, I had occasionally stopped to admire its towering gorgeousness and hug its trunk on my daily walks through the city green-space that bordered my neighborhood. Like a lover I had even pressed my cheek against its smooth, cool, white bark a few times. “Perhaps the journey starts there,” I thought.
I closed my eyes and squeezed the stone. Wrapping my arms around the white birch, the earth give way beneath my feet and I plumetted feet-first into earthy darkness falling along the tree roots into a suffocating pitch-blackness. My arms and hair trailed behind me as I hurtled downward, my clothes ripping from my body. Faster, faster, faster I tore through the earth. Down, down, down I sped. Deeper, deeper, deeper I went until THUD! I landed.
I had reached the center of the world.
Writers are brave.
It was dead quiet. I took a moment for me to gather my wits. I appeared to have landed in a dimly lit cave. Shaken, but unhurt, I noticed a soft yellow light glowing in the distance. I stood up and walked towards it.
As I drew close a flash of recognition crossed my face. It was my light. Yes! Without a doubt the beautiful glowing light was the light of my life! In an instant the light and I magically merged into the whole perfect being that, in essence, I am (we all are), tall, strong and solid, almost regal, like the birch, and full of life.
In a flash my dirty naked form was dressed in colorfully embroidered velvet clothing. A tall fur hat like a Russian papakha1 sat on top of my head. On my right hand appeared a ring with a large stone of amethyst refracting the ray of golden light into a soft purple beam that lighted the pathway out of the cave.
Writers keep going.
I was led out to a large sunlit field of tall green and yellow grasses. To my astonishment there emerged from the field every pet I had ever known and cared for, rushing to greet me. Beloved hamsters, cats, dogs, turtles, gold fish and two blonde-maned ponies gathered around me. It was a joyous, ecstatic reunion.
I explained my mission to the dear creature-friends and they assured me that they could lead me to the sea and my whale. Jumping onto a pony, I clutched the blonde mane and we all set off like a cloud of synchronized swallows or butterflies. We rose up and floated above the swaying grasses, moving swiftly over the fields of flowers, until, there it was! the majestic sea, home of my whale, sparkling like an immense carpet of diamonds before us.
We descended a gentle slope and stood along the shore searching the horizon for sight of the whale. Nothing. I slid off the horse and out of my clothes. Setting the amethyst ring on top of the papakha, I waded into the icy cold. I glanced back at the loving creatures lining the shore before diving into the deep and swimming out.
Writers are seekers.
I floated on the unfathomable deep for many many days waiting for my whale to come, entertained by the innumerable ways that stars, clouds, dusks and dawns appear and fade. From the depths of my suspended body old memories, regrets, passions and trepidations welled up to the surface of my consciousness, at times almost drowning me with their weight. I choked and sputtered and gasped for breath until each one passed through me and evaporated overhead into the sparkling morning mist. At last the sea and I rested in stillness.
I sang a new song as I swam back to shore. The whale never came.
Writing is hard.