I have lost my words and I am failing my literary idols.
Norman Mailer, whose towering work of creative nonfiction, The Executioner’s Song, made me want to write in that genre, said that “[i]f you tell yourself you are going to be at your desk tomorrow, you are . . . asking your unconscious to prepare the material.”
And Joseph Campbell, whose work changed my world vision and whose theories I taught for twelve years, said to find “a room, or a certain hour of the day” that must become your place of “creative incubation.” He promised that if you visited, “[a]t first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.”
The message is simple. In order to find your words you must show up. Write every day. Make a commitment. Do the work and the inspiration will come.
It’s a message I pass on to my writing students: Write regularly and the ideas will flow. You will form and shape your stories and give them life as only you can do with your authentic voice.
Perhaps I am failing my students too.
Because I have no words.
I quit my day job last April to “be a writer.” To take a leap and the universe would catch me. I even tattooed that quote on my forearm, a constant reminder that once I was brave and did brave things, and that everything would turn out all right in the end. Never one to shy away from hard work and secure in my belief that I was the smartest girl in the room, I trusted in my ability to give my dreams flight.
But I can’t find my place of creative incubation and my unconscious isn’t preparing the material and I can teach, but not do.
And so I’ve barely written. The “award-winning writer” phrase in my bio makes me cringe, as though it were spit-laughing in my face. Dust gathers in the corners of my blog, and the cobwebs overtaking the ceilings would make Miss Havisham proud.
My mind is never at rest, racing with a flight of ideas I can’t harness and hitch to the page. My archives read like a blow by blow account of the mania, anxiety, and depression that trap my bipolar mind, and they shame me. That illness holds my words locked away in a high tower, neither a length of tresses nor a shining prince in sight to rescue them.
I count as close friends the talent-filled members of my online writing group. I applaud them as they chalk up success after success: Agents, book deals, articles in influential newspapers, stories in literary journals, posts accepted by major websites. Their voices rightfully need to be heard because they are unique and valuable and resonate and capture universal emotions and change hearts and minds. Their work astonishes me and leaves me breathless and I am honored to be among writers of their caliber.
But I feel like I’ve become a silent partner.
I hate my mind. It’s taking away the one thing I thought was my purpose, and I am left here, my world shrinking to the isolation of my bed and the eight square feet of my desk and the school drop-off line and my keyboard, which stares up at me with the sad, empty eyes of rejection, begging for human contact, and daily finding its affections unrequited.
It is breaking my heart.