I hate the annoying periods when nothing sparks my attention and I feel dull and uncreative. It’s uncomfortable because I feel somewhat diffuse and unfocused, lacking purpose. I call these times my grocery store moments.
The mood is characterized by the static, generic feel of the supermarket. The drugged, heavy sensation that drips in my veins as I push my cart through the aisles, trying not to space out. The slow leak of creative energy and even lively thoughts dripping out of my nodes.
My husband usually senses it, the sudden torpor that comes over me like narcolepsy. He takes over steering the cart and begins cooing and encouraging me like a nursing home aide. Should I get broccoli? he asks. Whatever, I say in monotone. I just can’t stand the planning, it’s so tedious. Why can’t we be like Italians who throw the same five ingredients together at the last-minute and call it a meal?
Odd thing is, he gets more chipper and upbeat as I start the death spiral. And that just makes me want to suck all the more on my sourball of discontent. With each saccharine pronouncement I want to bite him. Instead I hurl biting comments. Wanna try this nice bread? he asks. No, I reply, it has no taste. It always looks good on the outside and then disappoints. Plus, it’s not as good as mine. Every positive must get shot down with a double negative.
I hate my irritation, my bitchiness, I really do, but a grocery store feels like a purgatory, a holding tank where my undefined life is exposed for all of the purposeful, productive list-holding, menu-planning people who scrutinize under the harsh lights.
And now I’m a little worried about returning to the States and not really having a game plan. How did my life get to be like this – with no career but to be pulled in whatever direction my partner goes?
Not a useful question really. So again I come back to what I know best – waiting passively to come unblocked and trying to use people’s positive feedback and support to re-activate my writing confidence – and sometimes it does.
Last week one of my readers emailed me two pages of notes in response to my Sea Glass reflection. It was pretty unexpected and pretty damn amazing. She shared some very difficult things about her life and her childhood struggles, the pain and shame she endured, things she hadn’t talked about. And when I read that, the connections that had been eluding me all week sort of fell into place. I felt like she really got it. And I thought to myself this is why I write.
I write for the rare moments when I can form a bond with someone in a different time zone than me. I write for that single chance that someone is listening and knows exactly what I’m talking about. I write to make other people laugh. These moments don’t happen very often but they make me feel awake and connected, like my voice has concrete value.
I suspect I will always live with grey places, I’m not going to have many of the Red Bull moments, but at the same time I don’t have to go crazy with the soul-sucking grocery store ones either. Maybe there’s something in the everyday that will keep me charged. Some way to live and share what I feel that makes sense, has a purpose.
Whenever we go to Copenhagen we always visit Strøget, the long pedestrian street with stores and tons of people and musicians and performance artists. And I love the various “living statues” – those characters painted head to toe who are completely frozen until you put a coin into their cup. And once you do, you never know what they will do, what kind of magic they will produce. They might be a Victorian caricature or a Cleopatra, or just a misfit tramp holding out a single rose.
And it’s uncanny how completely artificial they look and how much they appear to be mannequins. You only do a double take because there is something in their eyes that gives them away. And every single time I long to drop a coin and make the person come alive, I can’t stand to see them immobilized, paralyzed within their art.
Some might say that they are weirdo exhibitionists who should get a real job or that there is something fundamentally lacking in their self-esteem. Perhaps they touch a nerve because they are unabashedly asking for something, they are vulnerable and needy.
But I think that those street artists are like me, locked inside of some kind of zany expression just wanting a little attention. Dormant figures waiting for a zap of life, like me in the frozen foods section, wanting inspiration and the chance to display what I can do.
I used to feel sad for the statues and a little embarrassed for them, but now I think they are artists with something meaningful to offer, an interactive connection that draws us into a circle of people on the street, into a spontaneous yet choreographed conversation. They offer up the chance to be a necessary prop, a vital part of a story and something else that I haven’t quite figured out.
And I think they are brave to put on their costumes and cover themselves with paint, and gutsy for standing there without moving a muscle all day long, even when no one gives a penny. Even when they probably feel unappreciated and uninspired.
The performance they give isn’t a grab for attention, it’s a grab for connection, and that’s what I feel in my writing, on my best days when it comes, if it ever does. And I’m seeing now that when it doesn’t, when I’m frozen in the process, I have to resist inertia and ignore the voices in my head that say I’m too old to be a real writer, or that none of it even matters. Or when people make dismissive comments about blogs or internet writing.
Writing is a weird craft because it can seem very easy and ordinary, but every time you sit down to write you have to ask yourself if you are being completely honest in how much you care about your relationship with your reader. It’s not a solo deal, you are reliant on their ideas, their feedback and affirmation and most of the time you’re going to have to ask for it.
And like the man painted silver on the city square, you have to be willing to wait in suspension for someone to believe in you. You have to hold out your words like a rose and be willing to risk criticism and rejection.
And all of the times that people just walk by and ignore what you’re offering, you have to stay in character and just keep creating your own magic, keep blowing a kiss to the disinterested ones who pass by – because you know, like everyone else watching, that the trick will only work if you believe in it.