I love notebooks. Fresh, clean, uncracked, shrink-wrapped and writerly looking notebooks can fill up my bookshelf any time. And often they do. They represent for me the muses uncertain, the unmarked critical point, a playground for the inspired, the unknown…the Great Unscripted, if you will. And yet they sit unused. Brimming with potential, but reduced to scholarly sunken ash. Floppy and flimsy bookends, at best.
I also love pens. Firm, soft gripped, fully inked, tightly capped and well balanced pens can fill up my stationery holder any time. And often they do. The represent for me the majestic sword, the finely tuned tool, the scrawler of the Great Truth, the lamp that charts the path to The Way. And yet they sit unused, except perhaps for a quickly scribbled shopping list, to open up the battery case for a kids toy or as an impromptu back scratcher.
Put them together, these notebooks and pens, and the possibilities are endless. The problem is that I don’t put them together, so they languish away like Tower of London prisoners, unable to communicate with the outside world. Now I do enjoy writing – I do make notes, but not in those plush and snazzy notebooks. I find the back of gas station receipts, mysterious scraps of paper from my backpack, and old envelopes make great places to jot ideas and overheard dialogue down. I will even type stuff into my phone. So the writing part I do, but something in me just won’t allow myself to jump in and sully those notebooks.
I mention all this because there has been a shift in me these days. A not-so-subtle thing that seems to have been percolating for some time now. It’s not just about the avoidance of putting groovy pen to sexy paper, for a fantabulous concoction of nouns, verbs and the occasional subordinate clause. It’s for the reasons I don’t do it that has given me pause for thought. I also (unconsciously) mentioned a piece of this puzzle in my last post, and in some of my others, now that I look back. It’s this whole idea of having a blank slate, a clean canvas, a new package of modeling clay, and freezing. Not knowing what to create, what to display from my inner landscape, what to pull from the creative conscious. I am usually at a standstill amongst the maelstrom of blazing and frenzied construction around me. The old fears haunt me recently – a white fuzz of static in my mind, wrapping around my spirit, touching up every part of me and sticking and staining like molasses. I fear making a mistake. I fear that what I create won’t be good. I fear that what I show will be “wrong”. I fear that I am not good enough to use the good pens, the good paper, the nice new Play Doh, the fresh paints, the best ingredients. I don’t want to wreck those beautiful Moleskin books because I am waiting for the time I do real writing…when the real writer in me shows up, and not the hack that haunts the shelves today.
And that, ladies and gentleman, is a new truth for me. And while new truths often sting, they also show me to a new path, if I choose to take it (the harsh caveat).
I was walking my dog yesterday and saw a lone boy on the corner selling lemonade. It was hot, and I could have used the lemonade. But I didn’t bring any money with me, as I was only taking the hound around the local park. It broke my heart to see this young boy there, no customers in sight, just sitting there alone. I almost started to cry, if truth be told. Now, I understand implicitly that his folks probably had a few dollars to their name, that the stand wasn’t paying for the mortgage, and it was all for fun. Mom and dad would probably end up buying most of the ade and little Johnny would whistle away the rest of the afternoon as he plotted his path through the nearby toy emporium. As I walked, it occurred to me was that I wasn’t upset with this boy’s financial situation or his perceived loneliness (projecting? Oh dear, fetch me a lute for comfort). What had me churning up was the fact that I was mourning the little kid in me. The little boy who had such a bright future, who was so good at school and was happy as a child. The unmined mind. The untapped reservoir.
This all comes crumbling down to this idea that the clay, the paper, the white sheet…represent a life that fears expression. And that is how I felt most of my life. I didn’t feel worthy to fill those pages, to showcase my underbelly, to display the peacock feathers of my inner life. My drinking days were riddled with the idea that I wasn’t worthy of much, that I was a fraud, that I didn’t have anything of worth to share with the world. I didn’t feel worthy of messing up those books, those water colours, those canvases…I felt that they could best be used by “real artists”, or “better” classmates, or more “worthy” people. Eventually, the kid with the blank slate in front of him became an adult with a blank idea of himself. Bankrupt and bereft of what I thought I should say, do or express, I kept it all in. I continued to blot out the sun with booze and ensured that the feelings of worthlessness continued to propagate itself over and over again. My alcoholism kept me strapped down, creatively, allowing only the ill thoughts to swirl around me, vaporizing any of my true me, my core me.
In my recovery, I learned to see that I needn’t be strapped down any further. That I was created as a unique soul, that the only person to compare myself to is myself. That no one is more worthy or less worthy. It’s not the externals that define me, but what’s inside. It’s not the fact that I can produce a stunning piece of art, or a stunning external life or a stunning anything , for that matter of fact. But it’s about being connected to the Creator and to others. To help others. To stay true to my own voice, even if it hurts. To stand up for myself and my beliefs without trouncing upon others. To open up my inner self and show it to others. Share my toys, play nicely with other boys and girls and not bring head lice to school. Take turns on the teeter totter. That sort of thing.
Isn’t that cool? I get to be free! I am no longer chained to this thing that wants to snuff me out, fully and completely! The Creator has given us all creative expression to use and regardless of it’s manifestation, we are blessed to have this with us. And creativity isn’t just art – it’s in how we manage our day, how we manage our lives. Creativity isn’t just about being the next Margaret Atwood or Alice Munro. It can be about problem solving, about breaking old patterns, about finding new ways of doing old things. We aren’t all cut out for the arts (I can vouch for myself on that one), but we are all cut out to cut through the noise of our lives and tap into our core selves. But before I start sounding like Tony Robbins here (Shamwow your life!) here, I want to say that for me, this kind of understanding has come with a price. I am still paying this price, as I have been lured back to the old ways of thinking as of late. The price can take a toll on me, as it has been in the past few weeks. But it’s price to admission to something wonderful.
There is a lovely quote from Brandi Snyder which says “To the world you may be just one person, but to one person you may be the world”. And I try to keep that in mind, even if that one person is me. To be of help to others is important for me, even if I don’t demonstrate it as much as I need or want to. That’s the old Paul at work. A lot of old Paul has been infiltrating the front line, and I have to just stay with the tide, swim back to shore and keep my life preserver with me. When I feel like this, I have to remember to look at the big picture – where I was at, where I am at now, and what I can be down the line. The fact is I have no clue what I can be down the line. Ideas tend to be stillborn. I still freeze in front of the clay. I still freeze at a blank lined paper. I am still bound in spiral bound. But I can’t force it. Or can I? Perhaps jump in and just scribble that shopping list on that 300 gsm paper. Muck up the kids crayons and feather kits. Glue glitter on the dog.
So while I have this freedom to play in the Field of the Lord, I am still in the penalty box. Self-imposed. Ego has been instructing me lately of the rules of the game, in which every scenario declares me non-winner or DQ. Oddly enough, this doesn’t put me in self-pity (ooh! I love self-pity – we alcoholics were born for that), but it puts me in a new place – outward looking in and trying perform triage on myself. Not easy. Taking inventory, working hard at keeping spiritually afloat, reaching out, reading. And staying still when I want to scream. Screaming out when I want to stay still. Raging against the machine at times…for my own good. Surrender and let the Creator do what He needs to do. Wave that white flag. And that’s part of recovery for me. It’s not all cutesy quotes and slogans. It’s not Zen floating on a cloud every moment. It’s not being the most spiritual person on the block. Sometimes I need to sludge and trudge away. Scrub the latrines while I hum a fugue. Slow down the machine and take apart the gears and oil them up. Sometimes I’m the ladder, sometimes I’m the snake.
I look forward to when I get back on the ladder. And that’s a groovy place to be. Achieving, stretching, aiming…it’s what is born in all of us. I will grow. I will continue to break out of this. I can only learn when I get in the muck now and then. Eat worms for breakfast. Made mud pies. As long as I get out when He blows the whistle to get out and then scrub down and put on some clean clothes. And then help out the other kids who might be in the muck themselves and can’t hear the whistle and who don’t know that mud pies aren’t really for eating. There is soulful food for all us ready on His table.
But for now, hisssssss….