Culture, Essays

The Shrug

It happens more often than not that I lose my voice as a writer. And not only that, I lose everything. I feel absurd and out of place, like a character in a novel that has fallen off the page. Sometimes I struggle against this feeling, looking for inspiration anywhere I can find it. That means I revisit old work. I read my favorite authors or watch certain films that remind me of another time in my life, maybe a moment where I was more productive than I am now. Otherwise, I just let myself go and see where this empty feeling takes me. It could be somewhere awful, but usually it’s a sudden, unexpected moment of beauty that brings me back to myself. Then I forget about the entire process until the next time. This may sound familiar or it may not, but this is how I work as both a writer and a person. It’s very Sisyphusian, no? Anyway, one of the more difficult aspects of this experience is the feeling of being left behind. It’s like I’m stuck in a game of red light green light, only I haven’t yet figured out when to move and everyone I know is creeping ahead of me unaware of my hesitation. Either way, I know that I am losing valuable time that could be spent working, but in the end, it doesn’t matter. I have to let things pass. Maybe I change a few things here and there. I’ve been running at night lately. That helps. Reading more. Watching the World Cup almost every day. These are all very neutral activities for me. They don’t require me to assert myself in any way and they allow me to find my place without continuing to build up this constant inertia. Otherwise, I lose myself completely, which used to happen a lot when I was younger. But that’s a different story and this is an essay on writing (or not writing if you want to be technical). I haven’t written anything in a little over two weeks, which isn’t that bad. I still write in my head, but that’s not enough because in my mind, I’m working on so many different things simultaneously that I don’t have the time to waste being uncertain. Meanwhile, I’m trying to edit work that’s almost finished, which seems counterintuitive when you don’t recognize your own writing. So I end up making more of a mess of things. At the very least, I try to put together ideas that I can come back to later. But none of this constitutes writing for me. And that’s because I don’t feel like I’m part of the process. I have no connection to anything I write. I’m a mother struggling to form a maternal bond with her child. Okay, maybe that’s a little too dramatic. I just want to feel like Michael Jordan in Game 1 of the 1992 NBA Finals when I write. Effortless. Shrug-worthy. That’s not to say I’ve developed some difficult and obscure form of writer’s block. I’ve actually learned to appreciate these unintelligible moments of reflection. It’s like being placed on leave from your job; it’s an opportunity to not write, to not rely so heavily on some abstract notion of what it means to be a writer; which begs the question, “Could you still be yourself without the things that you think make you who you are?” I don’t know. Maybe without basketball Michael Jordan is just some guy. All I’m saying is that you should take your time to figure things out and be prepared for moments like this. Think of it as an existential contingency plan for when life doesn’t happen.

–N. David Pastor