There is a Zen saying that sometimes the obstacle in the path is the path.
A friend of mine who is not a writer, though he is a very talented visual artist, shared some insight with me once that has resonated with me quite a bit the past few months.
“Consider this,” he said: “in the Chinese language, there is a word for Crisis. Much like words in English, the word is made up by combining two different words. The first symbol is the Chinese word for Danger. The second symbol is the Chinese word for Opportunity.”
When we consider the duality of all things, and the idea that an obstacle might also be an opportunity . . . when we acknowledge that the unwanted condition has a right to exist; that every conceivable state might have a purpose in the grand scheme (even if only as a “learning experience”), we provide ourselves with the chance to grow.
Back in November and December of last year, I wasn’t writing. From August through the end of the year, I was working nearly every day and was utterly exhausted those meager hours each week I wasn’t working.
I was frustrated, but believed that things would slow down in the new year. After all, my job is busiest August through November.
Except when it’s not.
Ironically, the first half of 2015 found me nearly as busy as I had been since starting the new gig. I love the job, don’t get me wrong, but I was making no time for myself – for my writing, for my family, friends, other interests.
Any time I did have, I spent researching for the West of the Moon Retreat my friend, Terry Price, and I host every year in Historic New harmony, Indiana. I was preparing to lead a retreat for writers and other creatives to help them learn how to make time for themselves, and, um, yeah.
I started to feel resentment over not writing. But then I realized something important.
I didn’t resent my job. I resented myself for choosing my job first . . . every time. I mean, every action we take is the result of a choice. We don’t consciously give much thought to most of those choices.
The resentment I experienced gave way to emotions – frustration being chief among them. And so I tried a few times to give myself half-an-hour or even an hour. But I was so frustrated that I got caught up in trying to make the most of those rare and precious minutes and that led to anxiety, to stress, to more frustration as the minutes slipped away.
But then I realized something else.
In doing so, I was focusing on the minutes. On time. I was thinking rather than immersing myself into my writing and letting come what might come. I decided to channel those emotions. I decided to use my obstacle – a lack of time – and the resulting emotions (frustration, annoyance, anger, depression, anxiety, and so on) as secret gates into my writing.
I allowed my character to feel those feelings.
He had different experiences, of course, and felt those things due to different interactions and different relationships than I did, but he experienced those emotions all the same.
In allowing him to channel my feelings, I was able to slip into the writing and, once there, I was able to explore other things as well.
I learned a lot about my character. Things I may have never known. Some of those may not be relevant to the story, per se. Others, though, have proven very insightful.
I also learned about myself.
One key thing I was reminded of while doing these experiments – I owe it to myself to give some time to myself. And so, I have redoubled my efforts.
Some work days I have to start work very early, but so far the majority of work days (over half at least these past five weeks) I give myself some time to write.
I want to thank the wonderful writers at WOTM 2015. In preparing for my time with them, I had an epiphany, one I shared with them. In seeing that idea spark something in many of them, I was even more inspired to make time for myself at the page.
But I’m also making some time again for other projects, like my photography and my website Other Cool Birds which is dedicated to artists from around the world whose work I admire.
Below is a list of just a few of the remarkable artists you’ll find at Other Cool Birds, including work by friends of mine Kelly Creagh, Sandy Spencer Coomer, Marc Rubin, and GC Myers.
“I am not the same having seen the moon shine
on the other side of the world.” – Mary Anne Radmacher
I believe this concept is true of literal travel as much as it is of the metaphoric travel one takes by experiencing art, by reading a book, and by writing. I also believe it’s true if taken further, by experiencing the moon shine through the eyes of other people.
Like the folks I had the pleasure of spending a week with at West of the Moon.
Being around people who are passionate about the thing you’re passionate about, spending time with them engaged in the process of writing, of creating, it is infectious.
I have experienced the moon shine on the side of the world where my writing is every bit as important and essential and honored as my job. Where my heart, where that sparking part of my soul, where I . . . am every bit as important and honored as the thing I do to make a living.
If you’ve read this far, do me a favor – listen to your soul, find your calling, and honor that part of yourself by giving yourself permission – even if it’s only 15 minutes a few days a week – to do that thing. To simply be that person you are deep down inside.
Keep after it, y’all! Keep after it. One step at a time. One obstacle at a time . . .
Here are just a few of the dozens of artists (and art) you’ll find at Other Cool Birds. Next week, I’ll have a post on that project and on them. I hope you’ll check it out. I hope you’ll be moved and inspired by their work as much as I am.
Oh, and some good news – I have 5 new poems from my YA novel-in-verse (work-in-progress) A Boy Called Mo coming out this August/September in Hunger Mountain. Keep watch. The poems Blueberry Patch and Proximity are also from that manuscript. I’m nearly done with the complete first draft. One step at a time. One obstacle at a time.