I went to Sackville on Saturday to hear a talk given by a friend who attended a week long workshop in Colorado last year by the author of Women Who Run With the Wolves.
I have been out of the creative scene for years now, and honestly I wasn’t feeling any urge or pressure to reconnect with it. I went to this presentation because a) my friend invited me and I wanted to be there to support her and b) it was happening in Sackville, where I lived for two years, really miss and will seize any opportunity to visit.
As far as the talk itself, I didn’t really have any expectations. My friend and I had spoken at length last fall about her experience in Colorado, so I felt like I had a good understanding of it and I wouldn’t be likely to have any AHA moments. I wasn’t really thinking that I would be impacted in any way personally, other than it would be great to see old friends and hang out for a bit.
The space was packed, which was awesome. It was great that so many had come out to support it. I was surprised by how many men were there, which was also wonderful to see.
Reconnecting with old friends, meeting new ones was the huge highlight of the day. So much so that I cancelled my plan to leave right after the talk and join my boyfriend and his son at a hotel in nearby Moncton. I opted instead to stay for dinner and hang out a bit longer. I could have likely predicted that would happen. It’s always great to see these people.
But here’s the thing that was surprising. During the presentation and organic discussion that cropped up during it as people asked questions and shared their own personal stories, I found myself getting emotional and really thinking about myself and what I’ve been doing creatively (or in my case, not doing) for the first time in years … and honestly maybe for the first time ever. You don’t normally sit around musing on your creative process, how it works, how it could work better. Well I don’t anyway.
I didn’t take hardly any notes but I did jot a three things down that I knew I needed.
- Hollow Bone
- Fear of the Darkness
- Creative Neglect
That’s unusual in itself, that I would attend a two-hour presentation and only write down eight words, but they were truly all I needed.
The Hollow Bone is the term used to describe our connection to the universe, the land of the dead where all the ideas live. If our bones aren’t hollow we can’t receive any ideas. I used to have hollow bones, I used to have so many ideas, so much inspiration. I was a prolific blogger at one time. I would sometimes write two or three large posts in the run of the day, and I blogged every day. I also wrote short stories, worked on at least two novels, and experimented with all kinds of writing forms. I wrote constantly! I was never blocked. But then things changed for me. It didn’t happen overnight but it did happen pretty quickly it seems. I was depressed more. I took on more work than I could possibly keep up with. I set unrealistic expectations of myself and then beat myself up when I failed. And then finally I suffered the worst trauma of my life so far. My bones filled up with darkness … anger, hurt, depression, fear, apathy, disgust, pain.
I could still string a sentence along if I had to do it, after all writing is a skill that can be learned, can be taught, and I hadn’t forgotten how to do it. But without my hollow bones I had absolutely zero inspiration to write and I would procrastinate with any writing job that came across my desk, either doing a piss poor last minute job to just make it go away, or avoiding doing it for so long that it just became irrelevant and went away on its own.
So I jotted down the words Hollow Bones, to remind me of what that means and that I need to be thinking about how to get mine hollowed out again.
We talked about how so much of our inspiration comes from the darkness, how writers shine a light on the dark things that people don’t necessarily want to talk or even think about, but it can be really helpful for them to know others share that darkness, to see a way out of it perhaps, or to think of it in a way that is new to them. My best writing in the Katt series comes from my own personal darkness. The whole premise is pivotal events in her life where she either was reckless and could have died or deliberately tried to take her own life. A cat has nine lives, but our Katt is already living her lucky 13th and she’s still only in her 30’s. It’s dark stuff. It’s personal to me. It was extremely difficult to write. There was much crying. But it was also therapeutic to work it through and fictionalize it.
But since I started the Katt project a lot has happened. Incredibly bad things that traumatized me beyond anything I had ever felt before. I spent a whole year doing nothing but crying into my pillow. I was not okay and I couldn’t hide it. I suffered PTSD. I kind of checked out of life because I just couldn’t function in it. I will never be the person I was before this happened, but I am much better now. I can talk about it without feeling that flop in my stomach, or getting the ringing in my ears. I went to a healer and she helped me release so much of the pain. I am a person again, if not the same one as I was before.
The old me didn’t fear the darkness inside me. I would go there every day and relive some terrible things, while I wrote down all the details and shaped the words so others might feel the experience as I had. If you asked me back then I would have said some of these things were the worse things to have ever happened to me. Now, they don’t even come close. There was so much worse coming. And after it came I couldn’t face that darkness, it was too overwhelming. It was impossible.
So in the past year, since I’ve had my healing, there have been moments when I wanted to start writing again, when I would find some little inspiration and whip up a blog post or jot down a few paragraphs of fictional material, but I couldn’t go back to the Katt series. I couldn’t write a new short story. I was too afraid to face the darkness. And I think that’s my process. I deal with the darkness and then when it’s not scary any more I can find the light, the humour, the meaning of it all. But first, the darkness. And for the first time since it all went to crap, I feel like I’m strong enough to go there. And for the first time ever I understand why I need to go there. So that’s why I jotted down Fear of the Darkness, so I might remember that this is a huge part of why I haven’t been writing.
One of the very first things I learned as a writer/ editor was that I needed to be able to kill my babies, those words I had taken so much loving care to craft in such a specific way. If they didn’t help the story, if they did indeed hurt the story, then I needed to be strong enough to delete them, no matter how much I loved them. I learned to be ruthless with my babies. My favourite thing to do is to edit something to size and demonstrate how ruthless I can be, with your babies of course, but I do feel like I’ve got an uncanny ability to take a step back from my own babies and treat them just as ruthlessly as I would yours.
When we started discussing the idea of creative neglect it was honestly not something I had ever given any thought. The idea being that you wouldn’t neglect your children because that would be child abuse and you shouldn’t neglect your creativity because that is your most beloved best child of all. You should do everything in your power to nourish and protect that child, your creativity. I think I’ve been ruthlessly slaying the word babies for so long that I didn’t even notice the creativity kid, starving it to death, leaving it out in the cold unprotected in the elements. When this part of the discussion came up I made a promise right then to myself that I would be a better parent, that I would do better now that I knew better.
So I have some ideas and I’ve redesigned the blog with a new theme and then I’ve written this very long post. I think it’s time to get back to the business of writing. To tell my stories and get them out into the world.