On Writer's Block, Pt. II

Ultraviolet
11" x 14" mixed media on canvas
I've spoken about my personal experience with writer's block. Like many writers, I considered the condition to be a myth, an affliction of those who either weren't serious or simply lazy.

Life taught me otherwise.

Maintaining my ignorance about the condition was easy when I was a journalist juggling multiple deadlines on various stories. Here's the thing: I didn't create those stories. I merely covered them. So there was no such thing as a blockage.

Writing that I created entirely myself was a different matter altogether.

For one thing, careers in The Arts are the only professions where it's socially acceptable to guilt trip you on a regular basis for your lack of conformity. Your passion is often considered a hobby, a pet project you dabble with to stave off boredom. I've lost count of the number of people who told me I needed to get "a real job" in my formative years. Secondly, writing as a profession is taken for granted and largely underappreciated. Our entire world is filled with words and language, yet a child will be advised not to choose writing as a career for one single reason: money.

Believing you can use writing to put food on your table is ludicrous to most people, especially if you are a woman. I was on the receiving end these sexist opinions all the time after my sons were born. My employment at several newspapers did not break this silly notion of the "penniless writer." Instead, I was given tough love speeches on how I needed to "grow up" and put my family first.

During all my time in Corporate America when I had no children, I never received a guilt trip for being an employee at a mainstream company even if the stress risked my health. It was seen as a sign of success if I dedicated 60 to 80 hours in an office working my way towards my first heart attack. But the idea of spending that time at a desk in my home writing freelance was somehow seen as more selfish than the hours my spouse put in at his job.

With creative therapy alongside meditation training, I learned my writer's block was caused by an identity crisis. I had internalized all these pesky little philosophies about what it means to be a woman in America, not realizing they all came from a 1950's playbook. I'd caved to this pressure and morphed into someone I didn't recognize, a kind of tattooed Stepford Wife. In doing so, I'd given my writing a minor role in my everyday life.

No wonder there were no words. My consciousness couldn't figure out what it was supposed to say anymore. I'd buried my creative spirit under a pair of twenty ton bricks called "mother" and "wife." I let these roles define me instead of my defining them.

So what happens when you figure out the crux of your blockage? Well, you end up having to do something about it, which is likely going to cause all sorts of upheaval in your life. It will also feel like you've finally earned that "crazy" title everybody has been calling you all along.

For me, using painting as a secondary medium helped me get to the truth of things. The canvas revealed ugly truths I hadn't wanted to confront. My subconscious gave me lectures on my inner reality each time I picked up a paintbrush. So I listened and acting on these cliff notes.

At the time, my marriage wasn't working despite counseling. We parted ways with a divorce and eventually found out we're much better at being friends than spouses. I also stopped feeling obligated to visit, call or entertain people who regularly stressed me out. My absence forced them to decide whether that behavior was worth losing me entirely. For some of them, it was. Yet as painful as that reality could be, it was worth it to put an end to all the abuses I'd endured with a veneer of pleasantries for appearances.

Lastly, I liberated myself from the burden of unwanted expectations renting space in my head for free. I evicted these criticisms and stepped out of my self-made box of conformity. Meditation enabled me to discern which thoughts were worth entertaining. I began to treat my mind like an open sea with waves I watched but did not surf. I suddenly realized that I didn't have to follow every negative thought wave to the shores of anxiety and depression. I could just let them go rather than develop them into full-blown hypothetical scenarios that gave me panic attacks.

Listening to my inner self ultimately restored my writing. It required a great deal of soul searching to make the necessary changes to bring my life into balance. It also took time. But in the end, I had my words back along with an additional artform to expand my skill set.

So for this week, I'm going to ask you to take some time to think about other people's expectations and how you handle it when you fall short of their perceived goals. Take a sheet of paper and write down those expectations. You know the ones. They've been echoing in your mind while you've been reading this. Then take a second piece of paper and make a second list of the expectations you have for yourself. Compare the two.

Somewhere in between those lines is the key to your mental blockages. Be brave enough to unlock that door and step across the threshold. July is all about Independence, after all. I believe it's past time you liberated yourself.

Be well on your path this week. 

Respectfully, 
O.M.

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