My friend asked the following question:
What are the sensations that arise directly from writing? I mean the cognitive and emotional aspects. I ask because I find that I’ve had to pay more attention to this recently in order to stay on an even keel, and I’m completely unsure whether it’s due to current conditions, getting older, or where I happen to be in a long-running project. All three aspects are probably relevant, but I can’t sort them out.
This is an interesting question which I am eager to ramble on about, but first, I should note these two assumptions of mine:
- Every writer’s process is different, and so everyone’s reactions are different
- All writing, whether it is poetry, prose, academic, whatever, is the same if it is coming from a place of creative intensity
Although my friend said he wasn’t necessarily interested in the physical sensations that arise, I do think I have to start there. I’m not sure the physical can be separated from the cognitive and emotional. I know that when I am really ‘in the zone’, my body slows down. My breathing gets regular and quiet, and I feel physically separated from my surroundings. Some might call this a meditative state. But a strange thing also happens. I often find, once I have stopped writing, that I have broken out into a cold sweat. I feel clammy and chilled, and my body needs to wake up again, which can take a bit of time. I am always surprised by this, but it always happens. I find that I can sustain these physical reactions, and therefore the writing, for about 90 minutes. After that, I’m done, whether I want to be or not. I think that I can sustain this physical separation for only so long, and I’m sure that it is connected to how long I can sustain not only such intense focus but also the sense of detachment. Detachment is a key word here. When I write in this way, my emotions and my thoughts are not my own. They are the emotions and thoughts of my characters or of the words themselves. I feel these emotions and think these thoughts as intensely as if they were those of Sue Guiney, but I know they are not. What is happening on the page is not happening in my life. But it feels the same. Hocus pocus? Maybe, but then again, some of us have experienced magic and so believe in it.
The question then arises about why, sometimes, you can’t get the magic to happen. My friend wondered if it was age, being stalled in a long project, or actually the pandemic. I must admit that I am also struggling with this lack of magic now and I want to know why, too. As I approach my 65th birthday at the end of this month, I find it all too easy to assume that the answer is age. But honestly, I don’t think it is that. If you have the energy to work and to feel passion, which we all can continue to do despite our age, then that in itself shouldn’t be the culprit. I also believe that if a project is started with a sense of such passion and energy, then one’s interest in it can easily be sustained over years. Sometimes you have to take a break or step outside of it in order to gain a new perspective and get recharged. But that needn’t be a terminal situation. That leaves one other option – the pandemic.
I have started to think about a new writing project, one that is whacky and exciting and fills me with joy whenever I think about it. But that’s all I can do right now – just think about it. I can’t get myself to actually start writing. This has never happened to me before. I can’t even get myself to write a haiku, and that’s only 19 syllables. I know that I love the sensations of writing. I know that I feel better in general after I have done it (I’ll even feel better after writing this blog post). But still, unless I can convince myself that something is time critical, I don’t have the energy to do it. I am too distractible. I am too tired, even when I’m not tired. So I have to believe that this present crisis and the fact that nothing can be planned for and nothing is certain, is sapping much more of my energy than I would have realized. I am healthy and lucky enough to live in comfortable surroundings, yet still, I know I am not completely myself. Writing creatively takes a huge amount of energy and a real ability both to tap into the extremes of human thoughts and feelings, but also to want to. Right now, all I want to do is keep my life and the lives of those I care about even, calm and quiet, taking one unexciting day after another, without undue risks or journeys, be they physical or metaphorical. Staying on the even keel that my friend refers to takes an exorbitant amount of energy when the waters around you are so choppy and the waves so threatening. That is all I can do just now, and I suspect the same is true for others. There is a future out there somewhere, and when it comes, I have to believe that I will once again become a junkie for those sensations that come with intensive sustained writing and creativity. And I believe my friend will, too. But until then, they might just have to wait.