I took three days off from writing this weekend. It wasn’t a bow to the holidays, or a statement. It wasn’t a vacation or being swamped with either events or emotions. It wasn’t because things were deliriously good or horribly bad. It wasn’t even intentional.
I just didn’t.
I didn’t write a poem. I didn’t write in my journal. I didn’t write the long rambling e-mails that some of my best friends are accustomed to getting. I didn’t work on my novel, or even do any of the copywriting that makes up part of my living.
For three days, I wasn’t a writer. I spent time with the woman I love. I spent time with my kids. I watched football, played games at the dining room table, went to an auction, fixed meals, all the normal stuff of life.
And i didn’t write.
There were some surprises in not writing. The first was that the world did not end. Writing has long been part of my life’s therapy, something I did unconsciously for many years, and something that became very intentional and lifesaving when, over a decade ago, depression nearly overcame me.
When I finally had the sense to say to myself that something was terribly wrong and I had to find my way out, and I could not do it alone, my therapist recognized, when I did not, the role writing had played in my life, keeping me on an even keep, helping me work through emotions and figure things out and she set me back on the course
It was painful and slow at first, like finding muscles I had not used for many years. Writing made me face things – fears, flaws and tendencies that I had avoided or been unaware of for a long time. I didn’t like doing it. I wasn’t good, much of the skill I once had had atrophied and I feel like a beginner again.
And it was uncomfortable. Talking about emotions have always been hard for me, and while I had finally become fluent in the language of feelings in middle age, that too had atrophied to the point of not existing. I was raw with brokenness and facing my own part in my decline was hard work. Sorting out what was mine and what wasn’t was hard. Uncomfortable as hell.
But it worked. Yes, writing was only part of my path back, but it was an important part. I became disciplined, not because I am a disciplined person (I am not), but because it worked and I never wanted to go back to that black place.
And so began the habit of writing a poem, or more, every day. Every day. It became like excercise, or therapy. It became necessary. It became, in a way, a safety net. A talisman.
So deep was my fear of falling back into that black place, that I wrote, whether I was feeling it or not. I wrote on good days and bad. I wrote out of fear as much as joy, afraid the deep waters would swallow me and drown me if I did not.
But in recent years, I’ve given myself a day or two off now and then. Most Saturdays I don’t write (except my sermons). Nothing’s happened.
And I missed the last few days. They were good days, mostly. At one point I had to face a fear I thought I had overcome. It was hard. But with help, I found my way though it. I’m fine. In fact, it turned out to be a good thing. A really good thing. I am stronger. And I didn’t write my way though it.
Another surprise. People noticed. I had any number of people drop me an e-mail or a private Facebook message to ask if I was OK. We who write regularly sometimes forget that what we write touches people, that what we write not only makes people think, or laugh or cry or feel, but often, builds relationships we don’t even realize are being built. People invest something emotional in reading our work, and the more we reveal ourselves, the more they care, even if we don’t realize it.
And that was a surprise. To those of you who wrote me – Thank you. I needed that reminder, I think.
The last surprise came this morning as I sat at my desk and began to write. There was none of the soul searching that comes most morning when I began writing again more than a decade ago. There was none of the soul searching that is part and parcel of my wring most mornings.
I just sat, and wrote. Easily. Words flowed, just as the words for this short essay have simply flowed. It wasn’t work. It wasn’t discipline. It just was. There was an ease to it. There was a joy in it that rarely happens when I write my poems or essays.
Did three days off make that change? Was it something that has been building for a time and finally clicked? Is it an aberration?. I have no idea. I only know that it is.
I gave up being obsessed in knowing whys a long time ago. I’ve finally learned to simply accept what is and move on through the journey. So I won’t bother analyzing this gift. I’ll enjoy this phase whether it is permanent or fleeting.
So, for those of you who wondered – Yes, I am OK.
A little more than that, actually.
Be well. Travel wisely,