A red balloon with a tightly spiraled white tail floats away in a pure blue sky

Guilt, stress, and letting go

It’s been quiet around this blog for a couple months, and I’ve been increasingly unhappy about that. I actually have a few things I’ve wanted to write about, but once I’m done working, rehearsing, cooking, cleaning, and writing for my other blog, the thought of writing 500-900 words of crafted prose is just overwhelming. I’m ironically amused by this, since I have a master’s degree in creative writing and even before I was in that program I was prone to dropping 2500 words on LiveJournal without a second thought. But life changes with age, and responsibilities and needs shift. Looking back at some of my recent posts to figure out that word count, I realized that this is a recurrent theme: I pack my life full of activities and obligations, all of which I enjoy and feel strongly about, but then I start to spiral into a tailspin of stress and guilt. And part of that tailspin is a false sense of being in some sort of debt: as if, having written nothing here for two months, I now need to write The Perfect Mini-Essay. which is of course an impossible task.

In the last 24 hours, though, I’ve had two things prod me to get off my figurative ass and just write. First, a friend shared with me a short video produced by The Atlantic, part of their series on NYC subway musicians. This particular video presents Samantha Echo, a singer-songwriter who also happens to be Wiccan. She talks about the way her subway playing connects with her religious practice: “When I sing in the subways, I feel like I’m becoming one with the environment, meaning the city. I feel like I’m woven into the fabric of the city in a way. It’s the closest I ever get to having my life be this otherworldly musical.” So often, when we talk about pagan spiritualities it’s all nature-nature-nature, as if the nec plus ultra of pagan spirituality is to be living off the land in the wilderness. I don’t wish to cast aspersions on anyone who goes on that path, but it’s simply not my experience, nor that of most people I know. Nor, if I’m honest, do I even want that experience as a way of life — and that’s ok.

[I’m reminded of something Ronald Hutton said in a talk replayed on Druidcast (goodness knows when; I didn’t note it): the American conception of nature as wilderness isn’t really something that plays strongly into the British understanding, since the island of Great Britain has been so thoroughly transformed by millennia of dense human population and waves of invasion that wild nature is hard to come by (outside, perhaps, the far northern reaches of the Highlands).]

And why does this connect with me? I often feel as if I need to set aside time for writing, time when I’m relaxed and have time for contemplation and musing. That idea of the languorous life of the mind is just as idealized, though, as the romantic notion of living off the beneficent land — and just as fictive. I don’t live in the quiet wilderness of the mind, I live in the mental city: bustling, rushing about, always on the go. It’s disingenuous to pretend that I don’t.

The second thing that prodded me was S. J. Tucker’s conversation with Chris Orapello on Down at the Crossroads #058. It was a very long conversation, full of musings on music, religion, and the ways the two can play out together. The part that made me stand up straighter during my morning walk, though, was a direct address Tucker gave to the listeners: “If you’re doing something creative, if what you’re doing is even the slightest bit creative, make sure you love it. Even if you’re not certain that anyone will like it, you have to do it for yourself first. And the rest will come.” (I’m paraphrasing and may well be putting words in her mouth, because I don’t feel like scrubbing through the 2+ hour episode to find that bit, but this is the message I heard.) I have of course heard that general sentiment innumerable times; it’s all but a truism in creative circles. And yet, somehow this morning I heard it afresh.

In that same podcast episode, Tucker mentioned that whenever she gets down on herself, even if she hasn’t told anyone, she always hears from someone telling her how important her work is, which buoys her up. I’m skeptical that the gods are sending me a message — I’m always skeptical that the gods are sending me a message — but even mere coincidence can have a powerful effect. I do love writing, and I love writing about my druidry specifically; I better understand my own religious experience in writing about it.

And here, during this lunch hour, I’ve churned out 800 words about not writing. I obviously have no problem getting the words out: I just need to give myself permission to let go of my guilt and my sense of necessity, and let the writing happen. Be it so.

Header Image: Steve Smith – “Release!” (CC BY-NC)

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4 thoughts on “Guilt, stress, and letting go

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