Friday Dispatch: When You Got Nothin'
When the wall is really a doorway
I got nothin’, my friends.
That is SO often how it feels on Friday mornings when I sit down to write this dispatch.
Does this happen to you, too?
One of the suggestions I often make for folks when they hitting a writing wall is to start with a simple phrase. Two of my go-tos are: “I am sitting…” and “In this moment…”
Repeat either or both of these phrases as many times as you want or need to. Usually, almost always in fact, you’ll find that suddenly, you got something.
So here goes.
In this moment, I am sitting on the loveseat in the den, which is a continuation of the kitchen. Mani is making smoothies for us, and Chalupa is overseeing things in case some yogurt spills or berries happen to drop to the floor. “Clean up on Aisle three…”
In this moment, my nose is a little runny due to summer allergies. I just got up for a tissue. I keep forgetting to take the daily Zyrtec even though it really does seem to help. I remember the early Covid days, when a runny nose or low-grade fever led me to make a list of all of my passwords in case I died. It’s so poignant to write that, knowing the toll of the pandemic and how completely we (the collective, societal “we,” that is) have “moved on” despite all of the calls not to “return to normal.”
That reminds me, this week I had coffee with the founder of the Amherst Indy. I’ve had a number of pieces published there, particularly in the past two months or so in the midst of a local crisis with our school district, and as of Wednesday, I’m an official contributor. Yesterday, I wrote a new piece about how summer is a good time for our regional school committee to address several questions related to the investigations that are taking place.
I think the connection in my brain between the Covid paragraph and that last paragraph is this: We (the collective, societal “we,” that is) are oh so quick to “move on” from moments of crisis, as if they are ever really just moments. Eager to get on with things, get on with our usually scheduled programming, whatever that may be, we have an astonishing capacity for forgetting.
I get that some of this is a survival mechanism. But there’s a world of difference between integrating experience and simply getting the hell away from it as fast as humanly possible.
In the moment, Mani just handed me my smoothie. I took a delicious, velvety sip – berries, honey yogurt, crunching a seed between my front teeth. Chalupa is happily lapping up her portion off of a little sticky mat we got her for just such treats. She sounds like a truffle pig.
I don’t have it in me to delve more deeply into anything this morning, be it Covid or transphobia or the Supreme Court. AND THAT’S OK. We don’t always have to come up with some amazing insight. In fact, that is the kind of unconscious “rule” that can keep us from writing anything at all.
So I come here to learn what I teach and practice what I preach. (Well, I hope I am not preachy…)
And that is this: You get to write even when you don’t really have anything in particular to say or any special wisdom to impart. Beautiful lines of poetry don’t have to seep from your pores or your pen.
You get to write JUST TO PRACTICE WRITING.
And, if you want, you get to share that writing JUST TO SHARE.
I think we miss out on a lot of ourselves and each other when we feel that everything we write needs to be significant in some way. What if the significance is simply this: In this moment, I am sitting here sipping a smoothie. My dog, having lapped up her share, is snoring. Yesterday, she went to a groomer for the first time, and I think she’s still sleeping off the excitement.
In this moment, where are you sitting? What sounds do you hear? What are you eating or drinking? What did you dream last night? What happens when you allow yourself to show up even when you have that “got nothin’” feeling?
Tomorrow, I’m heading to the Adirondacks to spend a few nights with my kids, parents, middle sister, brother-in-law, niece, and nephew. I called dibs on on the bed that hangs from the ceiling of the screened-in porch, and am looking forward to waking up Sunday morning to the sounds of water lapping against rock. The first time I went there, I was six months old. It’s my last summer of my 40s. I’m as young as I’ll ever be and the oldest I’ve ever been. Each day brings a keen awareness of the fact of us BEING here, and what a blessing that is.
I am grateful for this practice.
I am grateful that you’re there.
I am grateful for Mani at my side.
I am grateful for learning how to relax.
I am grateful for books and the people who write them.
I am grateful for my dog’s soft ears and how sometimes we put our heads together quietly in communion.
I am grateful for my kids.
I am grateful for all clears and clear skies.
I am grateful for breathing, for patience, for chatting with neighbors in the street.
I am grateful for swimming holes.
I am grateful for dissenters and fighters and those who reject respectability politics.
I am grateful for the difference between nice and kind.
I am grateful for worrying less than I used to about periods of not writing poetry.
I am grateful for farmers.
I am grateful for good TV shows and the people who write them.
I am grateful for frivolity.
I am grateful for my work.
I am grateful for a brand new day.
Apparently, my “got nothin’” today was a doorway, not a wall.
Next time you hit a writing wall, see what happens when you sit down in front of it. Tell us where you’re sitting. You might even write, “I am sitting in front of a wall.” Then keep going. Where you end up might surprise you.
Shabbat Shalom and love,
p.s. I’m eagerly counting down to the summer launch of Getting Words on the Page, my very first eCourse! Enrollment will open July 11, so keep an eye on emails from me with more info.
p.p.s. I’m also counting down to my annual August break! To meet with me before the fall to talk about your writing and/or life, use the button to schedule a 30-minute, 60-minute, or 90-minute coaching session.
11 things during a thunderstorm
1. Iced tea and organizing with a new friend and comrade.
2. Words of appreciation affirming that speaking up matters.
3. Dahlias in the rain.
4. Veggies roasting in the oven. Yellow and red beets, cabbage, carrots.
5. The Air Quality Index map giving flashbacks of the Covid map.
6. Finches and cardinals, wrens and titmice, nuthatches, doves. Backyard aviary.
7. Reading something about covert narcissism and realizing yes, that's exactly what was going on.
8. The quiet of trusting yourself.
9. All the work no one will ever see or know about.
10. Being your own witness.
11. Not trying to be what you're not opening the path to being exactly who you already are.
“Receiving emails from Jena Schwartz has been a highlight of my day for years now – not just because I enjoy the invitations to write, which I do, but because Jena's writing is a lifeline and a map, connecting me to others, and more deeply to myself.”
~ Jennifer Sekella
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