Thursday, July 9, 2015

Blue Writings: Self-Doubt, Self-Reliance, and Sad Inspiration

This, surely, was the greatest test of my writing.

I am not, officially, a depression patient. (The time at the doctor's office where I failed the test doesn't count -- who the hell circles "never" instead of "sometimes" for Do-You-Ever-Feel-Sad questions?) There is no clinical diagnosis attached to my mellow, melancholic nature. No significant presence of tell-tale signs to link my off-days with WebMD-listed symptoms. No daily feelings of worthlessness (since age 19), regular insomnia (unless it's writing-spree-induced), or impaired concentration (well, aside from ADD-esque tendencies). The Thinking Frown is misleading; in general, I am a happy person -- easily pleased, easily awed.

Yet some months ago, as I was finishing my final undergraduate semester, I found myself in an odd place. Some strange little anguish had been seeping its way into my system. Much of it was likely a simple case of Senior-Year Blues -- graduation denial, job search bargaining, the usual stages. But this little anguish had nestled itself in other areas. It had found the guilt-producing sector of the brain and choked out the geek-on-steroids motivation that I'm used to. "Where is your inspiration?" it whispered. "What are you going to write now?"

I had no idea how much of a transition that semester would be. I had a significantly lighter academic load (una clase en espaƱol), and thus a lot, lot more free-time. It was the first time since my sophomore year that I hadn't been in a writing course, with some kind of paper or creative work due every week. As a hardworking student, I thought the transition from deadlines and scary professors to independent writing would be seamless, even welcome. Think how much more time I'll have to write, I thought, and how much more freedom to write what I want. I was foolish to think that. I soon began to realize that, for the first time, I was on my own. I had no threat of a lowered grade, no one to hold me accountable but myself. And oh sweet mother of Faulkner, it sucked.

It's a chicken-and-the-egg scenario, but whether strange little anguish caused it or vice-versa, inspiration was scarce in those days. Who would have thought that those nasty deadlines were actually helping to force the ideas to come? Now the ideas lay low. Ghosts of them flickered by every so often, long enough for me to jot a few words in my notebook, but nothing more. On one blizzard night, I fled the house and discovered pieces of the sky crumbling in white, and thought: I have something now. But returning indoors to my laptop, the resulting strained phrases were disheartening: they were words only, not life, not flame.

This, surely, was the greatest test of my writing. To still feel dependent, to survive a dry spell, to make my writing entirely my own.

When inspiration came at last, it was through somewhat unusual means. An open invitation to students popped up on social media for participation in a small study, involving three days of writing flanked by two in-depth surveys. "Why not?" I thought, wishing to assuage the guilt of being unproductive. I didn't know what to expect, especially after submitting the 20-minute pre-survey of psychoanalytical proportions. The rules were simple: you get one prompt for all three days, then write deeply about it each day for 15-20 minutes. (Diary time. Whoopee.) The evening before Day 1, the prompt came: write about the most upsetting experience in your life.

Oh. Something erupted. Strange little anguish temporarily lost its hold, and glimmers of inspiration were flashing wildly before I was even prepared to write. Oh, I realized, I can do that. The next morning, I got up earlier than usual, grabbed a notebook, and wrote the first day's work. These were handwritten notes, not prettied-up. No delete button, no stopping to look up words in the thesaurus. No limitations except to explore my feelings deeply. When I finished, I hesitantly put down the pen and sat back, looking down in shock at the scrawled notes.

Oh my God. I just wrote something good.

Feeling like I'd stepped off a roller-coaster, I glanced over at the clock, wondering where the time had gone. Oddly, in the rush of energy, I didn't question the possibility of what just occurred. I didn't ask how I was finally able to break the cycle after months of wordlessness. Because somehow, in the settling calm, I knew the answer.

This, surely, is the greatest test of my writing. To write about sadness. 

Inspiration doesn't want to come to me in pretty things, not right now. With strange little anguish in my skull, I could only write by indulging it (in it?), by channeling that despair toward the page. I was forced to dig deep through that despair and find it in past forms -- my age 19 feelings of worthlessness, my writing insomnia miseries, the trenches that carved and twisted me into a sad little person who needed writing (and eventually, into the easily-awed writer I am today). Is it a sorry predicament that pain is the easiest thing to write about? No, not right now. That's what's growing and growling most strongly in me at the moment, so best to feed it while it's here.

This, surely, is the greatest test of my writing. To live with despair a little while. To ride out the storm.


Emma Moser 

Twitter: @em_mo_write

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