August 31, 2018 § 5 Comments
By Armen Bacon
Maybe you know the symptoms. Long forgotten memories bombard every inch of your being, clog veins, arteries, and leave you breathless. Light bulb moments left and right – the kind that cause sleep deprivation, anxiety, existential crisis. An exceptional few wait till you’re in deep REM sleep, then strike with a vengeance. You stumble from bed hunting down pen and paper. Stub toe(s), walk into walls, jot what seems brilliant (in the moment) onto a wrinkled napkin, grocery receipt, white space from yesterday’s newsprint. Head returns to pillow while prayers beg that you can decipher scribbles in the morning. None of this, by the way, amuses your sleep partner (human or feline).
Recently in recovery from a two-week creative nonfiction workshop, yes, I’m inspired, but now suffer the aches and pains of said affliction: severe withdrawals – missing new friends, guest artists, early morning writer talk, even the anxiety and angst of assignments, final project deadlines, a showcase reading.
And so unfurls the life-altering experience of being sequestered in a room 8-10 hours a day, asked to respond to thought-provoking and sometimes terrifying prompts beginning: “My sharpest memory is of a single instant surrounded by dark.” Volunteering to read aloud what you hope is a solid sentence or story line, you welcome criticism, revise essays, remind yourself good writing takes more than passion, desire, and love of the craft. It demands equal parts time, discipline, risk-taking. Madness and grit.
In my case, shadows of ancient ghosts returned to accompany me along this journey. They arrived from every wrong turn I’d taken in life and included old boyfriends, estranged relatives, my own wannabe personas. Trapped in crevices of time and memory, some hid in margins of old journal entries, then negotiated their way onto the page. At one point, internal censurers nearly convinced me I was in way over my head. Drowning in what has been called the “invisible magnetic river.” Following a current leading nowhere. My feet couldn’t touch bottom. Thankfully, a voice inside reminded me that if I kept writing, I’d survive. Trust more. Worry less.
I kept writing. Using words as oxygen.
Gifting myself time and permission to make writing a priority for two non-stop weeks required an announcement to the universe that I’d be occupying sacred space with a “Do Not Disturb” sign hanging around my neck. Reluctantly, they obliged. Aside from Mother Nature’s wrath: blazing California fires and a sweltering San Joaquin Valley heat wave, the world did not cease to exist.
The aftermath is, of course, to keep this practice in forward motion now that class is over. The fact I’m sitting at my computer crafting this blog submission is a reminder that, “Yes, I can.”
I learned a few other things during class also worth sharing:
1) Make a pact to be in it with yourself for the long haul. This is your life. If you want to be a writer, write.
2) Regular doses of literary penicillin help – go to readings, find quiet time in a library, stash paper everywhere, have books on your nightstand. Read. I know. It sounds so simple.
3) Find your people. We all need back up singers.
4) Gasp. Write about things that stretch (and scare) you.
5) Practice literary citizenship. Let other writers know they are brilliant. Applaud their efforts. Cheer them on. Embrace the spines of their new books, take a selfie, and post it on social media with a positive comment. There’s room for all of us on the literary stage of life.
6) Learn the rules – then dare to break them.
7) The laundry and dishes can wait.
Armen Bacon is the author of Griefland: An Intimate Portrait of Love, Loss and Unlikely Friendship. Her second book, My Name is Armen – A Life in Column Inches, contains a decade’s worth of Fresno Bee columns and other essays on family, friends, love and loss. Her third book, My Name is Armen (Volume II) – Outside the Lines, “takes readers beyond the margins of everyday life – always circling back, returning home – celebrating the resilience of the human spirit.”