My greatest weakness: Rest. My very Caribbean-American battle with anxiety has a lot to do with my inability to be comfortable at rest. Other than driving my car to campus, I often do not sit down for many hours a day. I cannot comfortably have a phone conversation without attempting to multitask and do laundry or cook dinner. I must always be producing something or making tangible progress for me to feel like I successfully completed each day.
This attitude definitely extends to my writing process. I often approach writing (and sometimes reading) like I am noisily holding my breath. I am always in a rush to finish an abstract, to push a messy draft of a chapter off to a reader or hurriedly trace-out lesson plans. The “deadline desperation” tied to my writing process has consistently killed the joy of writing.
As I end this year, I am learning that even though a writer does come to the task of writing in a state of desperation, it should not be a desperation tied to time. It should be desperation of spirit, a spirit that needs to find a place to make sense of things or just to admit that so many things do not make sense. This spiritual desperation is the one and the same at the heart of all great literature: someone’s unbearable desperation for love, acceptance, freedom. Writing generates limits for our spiritual desperation by offering us a few transcendent minutes where our desire for these virtues are completely filled. Moments where we can re-imagine “what is” until it becomes, “what we’ve always wanted.”
All the writers that have been in my way lately (Paule Marshall, Seamus Heaney, Albert Camus, Dionne Brand, Edwidge Danticat) remind me that writing is a rigorous yet peace-making activity. The diction, tones and “meditative” pacing in these writers’ works invite empathetic pauses, soundless moments of rest for the reader.
If I a want to become a writer who reproduces the quiet authority and clarity of these authors, I need to make a habit of welcoming a restful attitude in my writing practice. This means allowing myself the room: the many hours across many days to patiently write, rewrite and rewrite. It means promising myself to never again submit any document to anyone in a spirit of panic.
Generally in my posts, I aim to stir up the spirit of perseverance. Yet, I now know that in order to ensure the longevity of our writing we must perceive it not as a task that needs to be done (which we feel guilty when we do not do), but an actively dynamic practice, inviting us to calmly satisfy our desperate spirit.
My hope for this month and this new year is that we persevere in an attitude of rest. Repeatedly closing emotional doors that lead to fear and anxiety, time-blocked desperation. I hope that even when you are taking on your most difficult tasks, writing and otherwise, that you will carve out a prayer of peace in the middle of doing them. For me, this prayer usually consists of whispering the name of “Jesus” right in the middle of grading papers or revising a poem for the thirtieth time.
For you, carving out a peaceful attitude at this time of the year might require spending some time alone, even if that means locking yourself in a bedroom, bathroom or closet for a brief moment. When you do take this moment, use it to reconnect to the quiet desperation that leads you to write.