Writing-wise, I have been stuck for weeks. Some of it is circumstantial: middle of the semester, other responsibilities, fatigue. Some of it is a garden-variety set of complexes and insecurities, magnified (quite unexpectedly) by getting tenured. But there is no reasonable calculation by which these things add up to the sum of my present condition.
I’ve been able, of dire necessity and immovable deadlines, to get a few things done. The resultant work has been functional, provisional, and the preceding process disheartening and extractive.
For the life of me, I can’t figure out what the problem is. I can map its component parts – cognitive, emotional, physical, logistical – but can’t seem to fit them together. I suppose I could describe this feeling colloquially as my mind going blank. When I picture it, that blank is unbroken, blindingly empty, horizonless in every direction. No landmarks, no interruptions. It manifests corporeally in the sensation of something compressed and stuck behind my ribs, and a numbness in my hands that manifests when I try to type anything that isn’t an email or a lesson plan, or set on paper anything that isn’t a to-do list. Behaviorally, it takes the form less of procrastination (I have no desire to avoid or postpone my work, quite the opposite) and more of careful, compensatory attention to other tasks, and more still of standing at the kitchen counter, eating cereal out of the box.
I take a deep breath. I run through the litany of advice that I give to colleagues and students (who almost always return in effusive gratitude for how they are now, astonishingly, un-stuck). Accept that doldrums are an inevitable part of the process, very likely to be followed by periods of intense, almost effortless creativity. Stop comparing yourself to others (and ignore the posturing gaucherie of people who tell you, casually and apropos of nothing, that they wrote 25 pages in a long afternoon). Know that it isn’t just a matter of will power or brute mental force. Soften your gaze at your own work, and write without judging. Write about why you can’t write. Write something, anything, just to get back in the habit of filling the page. Don’t panic. Let go of any attachment to the outcome.
So I’m trying to make the experience interesting, at least, to experiment with what it feels like to be caught by something that I can’t identify, rationalize, or undo. Unable to think my way out of this, my only option is to note how it feels to be unable to think, to work around the edges of that incapacity, waiting – without expectation – for something to catalyze in that open space.