When You Come Back

There is nothing like the practical concerns of daily life to interfere with your writing process. A while back I wrote about Poets and Writers magazine and how much I love their hopeful, inspiring stories about overcoming obstacles and finding success in writing, whatever form that success might take.

The legendary writers who wrestle time away from their full-time lives do so in the wee hours of the morning or in great spurts, putting all else aside to work feverishly. The force of their desire to get their words out into the world would be enough to raze forests, a fierce grasping and a defiant letting go.

In the past two weeks I’ve moved and traveled and graded hundreds of essays, and I’ve had very little time to write. During the times when I could have been writing, I chose to be with family or friends. Or I chose to read.

Poet F. Douglas Brown’s advice for overcoming writer’s block is to read. He finds that it gives him permission to try new approaches. I do not have writer’s block. I am not stuck. (The writer begins to think he doth protest too much.) Effectively, I’ve been away from my work for a little more than two weeks, but the boxes and tape, the airports and the memorial service, the new floors and the empty shelves, the new life that continues growing–time disintegrates in these moments, the stream of it picking up speed, pieces of the eroding banks falling into the swift current.

The other night I read Michael Pollan’s incredible New Yorker piece on psychedelic therapy. So far the experimental treatments have been mainly limited to terminal cancer patients, who widely report on the enormously positive impact of the experiences, and sessions are monitored by doctors and led by skilled therapists who guide the patients. During the more frightening moments of these sessions, patients are told to confront their fears, and they quickly overcome them, sometimes laughing at how ridiculous they seem. Facing certain death, the patients’ mystical psilocybin experiences helped them accept what was soon to come.

My dreams that night were vivid, and one moment stayed with me long after I woke up. I sat on a beach after climbing down a set of brown, slick ladder rungs. Waves were coming in, and suddenly one of these waves was far bigger than the rest, and I panicked. It was going to engulf me and there was nothing I could do. I sat there, and it rose high above me, a mass of water, and I woke up, at peace, knowing that we can always bear more than we think.

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