Writing: The Art of Digging In?

I fall out of love with writing.

It’s a love/hate relationship. I can’t live without it. I wish I could.

It’s a near-pathological need to dig, writing. For some of us. For me. Dig, dig, dig. I feel like I’m taking a stab at digging my way to China in my back yard. I’ll never finish. I’ll never even get halfway where I’m going. I know this. Thank god it’s a free passage. Taxes would kill me. And, unlike digging to China, the scenery’s interesting.

Recently, I’ve found writing hard. I’m not feeling inspired to go there. Mostly I know this is because I’m mired in existential spelunking of late; splooshing through dimly lit recesses and passages, seeing only a fragment of what’s really there because that’s the nature of cavernous darkness… and the human mind.

Still, there’s only four places left for man to really explore; to the centre of the earth, the bottom of the ocean, the reaches of space, and the depths of the human mind. Of the mind, I’m endlessly fascinated.

I’ve begun to read The Brain that Changes Itself, to try to understand the mechanics of thought more, and how to heal the body’s most enigmatic organ — which I know I’ve damaged in my many accidents and mishaps over the years. Amazing what landing on one’s head will do. Don’t try that at home, kids.

It occurs to me now, though, that the book may have application creatively. What if I can tap into a greater wellspring from which all this comes? What if I can cut through the ideological and ever-present bullshit that comes with any day-to-day existence on this big ol’ ball in space? What if there’s a simple “on” switch for creativity, that folks like Stephen King and Paul Theroux have long since mastered, given their prolific careers?

What I really want to learn, though, is where the emotional-bypass switch is. Where I can turn off all the hurt and shame and regret and fear that precedes any real psychological foray. All those monsters of our psyche that rear up and roar at us when we start looking back into our past.

I can remember being a child in grade one, staring up at the Big Kids in Grade 7, and the giants they seemed then. Now, at 35, I feel like I can step on ’em and squoosh ’em like the bugs they are. Perspective is everything; so is growing 18 inches.

My experience with emptying a few boxes on the weekend, delving into my distant past in a hands-on way, makes me think perhaps it’s the reverse of Grade 7-biggies-awe. All the years that have passed between then and now, I look back upon my memories and remember the fear or hurt or pain I felt in my youth, and I magnify it, because that’s how we humans roll. But somewhere in the midst of all that, I forget the most important thing…

I’m older now, and what might have hurt me then is likely to roll off my back within a couple days now. With age comes experience, temperance. When you’re hurt enough by the realities of life being life, day after day, you start to learn which hurts cut deeply and which are superficial bleeders; temporary yet ultimately irrelevant, like paper cuts.

We don’t have those filters at the age of 13, or 18, when hurts seem indelible and life-altering. When, with every bend of misfortune, our soul seems it might just break.

Then, one day, it doesn’t break. We bounce back, like a willow that’s been staked and pulled over, protecting it for a windstorm. Untie the tether, and poof, back it comes. Not unlike us feeble humans. Next time, we remember that resilience. We traipse a little less defensively, venture a little further, trust a little more.

Yet, despite all the courage and adventurousness we might one day find, those fear-mongering giants of our youthful memories are still seen from the scared, childlike eyes that first experienced it all. That’s the frame of reference. Until we’ve screwed up the courage to face it and change the frame, that is. Then it occurs to me — maybe I don’t need an emotional bypass. Maybe I just need to grow a further 18 existential inches, maybe the camera angle just needs tilting, maybe… who knows.

It all comes back to Socrates, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” Simply put, life’s not worth moving through if you don’t appreciate the magnitude of that from which you’ve just come.

As much as I sometimes loathe writing, this uncertain feeling of doom that bubbles up inside of me when I stare at an empty screen, wondering which words to impart it this time, I’d never give it up. When I go through my life avoiding examination and all that existential spelunking, I feel like a fraud. I feel unplugged and extraneous, as if I’m failing to give value to that which really deserves it. Life, for all its pains and heartbreaks and betrayals, is a magical thing, and I’m grateful I get a chance to experience a new surprise every day, and that I have the skill and ability to turn it on its head for a few readers.

As much as writing and its thought processes sometimes will consume me — because I’m not just writing about media or movies or whatever, I tend to write more about the marrow of life, so I’m lost in observation and ponderings much of time, when my craft is working for me — I almost always find the time to literally stop and smell a flower or search the night sky for a star.

Because, as a writer, one can’t help but realize the importance of all details. If the details, the little things, make a story richer, imagine their contribution to the repetition of life.

It’s finding meaning in my life’s happenings that allows me to create meaning in my writing, so that the cycle completes itself by my life actually having more meaning. Or at least it does to me.

I wonder if Socrates would approve.