Saturday. I've been guerrilla writing. I pretend not to be writing, walking up and down the house "chilling", and when I least expect it I sit down and hammer out two paragraphs. It's a battle of wits between myself and myself. Sometimes I win, and sometimes I win. Actually - who am I kidding. Mostly I lose, and mainly I lose.
Sunday. I think I've figured out the problem. The problem of me not being able to write is the same problem of me not being able to draw. I've been trying to draw the past few months with varying levels of success, and most of the time the process looks like this: I stare at my paper, charcoal poised and expectant. I make some marks, sometimes based on a subject, sometimes not. Two minutes later I am bored. I keep at it, chiding myself for being bored. Still bored. I start over with a new piece of paper. Still bored. At some point I start yelling at myself for not being interested. The operation falls through and a bunch of trees were cut down for nothing.
But sometimes, a few magical times, I get really into it. The world melts away and when I reemerge, I have in my hands a sketch that I'm proud of. And I'm energised instead of drained. No yelling, no cajoling. Just quietness.
The problem, as I have found, is the lack of connection. The inability to get into the zone is because I am not connected to the zone. The problematic mindset is that I want to enjoy "having written" or "having drawn", without respecting the process that it takes to get there. And the thing is, the process doesn't necessarily have to be painful. But it has to be gone through. Quality time has to be spent.
During my European art tour in 2018 I sketched a lot in museums. It was difficult in the beginning, especially because museums at that point were so packed with tourists, but eventually I was able to get into it, with one central motivation: to spend time with the sculpture/painting/drawing. It didn't matter if I had something to show in the end - it was just a copy anyway - but it helped me see the piece better, and enjoy the piece better. I was connected. And the more I did it, the easier it was to have the confidence to get into that space, away from the noise, the tiredness of travelling, the boredom, even - they're museums after all - and be still with the artwork, and just be.
All that seems a distant memory. I've not drawn as a regular practice since 2019, when I went for Komeil's drawing classes and got super motivated to practise every week. In 2020 I wanted to make a visual journal. I tried, but it never worked out.
Anyway, I digress. I've realised that it is about the connection, a genuine interest to spend time with a subject (whether visual or intellectual), with deadlines and outcomes as secondary. To clarify, I don't mean that I've not been interested in the work or the art. It's just that when the primary motivator is fear or impatience, the access to the flow is cut off because there is so much noise.
And I don't mean that I now disregard the timeline, either. What I mean is, if I know being connected to the work gives me a positive spiral in enjoying the process, getting some outputs, gaining confidence, and enjoying the process more, etc. The conclusion is that I need to work on building the connection, as a key part of being able to work and draw well.
Monday. I thought I'd continue writing this blog post because I wanted to process the idea of the connection a bit more. I'm going to stop talking about drawing and refer mainly to work, because that's what's on my mind now, even though I believe it's the same strand of thinking.
It has been useful to recognise the idea that I need to build a connection to work (work as noun here). Seeing connection building as a separate but essential step has enabled me to be patient, kind, and respectful to the act of accumulating knowledge, putting ideas together, and choosing words with care to express exactly what I want to say, no more and no less. It is a painstaking process but I am doing it because I care. It is a privilege to do work that you care about.
The gratefulness softens the fear and quietens the mind. I make tea, wait and encourage myself by writing ideas down on my notebook, and rearrange papers on my desk to an order that makes sense. None of this increases the word count, but that's ok. It's the first step. We have time.
And it has worked. I still have to try it out for longer, but so far it has worked. I've been feeling much less anxiety, and I've been writing. Not at supersonic speed but that's ok. It feels like time has slowed down, and when that happens, I don't need to be a supersonic speed writer. I just need to write.
So the thing about connecting to the work is that it often boils down to one thing: to ensure that the conditions are optimum to connect. It turns out that the practices that I've been building and maintaining for mental health are actually quite good for that. Months of work on flexibility, physical and psychological, seems to have paid off. Yoga helps in keeping body pains away, and lessons from ACT (Acceptance Commitment Therapy - recommended by the therapist I saw) helps me to stay mindful and anchored to my values.
Practical steps that I've been taking include reducing time on the phone, sometimes even turning it off for periods of time, and that helps A LOT. Observing the rhythm of my energy levels, I adjusted writing time to the morning and yoga to the afternoon. At night, I visualise the next morning: wake up, make coffee, turn on computer. Stretch at intervals.
It's just been two days but I feel good about this. Will update as I go.