When You Only Have So Many Words and None of Them are Adequate

The Green Study is taking a break until December 1, 2017.

canstockphoto5847421Last year, I went to a lecture where journalist and novelist Anna Quindlen spoke about her writing practices and career. One of the things she said was that while she was working on a project, she limited how much time she spent answering emails and engaging others. “I only have so many words.” I’ve thought a lot about that phrase, wondering if there really is a limit to my creative reservoir.

I’ve made a habit over the last five years of posting personal essays. Most of the time I was circumspect, able to write them at a distance and not when they were raw. Lately, though, I’ve been feeling tapped out personally, too enraged politically, and unable to rein in my emotions. It’s probably time to stop doing that for a bit. Maybe I was just scraping away the layers until I hit the gooey core, but the gooey core is here and it’s messy, disorienting, and raw.

I’ve written frequently about depression over the years, but there are so many different kinds. It might have been turning 50, or watching my child become who she is supposed to be – in contrast to my own paralysis, or just the flip of a neural/hormonal switch, but this year I’ve felt a drag on my daily life, this weight pressing slightly more each day. I’ve become habituated to repressing emotions, repackaging them in a logical manner, presenting them as if I have my shit together. All the while, I feel a sense of grief and rage and disorientation just burbling beneath the surface.

We do this – we rearrange and rationalize and give 45 degree corners to those emotions that make us uncomfortable. We turn them inward and that rage, sadness, bitterness morphs into a low-level depression, until a phase becomes a lifestyle. Creative people put rawness into their art and maybe that shores them up, makes it tolerable.

canstockphoto5423745I used to believe that I was a creative person, but I’ve spent too much energy trying to look put together. I’ve spent a lot of time being responsible, keeping myself controlled, and rational. I’m living in a world where I’m not allowing room for my own messiness, surrounded by a culture that will look at sheer lunacy and say well, that’s different.

canstockphoto21530517It has hit me that art requires messiness and rawness and vulnerability, because art requires an elemental sort of truth and you can’t land on it by keeping your shit together all the time. As I said to a friend yesterday, I feel like a complete and utter fraud. She’d read somewhere that feeling like a fraud means you’re getting somewhere, because you are operating outside of your comfort zone. And that means growth.

It’s been a surprise in midlife to realize that those issues in the first decade or so of life follow a person. They have reverberations through the following decades of your story. Many of us spend our entire lives trying to resist, change, or rewrite that story, but it’s our core story. Messages for better or for ill burrow inside our brains and many of them are just plain wrong. But they’ve left their mark and they influence our behavior and perceptions. Until we are deliberate in challenging those messages that do us harm, they will rear their ugly heads over and over. And we’re stuck.

canstockphoto1074433I’ve been stuck for a long time, but things are uncoiling. My emotions have told my mind that it can just fuck right off. It’s “Feeling Time”. If you’re relatively smart, your rationalizing skills are likely top-notch. You can intellectualize the hell out of any morass of emotion, produce a white paper and a TED talk, and not feel a damned thing. It’s the feeling part that’s messy, that makes you feel like an unhinged nutter. It’s not comfortable, but it’s necessary.

I see it as analogous to what is happening in our country right now. It’s messy. It’s extremely uncomfortable for many of us. There’s fear and anger and anxiety. My optimistic self says that it’s evolution – all the cultural and social shifts are happening in a relatively short period of time. Resistance to those changes is normal and natural, but temporary for all but a diminishing minority. This is the ebb and flow of growth.

People are in a hurry to make nice. To smooth out the wrinkles, repress dissent, legislate away the angry voices rising up, to make it look like our patchwork quilt of a country isn’t coming apart at the seams. It is and it isn’t. Some things are holding strong. Some people are emerging as real heroes and some of us are more enlightened than we have ever been before. I believe there is hope to be found, but it does mean turning away from the headlines and looking below the fold.

canstockphoto40402861Personally, I am dissolving into a bit of a mess.  I’ve begun to disintegrate mid-conversation with friends and feelings are rising in me that no amount of editing can rearrange. I know it’s a good thing in theory, but for now, it feels like absolute shit. It’s not “normal” for me when normal was keeping things squared away. It’s not normal for me to keep manically humming Moby songs like some deranged hipster. I don’t want to talk out loud about it. I don’t want to repackage it for the consumption of others.

Sometimes in a world where everyone is saying everything for the benefit of an audience, there’s no time to tend to our inner lives. If we’re lucky and I think that I am, our inner voice becomes so loud and rancorous as to demand our attention. My inner voice has hopped up on a table, stripped off its clothes, and insisted on dancing Gangnam Style. It feels damned embarrassing and uncensored and not intended for public viewing.

I like to wrap up a post with some rationale, some message that says to a reader Hey, she’s not a headcase. She has her shit together. But why lie? I don’t have it together. I might, but I don’t right now.  See you in December.


23 thoughts on “When You Only Have So Many Words and None of Them are Adequate

  1. It’s not easy to have your shit together when you live in a world that doesn’t have its shit together. Until November …


      1. Good for you. As that Clairol commercial from a million years ago said, “You’re worth it.” And now you know I am ancient — bet you have NO idea what commercial I’m talking about 😊


  2. Ha! None of us have our shit together! And I think it’s a sad thing that we’re supposed to instead of being real. Feel your feelings. It will set you free. Feelings buried alive never die, and the only way out is through. I get seriously pissed off with the notion that we’re not supposed to be emotional – it’s denying our very humanity. Having swum in the muck for most of my adult life I’ve come to have no judgement about any emotions, in myself or others. If I need to cry I cry, as easily as I laugh. Nothing gets bottled up.


    1. I am skilled at talking and rationalizing my way out of tears or anger or whatever emotion is inconvenient at the moment and it is exacting a price. It’s amazing the level of shame I can carry when I feel like my emotions are uncontrollable. And right now, they’re out of the corral and free range. I have some work to do in learning to acknowledge and embrace them.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. One of the emotions is shame. Simply feel that. Feel shame until you get to the absolute bottom of it. Let shame have its day. We are so programmed to believe being emotional is a weakness. It’s so sad. I do understand. I’ve been pretty emotional all my life and I so longed to be one of those calm strong rational people who were just not emotional (or something). I finally came to terms with it and now realise how lucky I am to be always in touch with what’s most authentic for me whether or not it’s seen as socially acceptable or successful by others.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. A lot of us are feeling this way, not necessarily for the same reasons or in exactly the same form; but you are definitely not alone. Sometimes we need to just be QUIET, stop trying to run everything through the brain and let our spirit (soul, heart, feelings, whatever you want to call it) take charge. Feelings can seem scary and messy (and sometimes they certainly are), but I think much of it is because we try to deny them or “manage” them so much that they go out of control. Wishing you a good break…..

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Michelle, I don’t know you from Eve. I like your voice and what you write rings true to me. And having read this last post, I’m sending love and tenderness (across oceans. Don’t worry, I won’t hug you!!😬). I know, as you do, this, too, shall pass. And you go thru the fires to get there. I’ll be looking out for your return. Wishing you well.


  5. You are in good company Michelle. I think anyone who is not feeling a lot of angst, rage and frustration right now isn’t paying attention. I have been in the back seat for a while now, just watching the world go round and round, and not trying to drive but just be a passenger for a time. Observing without judging. I understand the depression component, as I have certainly recognized it in myself also. Here’s to your heart. Let it lead you for a while and give the mind a rest. Wishing you peace.


  6. Maybe there is something about the magic number 50. It’s not getting any better as I hurtle uncontrollably to the end of that decade. The is-this-all-there-is-and-where-in-the-hell-do-I-go-from-hereness of it is a weight that, sometimes, I feel I can barely stand up under.

    Good for you for recognizing these feelings and giving yourself time and space to experience them.


Share Your Thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.