Overcoming Writer's Block – The Kitchen Rag

I’ve been quiet here and on Facebook lately. Some of you have asked for updates, others have expressed concern. I am well my dear readers, and it does good to my heart to hear from you. My kitchen is still bubbling with homemade broths every night. My pantry is still permeated with the pungent smells of lacto-fermented veggies and herbal tinctures. I am committed to making wholesome, nourishing meals for myself and my husband. What has changed then, you might ask. Why haven’t I been sharing my culinary escapades ripe with Eastern European anecdotes? It’s a question I’ve been exploring myself.

This fall when we returned from our trip to Europe I began sharing our adventures on the blog. I had so many ideas for posts, photos, outlines, funny stories. But to my surprise, instead of being lighthearted and fun, the posts were heavy with my past. I felt that I was being too vulnerable, naked, whiny. I didn’t like what I saw. I tried to brush it off, deleted a few drafts, attempted to change the tone, but I couldn’t. Instead I developed writer’s block. The blank page mocked me every time I sat down. I tried writing random sentences that popped into my head but would burst out crying. A sentence like “rain is a constant companion during the sleepy December months” should not have that effect. Horrified, I closed the computer and went back to the kitchen to tend to the chicken soup.

Aware that something deeper was taking place inside me I set aside my nutrition books and delved into books exploring the subconscious. I read He,  She, and We by Robert Johnson, and Leaving My Father’s House by Marion Woodman, both Jungian psychoanalysts. I joined a women’s self care group and we discussed “Balancing Your Chakras . I discovered that I’m a workaholic that doesn’t know when to stop and listen to the needs of my body. These wise gentle women helped me take a step back and look at my life. I began to slow down. I started taking baths twice a week. I started diffusing essential oils around the house. Clayton got me a salt lamp and a pair of comfy slippers for Christmas. My brother in law: thick wool socks. My friend Jessinah: two rice packs. You think the universe (and my friends and family) were trying to tell me something? I’ve slowly incorporated these and other items into my daily self care rituals, but more about that in an upcoming post.

I’m a strong woman who can work fifty hours a week, read books, write a blog, and work on her graduate degree! What happened to her? I wanted her back…

A few weeks later we were visiting some friends and they asked me what changed. I asked them what they meant. “You seem so calm. A few times I noticed you closed your eyes and smiled. What were you thinking?”

I shrugged. “Nothing.” I was trying to focus on breathing. And I continued to focus on breathing while Google Docs and WordPress stayed closed. I was too scared to open it and face the empty page.

I decided to throw a party for my golden birthday. I was eighteen and home in Moldova last time I had a party for my birthday that was all mine. My husband and I typically celebrate our birthdays together since we are only a day apart. It was wonderful to have my friends there but I was hurt by those who didn’t come, even though I knew I threw the party last minute. I was emotional and halfway through the night Clayton found me crying on the kitchen floor.

“What’s wrong love?” he asked concerned, wiping the tears off my face. “You are acting so weird.”

“I have no idea babe. Am I going crazy? I don’t even know why I am upset.” I responded blinking quickly to make the tears go away. I threw some cold water on my face and joined our friends and forced myself to laugh and joke. Clayton wasn’t convinced and neither was I. It was embarrassing. I’m a strong woman who can work fifty hours a week, read books, write a blog, and work on her graduate degree! What happened to her? I wanted her back…

I didn’t get her back, but I did get something even better. My friend Jonathan, who knows how much I enjoy literature, has been encouraging me to write more fiction. “I wish I could.” I would laugh. “It’s all in here.” I would say, tapping my skull. “It just won’t come out.” For my birthday he gave me book by Ann Lamott called Bird by Bird. He handed it to me with a wink. My heart sank. He had no idea I had been incapable of writing a single line in a while. I couldn’t even write down recipes for the blog, and he was encouraging me to write stories?!

Although my night stand was already full of half-read books, Jonathan’s gift intrigued me, so I opened it during a break from some of the more emotionally intense Leaving My Father’s House passages. Anne Lamott said something that completely blew away my preconceptions of fiction writing. Her advice was “just write”. She didn’t talk about thesis statements, outlines, clearly defined plot and characters. She simply wanted her students “to write”. Writing fiction is like driving a car on the highway in the dark while its raining, she explained. You can only see three feet ahead of you, and that’s all you need.

Her tone was exhilarating, and despite my fears I found myself in front of my computer next morning, facing the same white page I had despaired earlier.

This child’s story had been haunting me for years. I recognized it, moved it through my heart into my fingertips, and my chest felt lighter than it did in months.

This time I didn’t panic or try to come up with something clever. I did what Ann told me to. I closed my eyes and thought of a place where I was truly happy, a place that brought me secret joy. My hands moved cautiously on the keyboard, and even before I opened my eyes I took a deep breath and started typing. I found myself in my village during winter. Not in the house with my family, but in an old barn with animals breathing softly. A skinny dog was resting in the corner. A girl walked in and I let out a gasp. It had been her all along. She was like me but different. She had a stubborn look on her face, and a fierce streak  in her step. I am prettier, she is stronger. The animals were expecting her and moved to make room for her small frame. This child’s story had been haunting me for years. I recognized it, moved it through my heart into my fingertips, and my chest felt lighter than it did in months. I had seen this girl in Moldova last summer. She was kneeling barefoot by the chickens, with her scabby knees and long slender fingers, feeding them wet corn meal mixed with fresh farm cheese and finely chopped nettles.

I shut the computer and left the girl in the barn with her dog. There it was. A paragraph! My first REAL paragraph in months! Thank you Anne Lamott! I hoped this would heal my writer’s block and that I could get back to my blog, so I resolved to write a paragraph daily about anything that came to mind. Hopefully this involved blog posts too, I mumbled to myself.  But whenever I have a free moment and I sit down to write, the girl reappears, introducing me to her family, friends, and neighbors. Six chapters later her dog and I still follow her faithfully through the village, wondering what she will show us next.

Something is happening inside me as I write this story. I don’t know what yet, but I feel that it is changing me. This girl reacts differently to events in her life than I did. It’s a healing process that brings me much joy and much sadness. But as I explore her world more, she has given me permission to follow some of my other interests again. I have written a few guests posts for Scratch Mommy. I’m working on a recipe for Chasteberry tincture. Somehow I can write faster than before. Some of my inhibitions and concerns about how I sound have been dissolved in this process. And I’m happier.

“Just write” Anne Lamott says. I am writing, Anne, with all my heart, I am writing.

I would like to keep you updated on my journey. There is so much more of me that I would like to show you. I  will be writing a series of posts about what I’m learning through my writing, and there are a few other exciting opportunities we’re almost ready to share. I am back and I am here to stay. 🙂