03 October 2011

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

The title I’ve chosen for today’s entry is a bit of an overstatement, since I’ve continued to move forward with my writing. But today was one of those days that tested my resolve to do any writing at all. My mood was vastly different this morning than from what it had been on Friday and Saturday morning. Instead of feeling exhilarated for having made some significant progress on how I am approaching the practice of translation in my texts, I’ve begun feeling anxious about where I am at and where I think I should be. This feeling began creeping in on Sunday morning. By the evening, I started to feel downright panicky.

I tried working through these feelings of anxiety and panic in my first writing session this morning. I think part of the reason for such a mood swing says something about my personality. As soon as I start feeling great about something, I tend to find a reason to sabotage myself. I felt guilty for having such a good time with friends on Saturday night (my day off), and I was not productive on Sunday (not a day off) because I felt like I still needed to recharge. On top of that, I realized as I continued to write this AM that I set myself up for these feelings by focusing on all of the tasks I want to accomplish today AND this month rather than on approaching each task individually. When I am going to turn in a chapter, I ask myself? How much more writing to do have to do before I get there? How many more close readings? How much more research on all of the questions I’ve come up with in those close readings? When and I going to find time to do all of that plus all of the other stuff I have to take care of on a daily basis? It’s not that surprising then, given the amount of work that I’ve been telling myself I have to do--not just in the short term but also in the foreseeable future--that I felt overwhelmed and stressed. Putting all of that on my shoulders inevitably leads to an amount of uncertainty.

My natural inclination when feeling overwhelmed is to flee. In this case, fleeing my responsibilities would mean not being productive. It would mean not writing. I know well enough at this point, however, that flight solves nothing. When I have avoided writing, my feelings of anxiety and panic have only deepened. About this time last year, I was in a very bad cycle in which I would become increasingly depressed at my lack of progress and be unable to make progress as a result. It took several good friends to recognize just how low I had sunk. I knew things were bad, but I didn’t know just how bad. In short, I was so demoralized that I had begun talking much slower than normal, if I spoke to anyone at all. I rarely smiled or laughed. I was often on the verge of tears without understanding why I felt that way, because I had gotten so used to avoiding thinking about what was going on rather than facing it and voicing how I was feeling to myself or to anyone.

I think the way that I handled the same kind of feelings that surfaced over the weekend demonstrates how far I’ve come since a year ago. Even though I felt awful this morning--I was literally sick to my stomach and developed a pain in my right shoulder-blade (though I’m not sure if that is from stress, poor posture while sitting at the computer, poor sleeping arrangements, or a combination of all of these things and feeling sick)--even though I wanted desperately to take the day off, I made myself write. I actually wrote more than I have on any previous day since I changed my writing process, in fact, though, to be fair, about three-quarters of one of the four single-spaced pages I churned out was a paragraph listing some of the weird descriptions of nobles who make up Arthur’s plenary court that I think deserve closer examination. But that kind of work is also often necessary, since you might find patterns in the weird descriptions that you can’t see otherwise. And that’s precisely what happened today. And once I began recognizing those patterns--I think there is more than one pattern to consider--things began falling into place.

So what is today’s lesson? I’m not sure. I don’t feel particularly better for having written anything at the moment, for one thing. But I also don’t feel any worse for having done so. And maybe that is the lesson, if there is one. Writing didn’t hurt me. Perhaps the problem I was having this time last year was that I thought writing would hurt me, because I was focused on ‘good’ and ‘bad’ writing rather than simply on writing. But perhaps not. There is always the possibility that there is no huge lesson or ‘secret knowledge’ that I’m supposed to unearth in these writing sessions. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. The idea of ‘secret knowledge’ bugs me in a way, in fact, because it implies that I need to find answers to all of the questions I have about my writing process and about me. But why should having questions that are unanswerable be a bad thing? Aren’t they the best sorts of questions, because they keep us moving forward rather than back?

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