Finding Our Rhythm


Memorial Day morning about 5am. Grey and damp Wind blows in heaving. Rushing this way it becomes the sound of the ocean I miss so much. I could almost be at the beach. I close my eyes and pretend for a few moments. The cloudiness softens everything. A few birds chirp but not many. Maybe too early for the second waves of breakfasting flyers. Or maybe they know the day is Memorial Day and are solemn.

Dream last night, fragment. I had crazy green hair all in dreadlocks, but unintentional, half formed. When I tried to comb them out, great hunks of hair broke off all over my head.

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In her book, Still Writing, Dani Shapiro writes about a writer finding balance vs having discipline in her writing practice. I think this idea works for probably every creative endeavor we embark upon: meditating, being creative at work, playing an instrument, drawing or painting.

In many ways, the story of her early life and mine are remarkably similar. The endless listening at doors, half way up or down the stairs, learning not to make the steps or floorboards creak, to find out what was making the household, my whispering parents in particular, tick; the maintenance of constant vigilance, a compulsion to understand, this was my life. The forced perfectionism: hospital corners on the bed, pillows fluffed, underwear ironed, table set just so.

So, I became a writer both as a form of escape and a way in; a way to try out possible explanations. Reading and writing kept me sort of sane all those years. But only sort of, which is a story for another day. Suffice to say for now, that I felt like reading books and writing was my lifeline the same way oxygen and respiration is necessary for living.

For spiritual reasons, as an adult, for a time, I completely gave up writing. (That too is another story, not one I’m fully done processing, so nothing more on that for now.) I stopped completely, just as I’d finished an MFA and accumulated a monstrous amount of debt doing so; I was in the midst of a novel that meant a great deal to me and an entire collection of short stories, because I no longer knew my way or what the purpose of writing or of life was. It was a difficult, traumatic time. Much of the happiness I derived form being alive was slowly being drained away. Not writing, in the end was bad for me, for my marriage. I felt robbed of the one thing which I had felt compelled to do my entire life and which had held so much meaning, since the time I first held a crayon in my hand and could string words together.

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It’s been a long slow recovery. But that background of stoicism, I’m happy to say is something I can finally let go of, gently, bit by bit. I’m sure this is why Dani Shapiro’s ideas about finding a rhythm appeal to me so much. Abandoning hard discipline, with it’s promise of punishment if the discipline should fail, is lovely. Finding rhythm allows me to see what feels right, most resonant and effective for me. Rhythm is without punishment. (Thank goodness.) It’s incredibly liberating to step outside constant judgement.

I invite you to join me in this. Examine your own practices. Where are you just self flagellating? Together, how about this? We can try to find our own rhythms. We know that sometimes life will intervene. Children get sick, or we do, there are meetings to attend, other responsibilities, various demands may sometimes get in the way. And so we miss our time to write. When this happens, we can just start again.

In Buddhism, one of the teachings says to just start from where ever you are. I think we can do this with writing too. We need to be gentle with ourselves. Writing is a strange and often lonely business. While the rest of the spinning world is out and about, we are alone somewhere, putting word after word down the best we can. And we need this time. But when we miss it, it’s okay. There’s always tomorrow. We can begin again. Breathing in. Breathing out. Moving our pen, the pencil or fingers on the keys.

Thanks for stopping by.

I offer classes in writing. Check them out if you like. You can sign up online quite easily.

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Author: Hillary Johnson

Improvisational documentary and fine art photographer.

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