What To Do When The Open Road Gets Lonely

This is not the same as the road getting bumpy. (Is it not?)

A bumpy road has tangible solutions — available, if not always easy, solutions. A road full of obstacles can have the advantage of testing your wits and strengthening your resolve, leading you further toward those heightened moments of “Aha! I triumph again!” that only fuel your fire forward. Testing grounds allow you to “vanquish your enemies” and keep sailing toward your own mystical island only you are 100% certain exists.

A broken string of lightbulbs need repair – aha! I will go to the hardware store. A period is misplaced – aha! I will replace it! A friend starts a fight with you – aha! It may be unpleasant but I will a) talk it out b) find a solution c) do some self-discovery d) realize I am better off without them.

All in the name of — The Big Vision. You will do whatever it takes to do what needs to be done. You feel in your bones a gripping, relentless motivation to keep moving in a certain direction and with the power of this behemoth courage, you will boldly carve away what doesn’t belong. Your mother’s nagging? Don’t need it. Your old friend’s constant bullshit? Why pretend you can’t see through it? Even your own self-doubt — do away with what does not serve your ultimate purpose. Chopping down trees of doubt as they come to plant a richer forest in its place.

Because — you are practically bursting with purpose, a staunch resolve thicker than blood that compels you to spend as much of your energy as possible on propelling you in the direction you know you must go in. If this realization is new, sometimes, first, the path must be cleared. And, sometimes later, cleared again.

So, okay, what happens when you’ve “vanquished” all your “enemies” and cleared space in your head to truly do what it is you’re meant to do? Well, then comes the terrifying part of actually having to… do it.

The bumpy road gives you something to focus upon — either give up and go home or fight harder than you’ve ever fought before to pave a path to later create a world you’ll be able to enjoy.

Loneliness, however, is a different sort of battle — the one with yourself and only yourself. Once all the heckling debris is cleared, or at least clear for the moment, you might catch yourself looking in all directions around you and noticing that in clearing away all the distractions from your work space, you’ve also done a pretty good job of clearing out those simple things that used to give pleasure. Have you forgotten about fun?

As it turns out, you realize, simple fun is very distracting. Once you felt your drive ignite, people who provided simple fun were naturally cleared out of the way. People who couldn’t see or understand where you were headed, who couldn’t get on board with your vision, but who may have filled a Friday night in nonchalance, are now nowhere to be found.

And what is left in their place? Just an echo of your obstacle-clearing battle cry. An echo of it must be. No distractions. Remember you cleared away all the distractions? Silence. The impossible takes shape in the realm of the possible and you are the only one to witness it.

Except now, after all the hard work of clearing an unfettered avenue for you to sit down and make genius on, all you want to do is call back into play the colorful distractions — we writers call this type of procrastination “every morning.” Creating is often a solitary path with no reward but what you afford yourself. So — this is a quick 10 step primer of reminders for when the big bus of lonely hits. (Skip to bottom to just see how Marge Piercy says it better than I ever could.)

So, when the day is spent and you feel too tired to do the work you have to do and almost at the point of mental exhaustion, and you just want to bullshit with the bullshitters, when you start to wonder where everybody went —

What To Do When The Open Road Gets Lonely
(A 10-Step Guide To Accepting Solitary Expansion For Visionaries)

NOTE to all current and future visionaries in any field: Choosing a path of big work that may as yet be unpaved will not net you a hoard of fun, familiar friends (not necessarily, anyway, and not, usually, at first). Fun, familiar friends tend to like to go to already established watering holes and splash and splash, and from your vantage point, you may very well miss the splashing, but as you’re out in uncharted waters learning how to swim and duckroll and tame sharks, you must remember to ask yourself, would it ever be worth it to go back to only splashing?

If the work you’re doing is truly soul-fulfilling, the answer will always be no.

So, when the road gets lonely and you suddenly find yourself in what seems like a vast, deserted landscape far away from all the people having all the fun, first, remember your work. When you remember your work, you step above your physical longing for easy companionship and see that what you are doing is much greater than the present moment. You are already fulfilled. There is nothing missing. Focus takes effort, sacrifice, and nothing is free. Feel into your work. Acknowledge it.

Second, ask yourself whether what you have given up would be worth undoing all the progress that you have made. Would you really want to retreat? Do you really want the easy fun as badly as the present moment alludes? Or can you see above temporary longing to the greater horizon ahead–

Third, ask yourself, really, if you have actually given anything up. Or whether old things that used to delight you just don’t scratch the itch anymore.

Fourth, dive into the itch. The feeling of missing something, of distancing yourself from simple pleasures that used to reward you, is a signal to explore what you really need to be doing in the grand scheme of your big vision. For example, if you are itching to party vacuously like you did when you were 21, you can either realize that you are not 21 anymore, that brain chemistry changes your perception of desire and you will need to move forward, or you can continue to party emptily until your skin reeks of alcohol and your wrinkles stink like cigarette smoke and you have accomplished nothing trying to live in the past. This moment could just serve as a reminder to be where you’re at.

Fifth, realize that focus does not negate pleasure. In fact, focusing on and actualizing a big vision begets a greater sense of fulfillment than the momentary senses. And also, bonus point: you can still party. Who says working hard makes Jill a dull girl? From here on out, the parties are just going to get bigger, better and more interesting as the real magicians start doing more than party tricks.

Sixth, because you’re not partying quite yet, do something to alleviate the temporary fixation on missing the easy, empty, already paved road. Maybe call a friend who understands and is riding with you on the big sassy bull of creation that keeps trying to buck you off, or maybe go running so that your thoughts have something else to do than simply bounce around in your bowling ball head of misguided misery. Sometimes, the right kind of distractions can be great.

Seventh, remember that “conformity proves nothing” and choose your fork. No one said breaking out from the mold would be easy, but you can bet it will be worth it. So, decide to keep on the path. I say it like it’s nothing, but every moment that loneliness or conflict or dissent rears its common head, you are given a choice to succumb to the pressure and give up, or to reinforce the positive thought patterns that will ultimately weave you a rich blanket made from the threads of deep, soulful satisfaction that come from living your life in the way that fits you best. The decision is always being made. (Yes, there IS a way out of a bleak Marxist post-modernism, and it’s being formulated as inner truth.)

Eighth, because you’ve now remembered why it is you’re choosing to go forward in the rambunctious way that you are, also remember that suffering is universal, yet, you have the power to choose whether to make it a productive or stagnant sort of pain. Choose productive. Do something tangible to reinforce the decision you have made. If you are a painter, paint. If you are a dancer, dance, a singer, sing. If you are a writer, by all means, write.

Ninth, congratulate yourself on overcoming another obstacle — because it is –, and give yourself a reward. A cookie maybe! Seriously, cookies. How about a third eye cookie? Chocolate, too. Maybe a brainlessly funny TV show. Whatever works. It may not feel like you just did a lot, but you did. You’re the one training yourself here, so you’ve got to do it right so it sticks. This is scientific positive reinforcement we’re doing here to lead to greater results – because, even though it looked like the road was cleared, perfectly cleared from all your hard work and ready for you to seamlessly, effortlessly stamp your imprint onto the world in one smooth motion (we wish, right!), loneliness often appears unexpectedly as the most profound, yet often seemingly invisible, obstacle that there is.

You have succeeded in clearing a path into yourself. And only yourself. Doing something new or unusual or bold won’t make you instantly popular — in fact, it usually does the opposite, and it’s not until later you get the recognition for all the wanton moments of stress and hardship. But, do remember – no matter what sort of success affronts you later on down your path, these private moments of sweat and heartache — they are yours. Not anybody else’s. You can do with them what you wish. Because you’re the one who’s created the pathway toward that future moment.

Tenth, appreciate yourself and others for the effort and the crazy maintenance of this abstract vision that calls. Even though it may seem like your social circle is shrinking in upon itself when time after time you have requested time to be alone, remember and appreciate those close people, supporters and collaborators around you who are with you as you chip new grooves in the grid — even if they are holed up in their rooms doing what they are doing, and not clinking glasses with you every weekend. Winner’s secret: That’s the way shit gets done. 

And finally, take solace in this poem if it strikes you. It may be the singlemost shining-est beacon of light that I can always, always, always rely on to give me courage and motivation whenever the bumpy road tends to get lonely, too.

It’s not an easy path, but it is a rich one. Proceed.

“For the young who want to”
BY MARGE PIERCY

Talent is what they say
you have after the novel
is published and favorably
reviewed. Beforehand what
you have is a tedious
delusion, a hobby like knitting.

Work is what you have done
after the play is produced
and the audience claps.
Before that friends keep asking
when you are planning to go
out and get a job.

Genius is what they know you
had after the third volume
of remarkable poems. Earlier
they accuse you of withdrawing,
ask why you don’t have a baby,
call you a bum.

The reason people want M.F.A.’s,
take workshops with fancy names
when all you can really
learn is a few techniques,
typing instructions and some-
body else’s mannerisms

is that every artist lacks
a license to hang on the wall
like your optician, your vet
proving you may be a clumsy sadist
whose fillings fall into the stew
but you’re certified a dentist.

The real writer is one
who really writes. Talent
is an invention like phlogiston
after the fact of fire.
Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.

You have to like it better than being loved.

Rumpelstiltskin Free-Wheelin’

Aha! So I’ve been fairly stuck in the mud, turning my wheels hoping that one of these days I’d find myself writing again. (Of course, I should be used to this routine by now, but what writer, whose utmost soul-expansive joy comes from the “madness, rack and honey” of transforming ether into words, doesn’t sweat a little in the in-between in between the push?) And, of course, I’ve been doing a maddening array of other things, so it rarely seems like I have time to let my braingunk just play — BUT, and this is a big but I can’t deny, BUT I think I’ve had a breakthrough.

And it came in the form of donuts, too much evening-time coffee, toys and Olde English.

For years, I have been wandering through this earthly plane in search of my clan, and in so many serendipitous ways lately I have been Finding. One of these tribes, which perhaps I’ll go into at a later time, is a group of very intentionally conscious, magic-creating people who are giving me the greatest sense of potential into myself. Another has been the group of women I meet with in our feminist circle. A few other realms include simply the brilliant artists and makers and shakers I have been fortunate enough to cross paths with.

And now, another — a poetry workshop. My very first. I know, after all these years, I’ve finally crawled out of my hermit crab shell enough to see where the spark meets the road. I’ve felt that the road has always been out there somewhere, and I’ve even felt myself traveling down it from time to time, my little hunchback inching along with my flickering lantern to light the way. But I think I’ve just come across one of the big forks. And without hesitation, yes I will go forward with gusto!

The object of my newfound amore is The Poetry Lab and it’s held at an innovative co-work space here in Long Beach, CA called WElabs. We had our first meeting on Thursday. Yes, Valentine’s Day. Yes, it has been scientifically proven that Valentine’s Day does make people crazy, but luckily for me this year I have no special lover driving me to the brinks of insanity, so I was able to channel that quota of craziness into a more productive outlet — po-eeeeeems.

The organizer of the group, a refreshingly enthusiastic Danielle Mitchell, gave us a Valentine’s Day writing prompt, which I will readily admit was a trumpet of fun. We were to write a Valentine’s Day poem based on a list of nonsensical-sounding Olde English words, which once had definitions, but now just sound like hodge-podge. (Modeled off of Richard Beban’s “Love Poem to my Wifthing” from Young Girl Eating A Bird, Red Hen Press.) 

Man, what a blast. She has a plethora of other neat-o writing prompts on her blog, should you want to take your poet-brain on a walk through the bark-park. (Seriously, go check them out, you’ll be hooting in no time.)

So, anyway, it’s kind of a big deal that I’ve found some other people who like po-ums, too, and who want to sit around, blow bubbles, drink coffee and spit words around like poetic saliva! I’m not even going to say I don’t want to get too excited, because I’m really excited! There are other weird poet-people out there who might just understand the mush of my brain and I’ve found one real-life little batch of them! GAAAAA

The wheels are turnin’ and I’m not just revving up and running into walls and backing up and running into other walls! I’m like that little motorized toy car that has finally gotten unstuck from the corner! I think! Maybe! Hey why not!

So, anyway, here’s my little ditty. Just for fun. I cleaned it up a little bit from its impromptu version, but it’s basically the same hyper-caffeinated jumble of alien phrases. Like, the thing that convinced me this is where I belonged is that I read it to them and instead of going, UH WHAT, they were like, hey cool. My variety of crazy is finally appreciated!!!! And they’re really awesome, too! GAAAAA AGAIN

To Rumpelstiltskin (an Olde English Valentine’s Day poem)

Enough construpating now,
you hurly-hodge of a whingle wench,
my batterfangled gandermooner of better reason
pinches in my ear.

Not underneath the walming moon
we don’t meet in a twatterlight embranglement,
your garbroiling queaches lusting not unto
my moffled lips to leave me in a puddle of felth,
nearer to me your dreamhole
doesn’t blench,
and when it’s all my darg can do not to clyte upon your wedfellow,
your fardry bouffage leaves me earth-fast.

I find myself eyebiting on any spuddle
slutgate, reduced to unburdening my faburden
with whomever will ablude me
and grubble my drumble into misdelight,
rindling your floit every time.

But, despite all these frike-lusty shab outs,
in the greater cosmotecture —
my evenhood won’t be anyone’s howdy-wife
who doesn’t wear your warp-rascal sweven,
because,
as mally as your melsh-dick makes me,
as much as I want to prangle your crine into geason
and snirp away the Goordy that bedgangs you,
you misdeery Flunge of forgivable character
whose flammic fernitude is enough to girn any good nuddle —

for all this beautrap in my fairhead,
and against my better wofare,
lusty gallant,
the carked truth is,
my loveship was borne in your port.

I will never tell you this, of course,
until you’re ready to winchester-goose your way
back to my light-bed —
and not half-marrow this time,
you lanken hardel —
no, you can’t just wurp your way
back into my sky-parlor ready for some
flaberkin murlimews —
I am not that kind of Flurch!

No matter what gleet I may gowl
in my own burdalane smoor,
or you in yours,
only when you are ready to snoozle away
the ugsome afterclap of the past
and spuddle your kissing-crust into my hearty go-summer
with true amoret,
and stop being such an Assart —
when you are truly plumpers,
my murfle,
when you can care-cloth my bumroll
without a curtain-sermon every time,
when you’re truly fluttersome for my fleshment
and less foot-hot,
when you know —

only then may you please famble your Foad
quietly into the hushed brustle of my eveglom,
commit to me your sleepaway,
purfle me your paranymph,
and if you dwine me to be your bridelope,
if you give yourself to me with wowf
and ask to lay beside me bespawled
with no frims or crisples or smicks,
if — and only if — that time should ever come,
you know what a wifthing I am —

for all my harping devilshine:
my heart-spoon, my belly-friend, my dear leech-finger,
this cumberground hink will have no choice but
to rush-ring you back fulyear,
you and your great brute love.

Now go out and poetry!

Mad Woman In A Surreal World

I feel asleep last night thinking I’ve gone mad. I’ve gone mad. It’s finally happened. Again. I’ve gone mad. 

Future poetry compilation by yours truly entitled: Woman Gone Mad

or Mad Woman In A Weird World

or even Woman Going Mad Gone Gone Bye Bye Brain World See Ya Suckas I’m Off Wooey Hooey Hey!

I don’t mean to romanticize the feeling of delving into insanity. Because even though some of the mad geniuses I know periodically take trips into the deep end, and I’ve made my home there many a time, it is not a place of safe staying. It’s not like going to the movies where you can sit down in a plush seat and munch on salty treats while your mind and emotions are titillated by a story intentionally meant to temporarily mesmerize you.

No. It’s more like you look at your hands and you suddenly don’t recognize them as your hands, and you take these alien hands and you try to make them peel an orange, but they simply won’t listen, and then you start thinking, Impertinent hands! Whose bold joke is this to make hands that do not function? and at that point, some switch in your brain goes Okay, it’s started. Here we go, we’re in for a ride! The disconnect has begun and honey, you’re a captive passenger in a jankity cart headed straight to hell. Everything that you once knew becomes silly putty. Every person, every moment, every special belonging in your life dissipates into a vacuum of ethereal absurdity. How long it lasts varies. Sometimes it’s only a couple of hours, but I’ve survived there for weeks on end. My eyes are no longer my eyes. My toes not my toes. The world gets misty with a saturated detachment and the far away part of my brain that can still process cohesive thoughts nonchalantly looks on and wonders whether anyone notices I’m not all there. How good am I at passing.

I recently identified with the quote, “A writer is many people trying to be one person.”

As much as I revere geniuses like Hemingway and Faulkner (who wrote As I Lay Dying in a mere six months and was drunk every night doing it), it costs a lot to venture where the greats do. How many people walk around with imaginary straight jackets reeling in their octopus limbs. How many wrestle with the resistance of the deep end. How many people are in my head alone. How many want to come out and see the light.

No, I’m not romanticizing the feeling of the brain splitting apart into multiple compartments, each one screamingly disconnected from the others. My grandmother, though I never met her, was apparently schizotypal (very similar to schizophrenic) and, consequently, my father is a psychologist. Consequently, sometimes I think I am insane. I have too intimate a relationship with the schizo framework for it to be any way romantic to me. If it weren’t so real a possibility that someday my brain chemistry may flip a switch (my brain is constantly flipping all kinds of switches) and send me into mental paralysis, I might not resist the deep end so much.

Because.

That’s where the diamonds hide.

It’s only in those moments of departure that I feel the world whispering secrets too heavy for everyday existence. It’s only then that I take my shoveling hands and dig straight down into the dirt of reality, intending to pull up some gnawing roots. It’s not always dark, either. Sometimes, I’m so light I could fly and I tap into the common fabric of consciousness with delight. But they’re both extremes with a high price. The price is living outside the regular rhythm of social life.

I just finished reading a brilliant little novel called Hunger by a late 19th-century German writer Knut Hamsun. He spent his entire life poor, eking out a living as a schoolteacher, store clerk, farmhand, road laborer and various other odd positions before winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1920 — and dying in poverty in 1952. The novel is fast-paced, absurd and at times pathetically hilarious, chronicling an impoverished writer on a journey into irrationality as hunger, cold and misery become his closest friends. His mind, which he prizes as his greatest asset, starts to dissolve along with his body. Why live this way? Because he is a writer.

Toward the end of the story, a landlady who has housed him for three weeks on credit, starts becoming suspicious he will never pay her.

Their conversation goes:

“But you won’t ever finish that article, will you?”

“You think so? I may feel inspired to write tomorrow, or maybe even tonight; it’s not at all impossible that the inspiration will come sometime tonight, and then my article will be finished in a quarter of an hour, at the most. You see, it’s not the same with my work as with other people’s; I can’t just sit down and get so much done every day, I have to wait for the right moment. And nobody can tell the day or the hour when the spirit will come upon him. It must take its course.”

…As soon as I was alone, I sprang up and started tearing my hair in despair. No, there wasn’t the least hope for me, no hope at all! My brain was bankrupt!

Oh, the manic exaggerative hopeless compulsion of the writer captured in its most basic essence! Oscillating from extreme arrogance to the deepest self-pity! Why have we chosen this life? Or has it chosen us?

Last night, I was there. My brain was bankrupt, unable even to tell my body to get out of this messy, vapid depression enough to form coherent thoughts. And my thoughts! My thoughts are all I have! What am I without searingly true thoughts? What kind of writer can’t think? And the unique dilemma of not being able to force oneself to think in a way that is conducive to producing words on the page is downright debilitating. Then what am I?! I couldn’t do it. There was nothing I could possibly to do to force myself to write the things I needed to write.

This makes for a very unstable way of living.

Also, at this point in my life, a very, very poor one. All I ache to do is let the winter erupt in some zig zagging vernacular, but that won’t pay the heating bills! Still, I’ve chosen it. I am sitting in a living room that pulses like a freezer but my hands (those hands that last night were not my hands) just type away with the frenetic energy of a bundled up Virginia Woolf. Right now, I’ve chosen this way, this meager living that allows me the afternoon freedom to let play out all the tap-dancing fantasies of inane thought patterns, and for that I can be proud.

I haven’t always been able to choose this way. I have always been poor. Grew up in a small room with no common windows to light the way. But that’s another story for later. Though I choose this way, there is zero romanticism in poverty.

“Poverty itself is only romanticized by fools.” -J.K. Rowling

Yeah, she may be a quadraple-billionaire now, but Rowling was scraping by with canned soup and welfare supporting a child in abject poverty before she became renowned for Harry Potter. There’s nothing glorious about existing in nothing.

Nonetheless, there is a rich vein of truth that only appears in those decrepit, crawling moments of mad possession. When the senses are on high alert to every passing bird, every roaming leaf carried about on the wind, every shaking thought seems drenched in gold. In these moments, everything is surreal and somehow truer than before. Walking around like there’s a vacancy in my eye sockets but some inner light inflamed somewhere else.

The main character of Hunger relates this bit, a little after being kicked out onto the street again:

In all that I observed in this way there was nothing, not even a tiny incidental circumstance, that escaped me. My attention was most alert, every little thing was sensitively picked up, and I had my own ideas about these matters as they occurred. So there couldn’t possibly be anything wrong with my sanity. As things were, how could there possibly be anything the matter with it?

Now, look here, I said all of a sudden, you have been bothering yourself about your sanity long enough, making yourself anxious on that score; now let’s put a stop to these tomfooleries! Is it a sign of insanity to perceive and understand all things as accurately as you do?

What great things come to life in the madness of absence! Absence of food, absence of sense, absence of sleep and of security. I’ve been swinging on this pendulum for more than a decade now, not always freely, but these are the crevices I now give myself permission to explore.

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman — mad genius! I am nothing short of a mad genius! Nothing short of a pitiful fool! All I have are the words, the words, the words. Catch me in a spirit of nonsense and you won’t recognize me from the grounded body I normally inhabit. There will be no editing of this post! I’m amazed I still remember to capitalize! How deeply ingrained some things are. How to shake even those. How to rebuild in the fire. How to emerge with some granular morsel from the depths, hunched over and protecting a shoddy bit of rough dirt that, once scraped away, might reveal something worthwhile. How to do this.

How to write not in your right mind! What genius is there in drafts?

What truth smoldering in the ash of the common! Pooey on psychology. Pooey on deadlines. Pooey on supposed to be.

No, there is no romanticism here. Only a compulsion to sift through toward understanding. Only a coping mechanism that is born out of some of the deepest despair. These may not be the words that shine toward truth, but at least they are words. They may be the precursor to some great awakening, who knows. After a night of delirium, at least I have these words on the page, however trite they may be. How to get productively lost in the process. How to see.

How madness can be transformed — that is all there is. You need only to cultivate return.

J.K. Rowling Speaks at Harvard Commencement from Harvard Magazine on Vimeo.