Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How do I beat writer's block? I imagine dying.

I received this in a Facebook message, and I asked the writer if I could answer it on my blog. She kindly said yes (thanks, Amanda!), so here it is.

"Jade--I am taking a class on creative nonfiction, my first creative writing class ever, and reading your writing has made me want to capture the kind of fragmented humanness that comes out, though I still have no idea what to write about, and the worst writers' block. I never write as consistently or as deeply as I plan to--always just spurts of stream-of-conscious narrative, dates, intersections, meals, addresses, recordings of snippets of my life. I'm sure you get this question all the time...but what do you do when you have writers' block? How do you write when you're depressed or scared or lazy or unmotivated? I guess that's a pretty big question. But I am curious." - Amanda H.

Hi Amanda.

I think everyone who writes can relate to the feeling of sitting at their computer and feeling depressed, scared, lazy, unmotivated, or scattered. I know I feel at least one of those for at least a little while every time I sit down at the computer. The key words, I guess, are, "for at least a little while." 

I practice a lot of yoga and meditation, and it reminds me that the experience of "me" is constantly in motion. I may feel like the most pathetic failure on a planet hurtling lamely toward its own annihilation, but sure enough, wait twenty minutes, and I'll feel like I control the movement of stars. 

Being kind to yourself when you can't write, or when it's appropriate to do something else for your mental well-being, is a good thing. I need a good amount of quality time with my friends and family, as well as exercise, theatre, good food, live music, schmoozy parties, microbrews, oceans, and performance art in order to feel okay. It's not always procrastination. Sometimes it's just living, and you need to live to have something to write about.

Then there's procrastination. I procrastinate all the time. Sometimes I stand in the kitchen and eat half the loaf of challah bread my roommate brought home from the good bakery in Brookline. Sometimes I sweep the whole apartment, or reorganize furniture, or go to a yoga class, or go grocery shopping to replace the loaf of challah bread I ate (SORRY, EMILY). Sometimes I spend hours article-jumping on Wikipedia, or engaging in witty banter on Facebook with other witty artists and writers. Sometimes I answer questions about writer's block on my blog. Sometimes I stand in my pajamas and stare at the floorboards and do absolutely nothing for like, twenty minutes. 

In meditation practice, I've learned to watch the way my mind travels away from the focus (i.e. breath) without assigning value to these travels. It doesn't make me a bad person or a failure because my mind wanders away from focusing on my breath, but noticing it does mean I can remind myself to bring the attention back. This can be more difficult than it sounds, but if you just sit with the discomfort for long enough, eventually, it changes. Some of the same techniques work with writer's block. If you just sit with your blank screen long enough, something will change. 

But sometimes, just the act of sitting, of carving out so much of my precious life to sit alone in a room arranging words (for what??? for whom???) seems tortuous. I think of what else I could be doing. Going to the movies? Getting a real job? Shopping for clothes? Taking up a new addiction? Quitting an old addiction? All of these seem like valid choices with a lot more immediate payoff than writing.

In the type of Buddhism I like, you're supposed to think about your own death a lot. That sounds morbid to a lot of Americans, who try to avoid thinking about death at all costs, but it only means you're supposed to live your life with the goal of a peaceful death. That is, you want to make choices you can feel good about on your deathbed. 

At these moments of wishing I were doing anything else, of wishing I weren't even born a fucking writer, I think of myself on my deathbed. It's an outwardly peaceful one. There are loved ones, family, and friends. There's not a great deal of pain or anger or grasping. Everyone, including me, has pretty much accepted that it's timely, even if sad, for me to go.

The only difference is, in one version, I've written. In another, I haven't. 

To a certain extent, we all get to choose our deaths. I choose a death having written over a death not having written every time.  

Monday, January 14, 2013

I Don't Really Hate Polyamory

Saturday night, I performed as my hip-hop side project, Madame Psychosis at a well-attended, well-recieved show at Johnny D's in Somerville. The other acts were What Time Is It Mr. Fox, Sarah RabDAU and Self-Employed Assassins, and Johnny Blazes and the Pretty Boys

Yesterday I received a thoughtful email from someone who was at the show who was offended by a lyric of mine. The song in question is "Better Than You," which is the third song I ever wrote for Madame Psychosis, all the way back in 2009. The lyric in question is:

And polyamory looks like a scam to me. 
An adolescent chauvinistic fantasy. 
You do what you want with your man but I ain't sharing mine 
just cause polygamy's cousin's read some Gloria Steinem. 
The short answer is, I don't hate polyamory. I've been poly myself, and mono myself, and an awkwardly bisexual bachelor monk for much of my life. Madame Psychosis is a character I play sometimes who is supposed to be an over-the-top hypocritical hipster. I dress in femme drag. I wear a wig, a sequined Union Jack dress, Christian Louboutin shoes, fur, and speak in a fake English accent. 
The longer answer is more complicated. I wrote that lyric four years ago in reaction to a very specific thing I saw happening among some of my friends. Basically, I saw a lot of people being pressured into a poly lifestyle for whom it wasn't healthy. Within a certain community, it seemed like it was becoming a proselytizing-type of thing. A thing a person wasn't allowed to question. When I see something a bunch of people seem to accept without question, be it in religion, politics, or love, I want to offer a devil's advocate position. 
I also wrote that lyric before I really knew what I was doing with Madame Psychosis. At first, I was envisioning her as pure hyperbole, a hypocritical gadfly of hipster culture. Over the past three years, I've refined the character and made her (I think) more subtle, nuanced, and interesting. However, that means that the earlier songs I wrote don't always land the way I'd like. I wasn't sure about performing "Better Than You" for that audience, but I thought I'd try to make the rest of the show so ridiculous (selling kisses for whiskey and calling it "acts of small prostitution," offering to go down on a married friend of mine from stage, etc.) that it would make the lyric be taken with a grain of salt, and give the audience something to think about. I'm not sure if it worked (and the fact that it requires a lengthy blog post in order for me to sleep tonight suggests it didn't), but artists make decisions and go with them, and sometimes they don't hit the way we'd like.
When I originally wrote the song, I was only performing it to friends who already understood its context. Now that I'm performing it in rooms full of 200 strangers, who don't necessarily know me, or my politics or history or even my other projects, it means something different. It's a constant process of learning, growing, and readjusting. I'm also a very sensitive person. I get hurt easily, and while I like to challenge people and stir things up, I never want to make anyone feel hurt or ashamed of who they are. If you happened to be at that show and felt I crossed a line, I am really sorry.