when the work stops
When I’m not working, I hate myself. when my mind isn’t buzzing with a to-do list, my foot tapping insistently as adrenaline churns, I doubt my purpose in the world. I love to work. I love to be busy. even though my skin breaks out and my head feels like it might float away, even if I don’t get enough sleep, even when it feels too vulnerable to enjoy a real hug, because a real hug might unravel me, might remind me how much time i’m not spending unthreading together the sorrows my body is hoping to recycle.
When the work leaves, the real work comes.
And with a throaty sigh I admit, it’s just not very fun. this whole “making space” thing i’m always talking about. right now this space looks nothing like sunshine bouncing off manhattan skyscrapers. it’s more like moldy basements. I knew I needed rest, but I was suspicious of it. this kind of rest came with an invitation. ancient despair has joined me for a sleepover. it’s not depression, no, just bad breath hot against my face, the smell of all the years I spent hating sleeping in my own body. the years I work so hard to get away from. as if each accomplishment will give them back. I always feel like i’m running out of time. it’s because my meanest self tells me I wasted so much of it.
Busy is my coping. easy to do in this monster of a city, where the lights stay on and engines release thickness into the air. how long can I breathe it, I think? It can’t possibly be doing anything good for my lungs. it’s easier that way, more chances to cloud clarity.
I made the mistake of breathing fresh air. fresh air doesn’t soothe me. instead it makes wisdom paw at my chest. she writes messages with her fingers against my skin. I look down and see the imprint scrawled beneath my bra straps. she says it’s time to hold hurt in your hands. i’ve been carrying her for so long, please take her from me. look at her! she deserves to be looked at.
who is she, I ask?
"who is she," I ask?
"she is you," says my soul. she is the you you’ve refused.
My body insisted on this creative come down. I had one like this before, my muscles remember. I’ve sealed and baggied my projects, the ones I hurled myself into for six months. and now the worst and most miserable part, the part that I trick myself into thinking will be just hunky dory, the waiting. the stupid fucking what will possibly come of this and what if nothing does and what if my whole career is finished by 25 and mediocre is the rest of me. artists, so dramatic.
Another book? a play, maybe? a podcast, an advice column, another degree? my body won’t let me fathom it, not yet. I hate this mud my feet are playing in. I hate being dirty.
But wisdom and I glare at each other often. we’ve been here before. over and over again, wisdom tells me that success isn’t linear. wags a finger at me, then spreads hands far apart.
"This is what a life is. it does not stretch before you, footsteps do not follow one after the other. fill this space," wisdom says. "Fill it with silence, with grief, with questions, with regrets. fill it with happiness, with teachings, with rememberings, with salt water that dries on your skin."
Wisdom is a cunt and I hate her.
That isn’t true but isn’t it clever that we’re able to feel anger?
So, the truth? I feel entirely mortal. There’s not much I can do to appease wisdom, except wait. hum drum. waiting.
Creativity, like love, comes when you don’t reach for it with knotty fingers. It exists in the expanse between your hands, not an imaginary runway ahead of you. I had a love I had to reach for once. It failed exquisitely.
I’ve been writing something in private, which I don’t really do. But it comes from such a deep ache that most days I can’t even read it, it makes me sick. I usually write in a rush. adrenaline spiking and furious fingers. I write all of it, all at once, and don’t look back. No edits. No rewrites. Perfection, I think. A gift from the muses.
I think the muses went on vacation. I think they’re topless in the south of france.
Success isn’t linear. But I know, like I really know, in the most un-mortal part of me, that the more you gauge out your ugly, the sweeter wisdom is to you. My skin hasn’t broken out in over a month. Wisdom is such a cheeky little bitch.