Into every writer’s life comes the siren call of distraction and diversion from the page or screen, from crappy first draft to the editting of Version7.docx. Suddenly, there is a pressing need to groom the cat, to separate out the recycling bin under the sink. Don’t talk to me about social media either, it is both friendly diversion and foe-like distraction in the digital age. It’s called displacement activity and it is all about not wanting to face imperfection, failure, one’s own un-original face.
Actors have a (probably underserved) reputation as being the divas of The Arts. But I will tell you, the Pity Party that I can throw in my head makes them look like Am-Dram Night. It all goes on in my busy brain and my husband is wise to it. Duly noted, it disrupts the brutal, flagellistic pleasure of the Pity Party. Witnessing becomes a form of diversion, but in a healthy way.
It’s at these creative/artistic self-loathing times that I turn to Anne Lamott, she whose father told her brother to take it ‘bird by bird.’ In other words, when you are overwhelmed by the big picture of a project just take it one digestable task at a time.
Her TED talk pep talk can be found at:
Sometimes you need the Pity Party, to vent your Poor Pitiful Pearl (a doll that my aunt owned, but my mother used to conjure up when cajoling me out of a sulk.), to confront your ugly. This, too, is a displacement activity. While Pity Partying and Poor Pitiful Pearling there is no writing happening. Because it is all no use! Pointless! No one loves my words!
In the same video Lamott gives us several pearls of her own wisdom now she is 61. I am approaching my 61st birthday in three months and I would add just one of my own to the pot.
You can be guilty of really heinous acts, imperfect behaviour, distrastrous decisions and be good right at your core and it can still shine through. That the last one to forgive anyone of those actions is the one who perpetrates them. That what Lamott calls radical self-care is compassion for oneself and is forgiving what feels unforgiveable.
Sometimes this compassion requires a change of scenery. Sometimes it comes in absolute silence. Sometimes it arrives with a really hearty laugh at one’s foibles, posturings, the ego-driven folly of it all.
Then I can come back to the page, the pen or the screen. It is smooth and virginally blank of words. It has the requisite line spacing that soothes my faint heart. My special pen (writers are also deeply superstitious, not just actors) is to hand. Then it doesn’t matter if I am sitting at home with the dogs all around me, or in a cafe, or even in a bus shelter jotting down some lines before I forget them. It is time to let the words flow out onto the page, my particular or peculiar, imperfect way of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling about this, that and the other thing.
That latter is often the distraction, the diversion and can turn out to be compassion, too. Compassion that is for all of us who are both guilty and good in large and infinitesimal ways.
Creation relies on womb-like darkness and dark places can be scary. But there is light at the end of the birth canal. There is light at the source, too, that navigates the darkness.
Even displacement activity eventually finds its way back home in darkness and light.