A few weeks ago I published a post about Anne Lamott's book, Operating Instructions. Well, today I picked the book back up to read a couple of passages to my best friend over the phone. I called her because I was frustrated with my inability to write. Everything is in order: The Ruffled Apron (personal chef, Caitlyn Manning) prepared our meals for the week; I'm spending at least 45 minutes a day on the elliptical machine; a contractor came yesterday to bid on renovations to our master bathroom; a roofer is coming tomorrow to check out the leak in our roof; a call was made to American Home Shield Warranty to line up a plumber for the 3 drains that won't drain; and all my mother's paperwork (bills) is up to date. House and body are taken care of. Oh, and my soul? I went to Vespers Wednesday night and liturgy for Tranfiguration yesterday (I even cooked the coffee hour brunch myself) and I'm working at saying my daily prayers and I'm going to Paraclesis Prayers to the Mother of God tonight. Everything is in order, so I can sit down and write, right?
So what's blocking me?
Lamott said it well in Operating Instructions:
"I wish I felt more like writing.... The slow pace and all this rumination wear me down and bore me and make me desperately want a hit of something, of anything. Adrenaline, say, or a man to fantasize about or have drama with, or some big professional pressure, like a deadline I'm just barely going to be able to make. I want to check out. I do not want to be in the here and now with god and myself and all that shit. I know that this is where all the real blessings and payoffs are, that there is a good reason they call the now 'the present.' I want to learn to live in the now, I want to learn to breathe my way into it and hang out there more and more and experience life in all its richness and realness. But I want to do it later, like maybe sometime early next week. Right now I want a rush."
That's how I feel right now. Keeping my butt glued to this chair to do the hard work of laying down the first draft of this book is a slow and lonely process. I know I'm looking at months of this isolation in order to do this, and with only a chapter outline and two pages actually drafted, I'm already bored. It's been a few months since I had an essay published, so I'm tempted to set aside this lengthier work and whip out something quick and dirty and send it out for publication, hoping for the rush that seeing my name in print brings.
On another page Lamott talks about the difficult task of ASKING FOR HELP:
"I'm learning to call people all the time and ask for help, which is about the hardest thing I can think of doing. I'm always suggesting that other people do it, but it really is awful at first. I tell my writing students to get into the habit of calling one another, because writing is such a lonely, scary business, and if you're not careful you can trip off into this Edgar Allan Poe feeling of otherness."
I remembered her words today when I called my friend to talk. Not just to chat, but to vent. It's always that way when we decide to really ask for help, isn't it? We start out with superficial, perky, chatter and suddenly we're on a roll with all our depression, anger, and frustration. And if we're blessed to have a friend who can hear us, really hear us, it's a healing call. Like when Lamott called a friend from AA when she was craving a rush and the friend said, "Yeah, yeah, I get it, I've done it. But I think each step of the way you gotta ask yourself, Do I want the hit or do I want the serenity?"
That reminds me of something my spiritual father has said to me many many times over the years, when I show up in his office, or sometimes at the Sacrament of Confession, with an outpouring of my struggles with boredom and temptations to numb my present reality with something. Here's what he says: "What do you want?"
He doesn't mean "what do you want?" as in do you want a drink or a 1986 Mercedez convertible or a new house or a half gallon of ice cream. (All of which I want every day, by the way.) What he means is, "What do you really want? Do you want the quick fix more than the real thing? Do you want the lie or the truth? Do you want the easy way or the long, hard, meaningful way that brings peace? Do you want God or not?" (These are my words, not his.)
So now the day is almost over and I'm trying to take a deep breath and let go of feelings of failure, because it was a good day. Why was it a good day? Because I called a friend, and she was there and she heard me, and God was there in her love and wisdom. Do I wish I had called her before I had a drink? Honestly, no. Maybe next time I'll make the call first. But today, at least I made it.
And tonight I'll take my boredom and brokenness and pour it out to the Mother of God at the Paraclesis Prayers at St. John. And she, who said, "Be it done unto me according to Thy will," will understand.