I have fought with myself long and hard over this. I’ve never thought of myself as a work-a-holic, but the strange stagnation of unemployment has assured me that I am one.
When I look through my old journals and into my dreams, I see so many longings. Some that could have been allayed by simply doing something rather than staring misty-eyed into the dusk - some that are just vague longings that I still fear to capture - lest they poof away like a spritely fairy in my hand.
I am always thinking that something should change - that I would be better, more creative, that I would be more beautiful, if only - fill in the blank. As I look back at my life, these mere 23 years, I’m increasingly convinced that all of my blanks have much less to do with my success than I give them credit for.
I have also realized that I am far too focused on my success in the first place. Greatness is not to be grasped. While I suppose it’s accurate to refer to myself as a work in progress, am I relishing the work or just hanging on, hoping, straining and longing for progress - the end result?
I am always gazing around the bend, never content to drink in the joys of this moment, this sunlit stream, these pauses for laughter and reflection. Without even realizing it, I heartlessly rob myself of today because of my lust for tomorrow, and don’t grant myself the pride of a job well done because I always think I could have been better.
I have fought for inspiration for months now. What was once a clear-flowing stream has become a muddy trickle, so full of weeds and contradictions that I’ve grown tired of even looking for the source, the spring-water, but have simply turned my back, leaving my fields to parch and my soul to burn.
I feel so inadequate, even admitting to people out in the world that I aspire to write. “I think I’m kinda creative,” I say with a shrug, and think condescendingly of the many nights I have sat and stared at a blank sheet - or worse, given up completely and zoned out to the mindless blare of the TV.
Every night that I have failed to create I find it harder to go on. I recently read somewhere that men most of the time already know what they are thinking or feeling, and talk about it only to communicate if they feel it’s necessary, where as women often don’t know why they think or feel something and talk about it to figure it out. I suppose I do this from time to time, ( I was recently informed that I talk a lot - I suppose “a lot” being relative.) But I think the deepest part of my “self-discovery” to use a disgustingly narcissistic word, comes from a deeper place than my tongue. Writing and art - for all its challenges and the self-loathing that it inevitably produces - reach the deepest parts of me. I can find places there, with my journal or trusty laptop, that I couldn’t find without sitting down at the blank sheet and opening a vein.
Because of this infernal desire to be perfect, to succeed at the cost of contentment, the blank sheets have piled up and the simple joys of doing what I was meant for has dwindled down. The blank sheet pile has gotten more and more daunting, the water’s gotten muddier, the parched field is looking increasingly desert-like and I am blaming every circumstance and my own ineptitude for what really amounts to a lack of courage.
I don’t have the courage to sit down and write something less than amazing. I am afraid to dip my hand into today’s flowing stream and not compare it to yesterday’s or tomorrow’s, or to bask in the joy of “my best” - at this moment, anyway. No, I cruelly hold myself to the best ever - my best ever. I have to do more, be more, write more - and when my longings are more than my capabilities, or a little more mud gets into the stream than I was hoping for, I lack the strength and courage to dive in anyway. Why can’t I create something a little off-balance? Why can’t I spend an hour writing and let it amount to nothing more than this?
This is not the stuff of great novels. It is not even something that is particularly lucid or inspired or even well-written. But it is awakening.
Something within me has stirred in these last few months. I have realized my inability to live up to my own expectations, and after several wrestling matches with my personal angel, I have learned this:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”
Isn’t that beautiful and freeing? It’s not my responsibility to be great, I have no one to impress, no future or past to live up to. I am abiding. To abide is to reside in, to sojourn. These are words of rest and peace and contentment, not contention and perfection.
So today I make a promise. I am abiding. Today. This day’s sunlit stream, this day’s tasks, this day’s challenges, this day’s creativity. Knowing that as a lone branch, all of my striving is pointless, but as a branch connected to the Vine, I am of great value.
All of my blank pages, all of my hopes, fears, and longings are connected to that Vine. That is where I find my contentment and the courage to face the less-than-perfect - the muddy waters.