Stuck

Dave's kissing spotWhat happens when the old ways of tricking yourself into action no longer work? I promised my writing group that I’d send them a new piece by the end of this month. I had been feeling stuck and needed some deadline, however fake, to get myself writing again. It usually works.

Not this time. I can see too easily through the ruse, having tried it too many times, I suppose. Or maybe this time I’m up against some questions I cannot avoid and still hope to get unstuck.

One: Do I really want to be writing? True, I have enjoyed five years of it. I like it as a means to express myself, to get my thoughts together and out in front of some people (a few, anyway). On a good day I can even convince myself that it is doing some potential good, helping people, teaching, healing wounds.

I like the craft and the challenge of it, and I can see myself improving. People seem to like my writing, unless they are just being nice, and I think that I actually am becoming a pretty decent writer. But, as with the visual art I used to do, I have never felt like it is something I am so driven by I could not stop doing it. Do I keep on? I’d like to.

The next question, one that has really got me stuck, is this: What do I write about? I am thinking in terms of writing fiction, mostly, and that has usually been about making stories out of my lived experience—more specifically, my love life. Those were the stories I wanted to tell. I could never figure out what else to write about, and could never understand how some writers seem to have a magical ability to write of things completely outside their lived experience. I am in awe of that skill. I don’t seem to have it. Not yet, anyhow.

This brings me to question whether I have anything new to say or any desire to make up new stories. And it makes me realize, slightly shockingly, that I have almost no interest anymore in the stories I’ve been working on for the past few years. They don’t seem to matter much. This feels suddenly not so much about my writing, but about my life.

You are the love of your life...yes youThe thing is, sometime in 2015, I stopped being interested in my romantic life. I stopped dating, stopped pursuing relationships, stopped caring if I was single, stopped getting crazy over sexy boys, stopped having sex, stopped even thinking about it, any of it. It just all went away.

This is partly a good thing. A big part. My obsession with being in relationships, in having a boyfriend, in having sex, had been a constant in my adult life from the time I came out more than 30 years ago (and there were quite a few torturous years before that as well). For all that time, I remained aware of my status as single or partnered, getting some or not, of keeping my body in shape, of pursuing constantly, of doing crazy and risky and ridiculous things, and judging myself for all of it.

What a heavy thing to carry for so long! Upon discovering I’d put that burden down somewhere along the way—not sure where or when exactly—I felt immense relief.

So much of my happiness and sadness had been tied up in the question of my coupling, and it became clear I had been living with a lot of mental pain for almost all of that time. Sure, I was happy in the moments things seemed to be working great, but those were fleeting. How much did I invest in the pursuit; and worse, how much in the trying to hold onto or recapture something good?

I came to realize the most basic of truths: This was not a source of happiness for me. It just wasn’t worth it.

Thinking back, I can remember starting 2015 with the idea in mind that it might be the year I gave up sex and romance. This was at a time I was still ostensibly happy seeing someone I liked a lot, mind you. It wasn’t about that. For some strange reason, I just got the idea in my head that it no longer mattered. It wasn’t important. I’d had a good run, and now I might want to stop working at it. Maybe forever, maybe for a while. It was not a concrete goal, just an idea, and I didn’t share it with most people.

Do You Want to Sleep with Dave X Robb?I did joke with a friend that I should have a going-out-of-business sale, and that showed I was maybe not so ready to give it up after all. But I didn’t announce the sale, or the plan, if there even was one; I just gradually stopped thinking about the same old things.

A few big things happened last year that no doubt supported this wish I’d planted in my own head—losing that guy, having big health problems, making huge leaps on my spiritual path—and it kind of happened without effort. It’s easy to not have sex, a lot easier than needing to have it.

I’d certainly entertain the idea of dating or partnering with or just having good sex with someone, and chances are I will do at least one (maybe two, probably not all three) of those things again someday; I’m just not willing to put in the effort. I don’t care that much. I like not caring about it, I really do.

Which brings me back to the writing. I find that I don’t care about my characters. Their problems seem relatively meaningless. Stay together, break up—I don’t care what they do.

A wise teacher once said to take the thing that is stopping you from writing, and make the writing about that. Well, I guess that’s what I’m doing right here. How this translates to my fiction, I’m not quite sure, but I am starting to form some ideas. I’ll send this to my writing group and see what they say.

 

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Away from it all

Amphitheater in MalagaHERE’S A FIRST: I’m blogging in the air. I brought my laptop on this latest trip, not knowing if I’d use it for writing, but wanting to have it with me just in case. I figured it could come in handy, and it did…but not so much for writing.

As it turned out—and as I probably could have predicted had I thought much about it—I didn’t do much writing while away. Which is fine. I was busy vacationing, and one of the things I found (I didn’t realize it beforehand, though I wasn’t surprised) was that I wanted to take a vacation from everything.

I know there’s a stereotype out there of the writer who has an overwhelming need to write all the time. They say the same thing about all kinds of artists. I always felt like an imposter when in art school because I just didn’t feel it. I could live without doing it. Was there something wrong with me?

I’m a little smarter now, so don’t fall so easily into such self-doubt. I like writing. I miss it when I don’t do it, but it’s not as though there’s some divine calling compelling me. Writing is work—enjoyable work, often, but still, work. I find there’s great value in doing it regularly, to get better at it; but, as with most things in life, I also think there’s value in taking a break every once in a while.

Dave X Robb at Pousada de CascaisI had been so busy for so long without a break—doing mostly things I like to do, but real busy—I decided pretty quickly once away that it felt nice to be on vacation from it all, not just work, but the whole routine: daily writing, bike riding, yoga, Facebook, getting 8 hours of sleep every night, even meditation. All of it was put more or less on hold.

And, as always happens when I take a long vacation, I find myself craving return to my usual life and look forward to approaching it afresh. Isn’t that, after all, a big part of what vacations are for? I find it can be good to take a break from things, even things that are good for me, once in a while. Doing so helps me decide consciously how those things fit into my life.

I realize I said similar things upon my return from Peru last year. Then, I worried more than I do now about going so long without posting on here. I thought it was important to post on a schedule, even though nobody really cared about the schedule but me. As far as I know, nobody else ever noticed if I was late. But I know I have a tendency to slack off when not holding myself to arbitrary deadlines.

It doesn’t work for everyone. Most people logically know that the deadlines aren’t real, there are no consequences for missing them, and so they don’t have the intended effect. I must have a good imagination because I am usually able to fool myself into thinking that my fake deadlines matter.

Speaking of artificial deadlines, I look forward to putting into practice being a part of a writing group of a few people who will hold me accountable and keep me on track, deadlines and all. Having built some momentum during my recent online writing course, I crave returning to that work.

Do You Want to Sleep with Dave X Robb?And so, we shall see. I hope I’ll be able to get some good work done and still manage to have a reasonably stress-free life…for that is another goal of mine: to make it all easier, to slow down and stop feeling like I am always running behind, like I am not doing enough, or god forbid, not good enough.

Travel is such a good teacher. This trip was a microcosm of my life in that I found myself pulled in two opposing directions, on the one hand wanting to take full advantage of being in special places and see and do a lot, and on the other, wanting to settle down and relax.

This trip was unusual in that I went to all places I’d never been, in Portugal and Andalucía, and tried to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time. When able to stay in a city for more than a few days, I found I could see all the sights on my short list and still have time to wander without an agenda, which was nice; when I had just a day or two someplace, that became more difficult.

There were places I didn’t get to that I would love to have seen, but isn’t that always the case? You can’t do it all. And you can really stress out yourself (and your travel companion) trying to do too much. It can be hard to find that balance, in travel as in life. I enjoyed my time away. A part of me wishes I could have stayed longer. And I am glad to be heading home.

Fall Festival stage

Slacker

Colca Valley, PeruI’ve been on vacation. Not just vacation-vacation, but vacation from quite a few things in my life. Writing, for one. Yoga. Swimming. Dating. Sex. Ironing. Even seeing friends, to some extent.

It’s fine, though. I just felt like I needed some time to step away from it all, clean the slate, clear the clutter, assess and regroup. It has served as a sort of experiment, too, to see what happens when I stop doing the things I do. How does the time fill up? Who calls? Do I get asked out on dates? Who misses me? Who do I miss? What do I miss doing?

It’s all kind of explicable: Surgery was just over a month ago, and that came just as I was starting to feel fully recovered from the previous surgery…so that accounts for the break from the physical; maybe the dating, too. And I took a long trip to Peru right after that, so I’ve been out of my routine.

Zona de Vicunas, Pampa Blanca, PeruThe trip was great, one of my best ever! As with the last time I traveled out of the country, I purposely left my phone at home. I didn’t miss it — except once, when a flight was cancelled and I missed seeing the email about it — and I thought my 17-day break from the iPhone might be a good start to a different kind of relationship with it.

Same with facebook. I did hop on a computer a couple of times while away, but only to take care of travel business. The one time I was tempted to check facebook, I couldn’t figure out how to type the “@” using the Spanish keyboard, so I took that as a sign of divine intervention and gave up. Blessed be.

Facebook is an addictive little bugger, even worse than the phone. As with the phone, I like it, mostly, and I think it serves a valuable purpose in my life at times, but why all the qualifiers in this sentence? I know what a time-robber it can be. I’m convinced it also causes me and my friends — whether or not they are on facebook — to see less of each other in real life.

At the same time, it’s my only connection with certain people I like being connected to. What to do? The easy answer: moderation. We’ll see if it’Meditation, Amantani Island, Perus easy to do. I’m not one of those people who can’t stop after one drink or one pint of ice cream, so there is hope. (Tortilla chips and Wheat Thins are another story.)

Since being back, I’ve used it to post vacation photos and connect with some people I met while traveling, and not so much else. That leaves a lot of time free.

There are few things quite as interesting as looking at how you spend your time. We all have 24 hours in each day, no more, no less. How we fill them matters, sure, but does it matter all that much?

Consider: I drove myself to write a blog post every week for the last year as a kind of discipline. I’m glad I did. I realize, though, that was an arbitrary rule I set out for myself just to ensure that I kept writing. It didn’t matter. As far as I can tell, no one cared about that rule but me.

But here’s the thing: without some kind of a structure, even if it’s totally made up, I find it almost impossible to do anything. Is that a sign of some kind of low-grade depression, is it laziness, or is it completely normal? I’ve heard arguments for all three diagnoses. (By the way, don’t ever tell a depressed person you wonder if maybe you are depressed. They will not like it one bit.)

So, dropping the requirement Machu Picchu, Peruthat I post on a schedule caused me to stop writing. Completely. It was a little frightening to see how easily that happened.

Similarly, when I quit my expensive gym months ago and no longer carried around in my head the idea that I needed to exercise something like 4 times a week to get my money’s worth, I stopped exercising almost entirely. (Granted, the operations had a little something to do with that as well.)

Do you see where this is heading? In my quest to go easy on myself, to care less, to simplify and cut myself some slack — which, you may recall, was this year’s resolution — I find myself going slack, quite literally, physically, and figuratively as well.

I resolved to keep less busy, to give myself down time, time for introspection and relaxation and petting the cats; but I know how I get when I have too much unstructured time on my hands. I go a little crazy. There’s a balance I’m trying to find, and it has been a sometimes uncomfortable process getting there. At least the cats are happy.

What I have been getting good at, though, is recognizing what kinds of things I want to spend my time doing. This whole vacation thing, it’s like I’ve cleared a big room of furniture and am now deciding what to put back in it.

Condor, Colca Canyon, PeruI like writing. When I don’t do it, I miss it. I like the challenge and the craft of it, and in a self-cherishing sort of way — more on that concept in a future blog post — I thrive on the feedback, the validation I get from others, and the gratification of knowing I might be having some small influence in the world, hopefully a positive one.

Yes, there is a big, probably unhealthy, dose of ego involved. It’s not easy letting go of the I, especially for a lifelong exhibitionist like me…but at least it’s an I nourished by connection with others. Otherwise, why bother? It’s nice to be back.

Confessions of a statistics nut

Dave X Robb at Super DuperHi folks. So, I know it’s been a while. I got really good at posting every week, and though I sometimes felt pressured by having artificial deadlines, I liked the discipline of writing regularly. Whenever I didn’t, I’d feel off. In my Carrie Bradshaw moments I’d wonder, is this what it means to be a real writer? Writing regularly feels good.

But sometimes life gets in the way. A big goal for me this year was to take it easy, and especially, to go easy on myself. Life can be hard enough at times without beating ourselves up. And though I know it’s true I am not one of those people who can produce anything without the pressure of a deadline (even if it’s a made-up deadline), I’m also smart enough to realize that it doesn’t really matter.

I had another melanoma surgery this week. I’ve not been so good at keeping folks abreast of my health challenge this time around. That’s partly because the dates kept changing, much to my frustration, and I couldn’t muster the energy to let everyone know every time something did or didn’t happen as scheduled; plus, it just all felt a lot less special the second time around.

But I haven’t got the post-surgery blues — if there even is such a thing. I couldn’t be happier to have it behind me. I pulled off the bandages today while “Feels So Good” by Chuck Mangione (1978) was playing. One can never tell with me whether these musical match-ups are coincidences or if I’m just good at noticing such things…or, more likely, if I just play way too many records. It was tough, though not particularly painful, but I made myself finish while the song was still playing (it was the long version). Again with the deadlines!

Rafael NadalSo, I’ve been busy, but that hasn’t stopped me from blogging before. Am I out of ideas? I doubt that will ever happen. No, but there is this: the blog is in a slump. I am a bit of a statistics nut; no, wait, that’s like saying Rafael Nadal is a bit of a tennis nut or a bit hot. I am a statistics nut, so I can’t stop going to the WordPress stats page to see how many people are visiting, what they’re looking at, how they got there, and what countries they’re coming from.

(They just added that last feature in late February. The world map is filling in nicely.)

February was a crazy-busy month for the blog, which I got a charge out of. I guess people like reading about Valentine’s Day, love, and England Dan and John Ford Coley. I had a goal to reach 10,000 hits by the blog’s anniversary in mid-March, and made it with time to spare.

Since then, though, things have been off, and I’m not sure why. Maybe I need a new goal for year 2. In my rare moments of paranoia, I also wonder if the subject matter is just not so compelling now. Consider: I’ve stopped talking about my last relationship, I’m happy and not particularly challenged by single life, everyone’s heard the cancer story before, I’ve found some peace of mind, and I am afraid of being mean to ’70s musicians. Have I lost my edge?

I doubt there is a real crisis here. Hey, that Bob Seger song I’m playing gives me an idea for a blog post.