These are the times where nothing seems to work. I paint garbage and write nonsense and have an itch I can’t pinpoint and have absolutely no idea how to scratch.
It’s like I’ve climbed an infinity of stairs, and after the initial elation of the accomplishment has tempered I find myself stuck on a landing. It’s not that I’ve stopped what I’m doing. No, I’m still writing and painting, but it goes nowhere. It feels like I’m just milling around in circles.
All I see is a featureless flat expanse with sheer drops on all sides.
Everything I’m working on feels pitiful and discouraging and it takes everything I’ve got to keep myself from falling over the edge.
In these moments, it’s easy to lose sight of where you’re going. What it is you’re doing this for.
I like the climbing part. I can see where I’ve been and where I’m headed, and the effort of the movement upwards tells me I’m making progress.
Sometimes, when things are really clicking and I hit my stride, the stairway transforms into an escalator, and then the labor to make the climb is assisted.
These are the times when everything flows; inhaling inspiration and creating full bore. I call it “getting on a roll.” For me, it doesn’t happen very often. When it does, it’s like candy.
And then I wake up one morning, usually after I’ve made some kind of proclamation like “I’m finally on a roll!” and then BOOM. Another landing. Everything grinds to a halt and not only do I not want to show anyone what I’m doing, I don’t even want to look at it myself.
For a long time when I would hit one of these periods, I’d expend the majority of my energy trying to figure out what happened, what changed, what I did wrong.
It didn’t make sense that just as things were finally starting to hum, I’d completely lose it and find myself sliding down the chute into a pool of wet concrete.
Then it hit me that it doesn’t need to make sense.
It’s just how it works, so I might as well accept it.
Instead of looping through repeating rounds self-defeating self-analysis, I ultimately decided I needed to put that wasted mental energy back into creating, no matter what came out. And believe me, a lot of what comes out during these periods is PAINFUL. Sheer agonizing dreck forced out through a pinhole.
It’s distressing to put to so much work into writing or painting when everything you’re doing seems dreadful. It’s frustrating, tedious, and offers plenty of opportunities to feel like a loser.
It goes nowhere until you realize that nowhere is a place too.
What I’ve discovered is that if I keep going, grinding ahead without wasting time beating myself up, I eventually put something down on the paper or the canvas that feels so new and out of nowhere that it snaps my head back. Maybe it’s only a tiny part of a horrible mess, but it forms the zygote of the next leg up.
It’s taken more than a few episodes of this to finally get the message that the landings are there for me to catch my breath. Gather my strength.
They force me to push it, to try different things.
If it were nothing but stairs all the time, it wouldn’t necessarily be easy, but there would be a comforting sense of continuity. You could keep on doing exactly what you’re doing forever and feel like you’re making progress.
Which in its own way can be a form of getting stuck.
Because no matter how passionate you were about whatever you’re doing when you started, if you keep doing it long enough, it eventually starts to feel routine. Boredom seeping in around the edges, coagulating into a sense of going through the motions.
The only remedy is to keep on trying something new. Even when it feels pointless, hopeless and endless.
When the fog clears, you suddenly see another flight of steps right over there, in a spot you didn’t notice before. Then it’s back to onward and upward.
And once in a while, after spending a few days or weeks or god forbid, months on the landing, there’s an elevator waiting and then you shoot up like a rocket.
When the doors open you feel like you can see forever.
Until you hit another landing, that is. But this time, you know what to do.