Creative Process Fierce Encouragement (for Writing + Life)

Loving the Ebb

May 5, 2017

Sometimes I feel dry on the inside. I am not talking about vaginal dryness (though that is the first thing “dry on the inside” made me think of!). More like a brain dryness. A creative desert. For years, I’ve gotten a particular kind of headache I always find difficult to describe. The image that accompanies it is that of a ship run aground.

Do you know the book Amos and Boris by William Steig? It’s one of my favorite children’s books. At one point (spoiler alert), Boris, the whale, gets washed onto shore during a terrible storm. He is gasping and won’t live outside of the ocean for long. (Amos organizes some elephants to roll him back into the sea, so all is well for the friends at the end.) That’s how this dryness feels. Like I’m gasping and there is no water to swim in. Stuck. Dried up.

What does this have to do with anything?

I’m thinking about the question of inspiration. What is its source?

When inspiration is present, it’s like I’m a whale in the water: Powerful, mighty, swimming along in my element. When it’s not, I’m just an oversized body in the sand, waiting to die.

I know this sounds dramatic, but seriously it feels dramatic when the ideas are no where to be found. There is a kind of panic that threatens to set in. I have no energy. I’m lethargic. I’m all weight and no movement.

I can think and think and no amount of thinking will induce inspiration. Instead, I must change course. This means surrendering to what’s happening rather than trying to force it. And so my job becomes the surrendering itself, and below the surface of that, to trust that this too shall pass. Ideas will resurface, inspiration will return, a tiny mouse will alert the elephants who will roll me back into the ocean of creativity and energy.

This is all tied in with the ebb and flow of writing and of life for me — something I fight against and am slowly, over time, beginning to make friends with. An unlikely friendship, not unlike the one between a whale and a mouse in open waters.

The truth is, I favor the flow the way a mother is barred from favoring one child over another; she must — I must — find things to love about the ebb. And so I spend some time, as I lie there on the sandy beach waiting for help to arrive, looking at her more closely. She is quieter than flow, and moves more slowly. Imperceptibly, even. She’s not flashy and if anything, is easy to overlook.

But in my stillness, something happens. She starts to stir. I notice the intricate patterns of her being, ones I’d never seen before as I tango’d through the waters. She is beautiful in her subtlety. And suddenly, I am so thankful to be here, washed up on the beach. I know flow will return; she always comes running back, excited to show me what she has found in her explorations away from me.

This time, though, I’m going to keep ebb close.

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4 Comments

  • Reply Dana Schwartz May 5, 2017 at 6:54 pm

    This is so lovely and important. I’m going to revisit this when ebb comes to see me. xo

    • Reply jenarschwartz@gmail.com May 8, 2017 at 3:05 pm

      Say hi from me. (Maybe when we’re both writing, our ebbs are out having lattes together?)

  • Reply sarahrussellpoetry May 7, 2017 at 12:47 am

    Yup. The ebb is scary. I was able to embrace it more when I was doing art than now in my writing. The writing has always come organically, so I’m more fearful when it goes. I love the metaphors you use. For me the task is quieting my mind enough to hear the inner voice. It’s a whole way of thinking and looking at the world — seeing in poems, if you will. Then the words start to flow.

    • Reply jenarschwartz@gmail.com May 8, 2017 at 3:04 pm

      Yes, yes, that’s it exactly: A whole way of life. I call it poeting.

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