I started this blog post over 11 days ago and this is the first sentence I could muster. Actually, that’s only partly true. It would be more accurate to say that after 11 days of staring listlessly, and perhaps even psychotically, into the blank screen that I hope will become an essay, I simply stopped counting. Even though I can’t identify the exact number of 24 hour periods that have elapsed since I started writing this, I feel that I can say with a degree of certainty that it’s probably equal to the number of fucks I stopped giving after editing and updating that first sentence each day I opened and closed this document without ever really adding much more to it.
I wish that somehow you could see and experience all the cumulative hours of anguished, head-in-my-hands, blank-page-staring, frustrated self-loathing, and utter despondency that lives in the small space prior to and immediately following the appearance of that first sentence. I think that’s one of the things we take for granted as readers. We are so quick to comment upon the tactfulness of an author’s verbiage, the skillfulness of the prose, the color of the language; the visible materiality of what was written, but we often fail to recognize or acknowledge the excruciating tedium required to begin to put words on to a page in the first place. What we don’t see, and what we don’t talk about, is what it takes just to start.
A while ago, I decided that I wanted to blog daily. So full of doe-eyed confidence and innocent self-assurance, I actually believed that I could do it. Most of the time I’m a fairly cynical, pessimist. So much so that I don’t even attempt to sugarcoat my negativity by saying “I’m a realist”, because even I know that would be nothing short of utter horseshit. The truth is I’m just an asshole, and my ability to be negative in almost any situation is unrealistically fantastical. There are people who see the world through rose-colored delusion. Their happiness is so aggressively violent that spending time with them is like being shanked through the heart with a unicorn horn, or bludgeoned to death with a rainbow. As much as I’d like to look down on their senseless irrationality, really I’m just as bad. I’m their doppelganger. They can find the silver lining in all things, and I can always sniff out the septic tank.
And yet, there are these moments when I am completely baffled by the inexplicable appearance of my own exuberant surety. Maybe that’s what an out of body experience is like. Shit, maybe that’s what a possession is like.
Perhaps, tied up in some corner of my consciousness there’s a manically cheery church camp counselor normally kept quiet and catatonic through suppression, repression, and horse tranquilizers. Every once in a while the gleeful fucker sobers up enough to be lucid, and manages to slip out of the restraints. When he does he almost always arrives with a delighted and enraptured suggestion that is both joy-filled and asinine, but dammit if his cheerfulness isn’t infectious…like cholera…or leprosy. This is simply the only logical conclusion I can come to that not only explains how I arrived at the idea to blog daily, but also how I unwittingly consented to it.
And, for the record, I’m aware that you might think that I’m taking on a rather liberal usage of the word “logical” but, as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle once said, “When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”. Clearly, the creator of the world’s greatest fictional detective agrees with me so…yeah…suck it.
Taking guidance from my deranged inner counselor fresh out of his drug-induced coma, I dove headlong into the inane attempt to write a blog everyday. I made it 16 days before I broke the streak, and probably broke a piece of myself in the process. The exercise was intended to loosen the choke hold of perfectionism’s grip on my writing. Instead, it seemed to only tighten and constrict. Everyday it got progressively harder rather than easier. The pressure mounted and each new link I added to the chain added to the weight of what I carried into the next day. I could feel something beginning to buckle. I did what I always do. I buckled down, buckled in, and pushed. I stayed up a little later, got up a little earlier, and pushed that much harder.
Rarely does that methodology work well, and yet it remains my primary mode of operating. Rest is a truth I know and understand, but it is not a truth I believe in, at least not in practice. In practice, I believe the lie that says I can live at the brink of burnout, under the auspices that I will rest when the task is ended. This is a lie not only because it is impossible to stay alive when each breathe is extinguished by the inhalation of the smoke and soot of what we are consumed by. But, it’s also a lie because I struggle to remember to let rest expand in the openings that emerge between work, and when I do remember, more often than not, I simply don’t do it. And yet, I am seeing the need to start, though I’m not sure I know how to.
What I do know is that when I am at my most breathlessly unrested is when I am condemning myself for not conforming to the normalized and neurotypical definitions of what the average person might call rest. I am not normal. I am not sure that I have ever been average, and I’m probably anything but typical. I am wired weirdly, and I am put together imperfectly.
The hamster wheel in my head hardly ever stops spinning. The brain that powers it feels like something closely akin to a coked-out ferret barreling through an innocuous concoction of espresso brewed with Red Bull. Rest, for me, rarely looks like what it does for most people; going to bed early, binge watching tv, napping, or playing Candy Crush, if that’s even still a thing. Instead, it looks like reading and writing voraciously.
I do not need, or want, to rest from writing and reading. They are my rest. There are few things that are more refreshing and reinvigorating than when I have made room to read and to write; to feel the cool-warmth and gentle grain of paper glide across the tips of my fingers with the turning of every page, to be both the giver and the recipient of a grace known as the written word.
Books are my best friends, my closest companions, and my one true religion. Books are breathing-spaces. They are safe and solid. They are as secure as a citadel and as consoling as a blanket fort. Reading a book is the repose of a sabbath bound into tangible form.
For me, rest is not refraining from the daily motion of writing. Instead, it is the realization that I do not have to write a completed piece everyday. It’s the recognition that its ok to write slowly. It’s serenely accepting that the time spent staring deeply into the middle-distance between sporadic sips of rapidly cooling coffee, is writing. Its understanding that a few good words strung together is good writing, and somedays that’s more than enough.
I read and write because I am a mystery even unto myself. Somewhere within the process of words being scraped out across the page, the ambiguities of who am are manifest and made clear. I write because when I do, something happens, and usually that “something” feels like home; it feels something like rest.
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Duane, you got me at paper slipping through fingers…this is so full of deep truth and anguish. It touched me as a writer and as a human.
Julia thank you so much! I’m humbled that you took the time to read! I’m honored that your left me a reply! And I count it as a tremendous privilege that this touched you. As a writer, the metric that matters to me is the measurement of how much something I have written moves a reader closer to their humanity. Thank you again for letting me know this happened for you! That’s the highest compliment!
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