October 11, 2012

When It Hurts, It F*cking Hurts. But Then What?

Photo: Grosso

“Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment I know this is the only moment.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

It’s crazy how quickly some things can take me from a state of peace and happiness, to one that tosses and turns the pit of my stomach like I was in an 18-wheeler careening off a cliff.

I’ve been working diligently on my forthcoming book and sending snippets to my agent for her feedback. I appreciate my agent, not only for her amazing expertise in the field, but also because she lays it out there for me exactly as it is—no bullshit. However, me being the oversensitive guy that I am, can take her constructive criticism to heart like an axe chopping through strong wood.

The chapter I’ve been working on recently has been particularly difficult.

It’s one in which I talk about some of the places my active addiction took me to, which include two suicide attempts. I’ve made peace with most of my past, but going back there in such a deep way, a way in which I try to put the reader right next to me during those attempts has been difficult. The only thing more difficult however, was stomaching the response I got from my agent after she read it. I personally felt like I’d done a good job of laying it all out there. She however, did not.

In part of her response she said, “You share these dark details very undramtically. You tick off the details, but there’s no storytelling. You jump from subject to subject. Half-way through you’re suddenly in detox. Then, we learn that you have a girlfriend. These feel more like journal notes than a book. There’s no detail or story. Just a bunch of facts.”

Like I said, I love her for her honest feedback but after reading that, and the rest of her email which critiqued other aspects as well, it really was like a punch in the stomach.

So what did I do? Well, of course I sat there and wallowed in my shit for the next half an hour. I watched my mind as it freaked out, telling me things like, “You’ll never be good enough to be published. Everything is falling apart. You’re an awful fucking writer. Just give up.” There’s more but I think you get the idea.

So that was a really shitty half an hour. I mentally and emotionally put myself through the ringer, and the kicker is that I watched myself as I did it. It was as if a part of me sat back with a compassionate smile on its face while this was going on. And of course being aware of that awareness only fueled the fire more, because how could part of me be so calm!? Didn’t it see everything was ruined!?

Well, it saw alright, but what it was seeing was the truth of the situation, which is that there really was no situation. I wrote a chapter that was hard for me to craft, both structurally and emotionally. I received feedback that I personally wouldn’t have chosen, and I reacted to it, that’s it. Here I am, an hour later and while I’m aware of some residual uneasiness in my stomach, the majority of my mini meltdown has subsided.

What hasn’t subsided however is the awareness with the compassionate smile.

You see, it’s always there, smiling. Not in a way that pretends like everything is unicorns pissing rainbows, but in a way that is serene in its awareness. An awareness that cannot be affected by egoic, mental drama. It’s an awareness I visit from time to time but my stay there is never long enough. I’m always quick to jump back into my mental concepts of life and how I’ve come to understand it, because that’s what I know, even when it’s painful it’s familiar, thus making it safe.

So what the fuck now? I mean, cool, I had a nifty realization about awareness, and that’s great, but it’s not going to rewrite the chapter. Sure, I’m feeling better but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m even more self-conscious about my writing now. So again, what the fuck now?

Honestly, I don’t know. Awareness of my breath in this moment seems to be helping. Maybe I don’t have to figure out every last detail this very second. Maybe I can just keep watching my breath for a little while longer and let everything else go for the moment. I know it will be there when I’m ready to come back. Maybe it will lead me back to that awareness I don’t visit enough.

Yeah, I think I’ll just keep breathing a little bit longer.

Sigur Ros – Untitled


Editor: Kate Bartolotta

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