Quieting the question factory
Remember when I proclaimed February as the month of Fear/Worry/Robotic Shoulder Tension? I thought I was going to write about the solutions—things like yoga and prayer and walking more than 2,000 steps a day. But as it turns out, I’m going to start by writing about one of the problems.
Surprisingly, one of the problems is writing.
Sometimes writing feels like being on Oprah when she gives away the cars and the vacations and the elixirs that make you look 18 again. But most other times, writing feels like running a self-indulgent marathon. In the Sahara. In a parka.
And it’s not just that writing is fun sometimes and not fun other times. All jobs are like that. It’s more that sometimes, I’m just not sure about it as a career path. And that leads me back to a question, THE question…
Everyone, sing along! You know how it goes!
“What do I want to do with my life?”
Which roughly translates to,
“Am I a writer? Or am I something else and a writer on the side?”
If you’re thinking, “We’ve been here before…” You. Are. Correct. We have talked about this one hundred thousand million trillion times because I have thought about it one hundred thousand million trillion times… times a billion.
So, yes, the reason my shoulders hang out by my ears is in large part due to the fact that my brain is a future-focused question factory. But the fuel for that factory often has been and currently is the question of what in the actual heck am I doing with my life?
As we briefly discussed, I thought one potential question-quieting solution could be yoga. Yoga relieves stress! Yoga obliterates shoulder tension! Yoga people are very calm! So last Saturday I went to the aforementioned Groupon yoga class and realized, for the billionth time, that I’m not really a yoga person. I like its benefits enough to take a class here and there and roll out my mat fairly frequently at home, but I’m never going to be one of those people who gets yoga. The position I do more than any other is the eye roll position and it’s because of phrases like “setting your heart’s intention.” Usually, my heart’s intention is set on figuring out where to eat after yoga. (Which, in Saturday’s case, was Uovo.)
I doubt many of the people around me were setting their hearts on breakfast sandwiches. They are yoga people. I know this because all of them were breathing like Darth Vader, which is apparently how the true yogis do it. And to be clear: Some of my favorite people are yoga people. I used to work at a yoga studio, for Pete’s sake. I just think yoga and I will always be the type of friends who wave at each other when they pass at the grocery store but never hang out in real life.
At the end of the class, when you are supposed to be lying flat on your mat with a perfectly relaxed mind, all I could think about was how crazy passionate these people are about yoga and how not crazy passionate I am about it. Yoga is their thing. I started to wonder what my thing was and no one will be surprised by the answer because we’ve talked about it one hundred thousand million trillion times.
Just kidding. IT’S WRITING.
I spent most of the yoga class writing a blog post in my head. I’m nearly always writing something in my head. Writing is my thing. Not because I enjoy it. Not because it’s fulfilling all the time or even some of the time. But because it’s the only thing I can’t not do. It’s the clear answer to this question posed by Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet:
This above all—ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: must I write? Delve into yourself for a deep answer. And if this should be affirmative, if you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple “I must,” then build your life according to this necessity; your life even into its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of this urge and a testimony to it.
The thing is, I haven’t built my life according to that necessity. I didn’t quit my job to become a writer. I quit my job to wander in the wilderness for awhile, and now, as the wilderness is prone to do, it’s led me to The Essential Question.
Am I a writer? Or am I something else and a writer on the side?
I’ve already answered that. I answered it here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And even if I hadn’t answered it in all of those places and so many others, I’ve known it’s the truth for a long time.
Which brings us to the real issue:
The problem has never been the question of whether or not I’m a writer. The problem is the answer.
Because what if I don’t have anything important to say? What if people don’t like what I do say? What if I have to spend all of my time alone in a cabin like real writers do? What if I talk about my life all the time and turn into a self-absorbed fool? What if I don’t want to share my life in such a public way? What if I become one of those people everyone rolls their eyes at when a new post goes up on Facebook or Instagram?
If I own writing, if I plant my flag in the ground and claim it as my territory, then I can’t casually date it anymore. I have to commit to it. I have to stand behind my words and believe they have value. And I think I’m afraid to do that.
I didn’t know this was even a thing until I started writing this post. As Flannery O’Connor so wisely said, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”
But now that I know it’s a thing, I’m kind of mad about it. Fear? THAT’S the thing keeping me in a perpetual holding pattern??? For real? That is the actual worst excuse, not to mention terrible, terrible stewardship and a shameful waste of time.
It can be easy to forget that time is limited, even though we all know it is. It can be just as easy to forget what we do have time for and what we don’t have time for, although I think we can all agree that we don’t have time for fear. None of us has time to sit on our gifts, question their relevance, and hope it’ll all become clear someday. “Someday” is a wonderful thing to hope for, but it’s not guaranteed. So if we have time today, and we never know how much more time we will be given, why on earth would we ever waste time on fear, of all things?
Perhaps this is why God tells us, over and over and over again, not to be afraid. Perhaps He knows we’ll get stuck in the quicksand of fear and instead of doing the good work He’s given us to do, we’ll waste time worrying about what our gifts actually are, or if we’re wrong about them, or if we’ll fail at them, or if we’ll regret the effort… or any of the other innumerable what-ifs fear likes to bog us down with.
So I’m doing it. I’m committing to writing and I’m making changes to reflect that writing is a real thing I am doing—not on the side, not casually, but as a full-effort endeavor.
As we’ve established time and time again, it feels so much nicer to know than to wonder. I can hardly hear the question factory churning in the distance this morning.
P.S. If there is a thing that is as obvious for you as this one is for me, a thing that you keep circling around and wondering about and relentlessly questioning, might I suggest the miraculous power of writing it down? Maybe you are also getting sneak-attacked by fear without even knowing it. Or maybe you aren’t! But whatever is making you feel uncertain, it feels incredible to figure it out and move the heck on.