Recently, I’ve spoken with a couple of former colleagues about our experiences at CCCF and have found those conversations a mixed blessing. As time goes by, it is harder to remember how crazy I felt, how unwell and frenzied. It also becomes easier to doubt my experience, to think that maybe I was being hypersensitive and over-reactive, that it wasn’t that bad. But typing the sentence “maybe prisons aren’t that bad after all” feels like a joke.
Prisons are terrible places.
But maybe they were less bad than I made them out to be? It all seems so fuzzy now, so distant and small. I’m starting to question why I ever thought it was bad enough that I needed to write about it – why I ever thought this story would capture people’s attention. Maybe if it were more horrific, if I had witnessed all kinds of horrible violence and aggression, maybe if I’d been more scarred and torn up – maybe then it would be worth telling. But it’s not about any of those things – it’s about watching my students struggle against their internal odds, battle their demons and self-doubt, and win – time and time again, they won. They succeeded in ways they’d never imagined – big and small – and experienced themselves as confident, competent, and valued people.
Trying to write the section about DOC has shaken my confidence tremendously. Writing only about my experience is proving much more difficult than I realized it would be. When I went back over the material I’d already written, it sounded like the rantings and complaints of a disgruntled person, an unhappy and bitter person. But how to write about a system that’s so awful when the immediacy of the emotion is gone? I’m not subject to that toxic environment every day now, and it’s hard to summon the motivation to be thoughtful in my observations. I wonder if the rest will be this hard. I wonder if the rest is worth writing at all.
I’ve been absent from my blog for the last several weeks, but not from writing. I started writing Morning Pages (essentially a journaling exercise), documenting and observing in my beautiful Moleskine notebook, creating unexpected art, and (of utmost importance) have been writing The Book. It’s NaNoWriMo and I’ve been riding that energy, but yesterday was awful. Although I have completed 1 section (there are 5 total) I was arrogant (read: stupid) enough to think I could get the whole book drafted this month. I thought this until I’d sent the first section to some friends for review and sat down to start the second section.
The chirping of crickets filled my ears, my head, my soul, accompanied by the BWAHAHAHAHAHAH of the inner critic, and the absolute truth that what I was writing was total shit.
This is the first time I’ve ever hit this particular wall, and I am now fully aware of why it’s so cold and heartbreaking. That self-doubt (I can’t say this well, my writing is crap, this story is stupid, I’m an idiot, other people will be hurt/mad/whatever) carried over into every aspect of my life. My interactions with people were yuck, I bailed on an event I’d paid for, and tried to fall asleep at 7:30 in the evening to avoid having to think.
It was horrendous.
Today, I’m facing the reality that I will not complete all five sections by the end of November – I have no idea when I’ll complete them. The sense of urgency to finish – to get the work into the world – has only increased, but I feel like my capacity is diminished. I’m also taking the opportunity to thrash myself a bit for wasting all this precious time. “You’ll never have another opportunity like this!” say the voices. “How many people get the luxury of time between jobs to create?” say the voices. “This topic is so relevant, so timely, HOW ARE YOU NOT DONE YET?!” scream the voices. “What makes you think that what you’re saying is real? What if you’re a delusional psycho?” whisper the voices.
I’ve had similar experiences in other areas of my life, and I have to believe the same axiom holds:
That last bit isn’t traditional, but it’s honest.
Today is…important, I think. I sent the first 4000 words of my novel to my first readers. I’ve sent bits and pieces to folks over the last few months, but this is a solid, cohesive chunk of the book. I know, in my mind, that this is a “big deal,” but the feelings probably won’t set in until I hear back from…The Readers.
I suppose what I’m thinking is normal. That I wrote too much, was rambling and chaotic, pedantic and pontificating, and generally couldn’t organize one spoon in an empty drawer. The piece that gnaws at me most is that I’m not writing a purely academic piece or doing a literature review, but it would be easy to fall into that trap. It would be easy to drop into academic mode, but it wouldn’t be good. And, ultimately, I would be bored.
But putting forth an idea grown out of my own brain, with no formal research or literature propping it up is scary. I worry if it’s already out there somewhere, or if it’s just pure bullshit. The people I’ve shown it to so far love it and believe it’s important, and I do too. I feel pretty satisfied so far – I think I’ve done a far job for a first pass. But the sense of urgency is strong and now that I have a sense of the process, I’m impatient to keep moving.