On top, but alone : a sabbatical from writing


As 2016 drew to a close, like many people around the world, I planned for new beginnings, new hopes, and set a strong resolution: to write a blog every single day. I knew it was low hanging fruit and that it wouldn't bestow upon me the ever elusive title of "author," but I was okay with that, because it would ensure that I intentionally wrote a polished piece of work every single day. Up to that point, writing in my journal was erratic, sloppy, and unchallenged - it was a place I could live and write without consequence for my grammatical errors or faulty ideas.  It was a place of little growth.

So, for almost the entire year, I published something daily. Sometimes I struck gold, other times a septic line, but always I learned and grew - even if only slightly. Because people now had access to my thoughts.

Friends revealed my terrible grammar.

My wife refined my insensitive rants.

Readers encouraged my process, thoughts, and style. They commented, liked, and shared my writings which inspired me to stay up and write, well beyond my bedtime, because I had to write, I had to publish, and I had to maintain the number of views I was becoming accustomed to. 

Writing, suddenly, was no longer about writing. It was about getting Mother Mary up the mountain. And I couldn't figure out how to stop.

About halfway through the year, after writing about a variety of topics, posting videos, songs, movie trailers, and whatever else caught my interest, Mother Mary was still far from her summit, and I could feel my strength, my desire, and my purpose, slipping. When school started and life began to fill up, she lingered on the cliff. 

So I sent two dear friends an email entitled, "A Crisis of Sorts."

Here's an excerpt from that email:

For the past several weeks I've been working hard at my blog (god that sounds stupid). I've stayed up late, sacrificed lunches, and spent many many hours thinking on what to write, how to write, and to whom I might be writing for. And whenever I publish something I think, "Yes. That's good. I like that." But whenever I go back and reread various works and thoughts, I think, "NO! That's shitty. I hate that," and I get fully discouraged and lose hope {of} ever doing anything with writing because what is my blog going to do? How is this getting me anywhere closer to being a writer? Where is this going to get me?

I've started writing a bit more on personal matters, believing it might be encouraging to others because we're all tired of the surface bullshit we post on Facebook and Instagram and whatever. Some of the best and well-known writers and thinkers I've come to love are those who write and think honestly, and I want to emulate them. But as I work on a second piece about the struggles of a broken family, I keep questioning myself, "What's the point?" Outside of myself, who truly cares about this?" I know writers are supposed to "write for themselves," and I get that, I do. But it's also bullshit. We, as humans, as writers or artists or whatever we call ourselves, want to inspire, to help, and, as selfish as it sounds, be validated in what we do and the time we spend doing it. And this is EXACTLY where I'm struggling.

What am I doing wrong? Am I completely deluded in thinking that what I'm doing, the time I'm spending, and the way I'm writing is doing anything other than wasting time? 

Their responses, as I knew they would be, were golden. 

One writes, "Has the blog become too consuming? Does it interfere with other priorities? Are there any unhealthy byproducts that come from writing this blog? . . . Consider your motivations for writing the blog . . . maybe taking a “sabbatical” from the blog would be the healthiest option."

The other, "Have you heard the phrase, "Kill your darlings"? . . . I'm not saying your blog needs to be scrapped completely. I think if it's a momentary stumbling block that will be fine in the long run, keep going. But if it's a race of hurdles where you just trip over hurdle after hurdle, maybe it does?"

In short, why am I trying to place Mother Mary on top of a treacherous mountain? 

Because it's the good and right and noble choice? Because it serves the smaller and greater community?

Or because I want to take a selfie on top the world? 

Are there any unhealthy byproducts that come from writing this blog?

Maybe. Maybe not. But the real problem was that I never asked, that I never allowed myself to consider the possibility that there were unhealthy byproducts. How could I? To kill my darlings would be to kill myself. 

Why am I dragging Mary up the mountain? 

Kevin Ashton, in How to Fly a Horse, tells of the gruesome story of a time when "doctors did not scrub in or out of the operating room, and were so proud of the blood on their gowns that they let it build up throughout their careers." And because it was a teaching hospital, it was common practice for doctors to deliver babies after dissecting corpses. 

The hospitals mortality rate was so terrible mothers would often rather give birth in the streets, on their own, rather than in the hospital. Because their survival rate was higher. 

Yet, none of the doctors asked why or assumed they played a role in any of the deaths. When asked to simply wash their hands, almost immediately, the mortality rate went from 18% to zero. 

However, "This was not enough to overcome the skepticism. Charles Delucena Meigs, an American obstetrician, typified the outrage. He told his students that a doctor's hands could not possibly carry disease because doctors are gentlemen and 'gentlemen's hands are clean' (via).

Charles Delucena Meigs, the American obstetrician, was doing great things - saving lives and advancing our understanding of the human body. Why would he ever need to question his actions when his motives were so good? 

Because people we're dying. And at that point, it shouldn't have mattered his perspective, his convictions on the cleanliness of a man's hands because, people were dying. 

And people are always more important than convictions.

I want to be a writer. Bad. But more than that, I want to be a better person. Writing has helped me be that, I think, but not always. Sometimes not. 

Because sometimes, instead of helping and loving and living a life worth writing about, I drag Mother Mary up the mountain. 

And the selfie just isn't worth it.


For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  The DR Who Championed Hand-washing  :  How to Fly a Horse :  Open Thoughts