Writer’s Block.

I’m sitting by the kitchen window on the morning of my last day at my parents’ house in Gainesville, sipping coffee & reminiscing on the end of another year.

The end of 2021.

I used to love to sit down around the finale of a year and reflect; I don’t think I have looked forward to or enjoyed it the past couple years nearly as much as I used to. I have felt pretty creatively stagnant this past year in many ways, and as I’m becoming more of an adult, confronting where I’m at in any given moment comes with ever exceeding self-imposed expectations and anxiety — it’s normally familiar questions I’m asking, like “am I in a satisfying and meaningful career?” “why can’t I be happy with or proud of what I’m creating?” or “why is it so hard to express myself and tell my story?” “Is that what’s holding me back or would make me feel more creatively satisfied? If not, what is holding me back?”

When I move aside the voices of doubt, expectation and anxiety, I see that I did try new creative things this year, like pottery or laser-cut jewelry making; I drew/wrote out my first zine; I continued writing and editing my memoir draft; I went to my first writing conference. I guess on top of finishing a year as a spiritual care resident and switching jobs, I put a decent amount of time and energy toward my creative passions. Why can’t that feel like enough for this year, or at least like something I can be proud of?

I struggle to understand why social expectations of success are what they are; but I certainly understand how damaging and life-limiting it can be to internalize them as my own expectations of myself — especially when these are passions, hobbies, interests that I’m talking about. Like writing for example; I want to continue to find joy in writing regardless of whether it’s words in a memoir that I’m hoping to get published, words in a private journal entry that no one is ever going to see, or words on this blog, that’s sadly gotten dusty over this past year. That joy I have in writing, crafting a bowl out of clay, sketching some scenes of LA; I don’t want those simple joys to be overshadowed by an expectation that I need to make them successful, marketable or visible, or that I need to make them into a career. Pushing myself in a certain way so that I can have goals, accomplish more, and continue to try more creative ventures is definitely important — and this is myself I’m writing about, not anyone else — certainly some creatives need to hold themselves to industry expectations as they navigate their careers. For me though, the standards are largely coming from my own expectations of how “successful” a creative side-passion “should be,” whatever that even means. As I’m writing it out, it sounds ridiculous, because it is.

I feel like I am living in the shadows of what I really want to accomplish, but that it’s not so much a fear of failure, fear of being vulnerable, or fear in general that is hindering me from my dreams — but my dreams themselves, or rather, my unrealistic expectations of those dreams. They’re holding me back from truly enjoying what it is I’m trying out for fun these days. So maybe the best and most concise way to put it is that I want to do these things for fun and truly find fun in them again. It sounds much easier than it actually will be; as it will require me to deconstruct my own internal career, personal, creative, etc. expectations and get back to the essence of why I actually do things — do anything, for that matter. The purpose of trying new things never used to be so that I could look “cool” or something — they used to be so that I could express myself, navigate dark places of my past or questions of my identity, and eventually put them into the world and share them with others. Put them into the world not because they would make me look better, but because when we share our stories (through any medium), they can deeply inspire others, build bridges, cultivate awareness, and grow a communal human bond.

Creatively, that’s the direction I want to head this year — tangible, specific goals may come later. For now, the vision is to have fun again and get back to the essence of why I ever wanted to try any new creative pursuit. It’s about getting away from harmful or unrealistic expectations of myself, and about getting back to who I am and the things I want to express. We all have those things, and we all have our unique ways of expression. I guess if we can feel good about who we are and what we have to say, that is a good starting place for creativity to flourish. Again, easier said than done, but that’s what 2022 is for, I suppose.

For Beverly.

I wrote this poem about a patient that I spent a considerable amount of time with before her death. As a chaplain resident, I become so used to compartmentalizing difficult, residual emotions that I’m left with after patients’ deaths (that’s my job). I don’t notice how much the emotions affect me too. It’s hard to see death almost everyday and fully be present with families and patients, and then move on to go and visit other people. This patient was an African American Buddhist woman, who I’m calling Beverly (pseudonym) who died of metastatic breast cancer that spread all over her body. I felt all sorts of things while in the room with her at the end; here are some of them in a poem form.

it’s like there was a creature
clawing back the curtain of stillness
in the room
dimly lit
the only din an IV and oxygen
and CNN on the TV
a stillness and quiet
paradoxical to the life
fighting, clawing past the silence
past the swelled stomach walls
past the hopeless prognoses
and white coats, warm, steady hands,
and smiling but somber faces.

I’m thinking and saying
all the things and words I couldn’t think
in the moment.
Couldn’t quite grasp that creature
clawing for breath
couldn’t say that I felt her too
but also felt a deep darkness and
felt a moment ending.
Felt the lifeblood,
the vigorous, vibrant, radiant lifeblood
swirling, foaming, flailing, being engulfed
by that mysterious and unknown darkness,
a creature that claims all other creatures.

I felt both in that room.
In a moment, darkness swelled to engulf light
and the noise of the silence stopped by thoughts in their tracks.
Was that silent darkness too vast to be overcome?
What would endure beyond?
What would endure on the other side?
What endures?
What is it like, Beverly, what is it like?

For the creatures within you to flee
at the sight,
at the sound,
of the light,

for the brightness to know
no bounds,
for there only to be
the din of good things
of joy and hope and something
wonderful yet to come —
the feeling of good yet to come.

It may have seemed so far in your last days on this earth,
but now I hope it
covers you,
engulfs you
with love.

My favorite time of the year (cont.)

And then, with the passing of Thanksgiving comes my absolute favorite time of the year, advent. Bellies full from turkey leftovers and warm soups, we enter a time of waiting and joyful expectancy for Christ to come. Like many other days and moments in our lives outside of this season, we wait.

We sit at traffic lights, we wait for our laundry to finish, we wait for water to boil, we wait for that text message response. We wait for bigger things too, perhaps. A new job to start, our resume to be evaluated, a diagnosis, a baby to arrive. Of course we’re still running around like crazy, trying to get all of our work done, meals prepared and errands run. But, I like to take moments in the season of advent, while doing my normal things, while waiting in that same light that takes forever on the corner of Allen and Walnut, and remember that because of this season that we’re in; the waiting is different than the other times.

Because we’re waiting for the moment when that baby that changed the course of the past, present and future will arrive. It might feel like just another day, another year. For those alive at the time of Jesus’ birth, it was just another census, another year to make the long trek back to their hometown.

But really, it was the most remarkable and life-altering moment, even if a lot of people didn’t realize.

So, a good way to remember, honor, celebrate and prepare for that remarkable, life-altering moment is — in the middle of monotonous, dragging moments and days this winter — take some time to do something differently and more intentionally. Like be kind to people in the midst of the waiting; be kind to yourself. Recognize that this is a remarkable time.

This is a short post, but I don’t have a lot to say in the beginning of this advent season — as the acts of waiting expectantly, listening, giving thanks, being mindful and intentional — I hope, will speak themselves in your own lives. I hope it’s a reminder to take joy in the next few weeks, as Christmas is quickly approaching!