Guest Blog Post, Cindy Clem: A Writing Funk, A Cage, and A Retired Potter

Cynthia ClemToo many words, I tell the man poking at my stomach. He’s doing something called Chi Nei Tsang, working with the energy of my internal organs, and he’s instructed me to name any resulting thoughts or feelings. Coming at you or coming from you? he asks.

From me, I say. Required of me, I think, but I don’t say this. I don’t want to hurt his feelings.

I’m struck by this phrase that arises from my belly. Like any teacher and writer and friend and family member, I deal in words. Speech—the demand of forming words in my head and lining them up in an articulate queue before they exit my mouth—has always drained me.

You’re a good listener, people tell me.

Where talking fails, I write. I take the chaos of words in my head and organize them on paper, mostly to get rid of them but also in the hope that if they’re good enough, they’ll entertain people who don’t know me. Writing about yourself is called memoir, and that’s what I’ve been doing for years now. Writing about myself means I never lack for ideas. I’ve also been convinced that writing about myself is essential to healing. It’s almost a form of righteousness, this therapeutic work, this writing through it.

So why the angst now? For whatever reason, writing no longer feels therapeutic. It feels oppressive. All of that meaning. All of that me.

I met a woman at a holistic health type of retreat who said she was a retired potter. How do you retire from pottery? You begin to practice Zen Buddhism and realize that you can stop putting stuff into the world.

What if I could heal myself not through words but through silence? Some meditation practices teach that we are of four minds: the senses, the ego, the intuitive decision-maker, and the memory bank.  The memory bank—the part of the self that makes demands, that begs for our return to old habits, that cries out with desire, fear, aversion—tends to make the most noise and, for me, has motivated writing. It has convinced me that its feelings and desires are the only worthy subject and that processing its feelings and desires is the most important task in the whole wide world.

Meditation teaches that we can tame this memory bank. We can sit quietly while it rages and cries, gently acknowledge it but keep it in its place. We can burrow down, down, down beneath it, to silence.

What does this mean for a writer who gets her material from this tempestuous bank? You arrive at silence, and then what? What is left to say?

“I have nothing to say / and I am saying it / and that is poetry…”

I used to think this quote was dumb and John Cage pretentious. If you have nothing to say, then prove it. Shut up.  But what if nothing truly is the space from which poems arise?

Am I trying to say I want to be a poet? I don’t know. I’ll probably change my mind about all of this in a week. In the meantime, I just know that I’m tired of words*, of having to make them make sense. Although I will always enjoy a well-written memoir, I admire writing that seems to play, that lacks any apparent agenda. It’s an ability to be sensuous, maybe, to plant flowers instead of vegetables.  Or maybe it’s Creative Writing 101: use images, not words. (Am I romanticizing the writing process, trying to take hard work out of the equation? Probably. Sounds like something I’d do.)

As I see it, these are my options:

A.

I have so much to say

And I am saying it all

And that is Psychosis

B.

I have so much to say

And I am trying to cage it in a coherent essay

And that is Sisyphean

C.

I have so much to say

And I am not saying it

And that is _________

  1. A cop out
  2. Freedom
  3. Very Buddhist of me
  4. What non-writers do

*The Author is sheepishly aware that her blog post is 1) about herself and 2) has a bunch of words.

16 thoughts on “Guest Blog Post, Cindy Clem: A Writing Funk, A Cage, and A Retired Potter

  • September 28, 2013 at 1:55 pm
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    Ha ha! It’s good to be able to enjoy even the angst! Thanks for this post!

    Reply
  • September 28, 2013 at 4:19 pm
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    As a writer, I always deal with second guessing myself. I think we’re all in this together, getting tired of words and feeling as if we have to succumb to the pressure and impress. It’s crazy and enjoyable!

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  • September 29, 2013 at 3:23 pm
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    I really enjoyed this blog. I I think that being silent is one of the hardest things to accomplish especially with all the distractions. I went up to Prescott a couple of weekends ago and walked out onto the deck. It was so quiet my ears were ringing. I got so much writing done, remembering past travels that I took. It was amazing. Thank you for sharing!!

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    • October 2, 2013 at 9:05 am
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      The silence of “out of town” is sometimes very shocking, isn’t it? A jolt that spurs the soul to create, apparently. Good for you!

      Reply
  • September 30, 2013 at 9:34 pm
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    This is a great blog. I was smiling throughout the whole thing. 🙂
    I would have to say for C:
    I have so much to say
    And I am not saying it
    And that is 2. Freedom.
    Not sure if you wanted an answer, but that’s what I would give it. 🙂 Sometimes silence can be a good thing. As writers, we’re always surrounded by words. It’s a curse and also a blessing, I think, but we all deserve a break.

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  • October 1, 2013 at 1:44 pm
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    I find that silence can be rejuvenating. Sometimes when you are writing under pressure and stress it sucks the fun and enjoyment out of it. Every so often I think it’s healthy for a writer to step back and breath so that you can remember why we love words so much in the first place.

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  • October 2, 2013 at 11:05 am
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    I’ve had times where I’ve been so stressed over the various assignments I’ve had that writing no longer seems enjoyable. That’s when my EIC tells me: “Don’t worry about your assignments. Write something for you.”

    And I do. And it’s the most therapeutic thing in the world.

    We can have jobs that we love, but at the end of the day, it’s still work — yes, even reviewing video games can lose its luster after a while. Gotta keep changing things up in order to stay invigorated and enjoying my work.

    Thanks for the read. It was very interesting.

    Reply
  • October 5, 2013 at 11:09 am
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    This is a great post!

    Second guessing oneself is the worse feeling. There was one point that I looked at a how to write book for guidance, but it left me feeling as if my writing was worthless and sparked the worse inner critic. Luckily, I worked through that.

    I’m the opposite when it comes to silence. If I tried to utilize silence, I’d get nothing done but be paranoid that someone was around me.

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  • October 7, 2013 at 12:00 am
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    I love this. Sometimes it is hard to overcome the chatter in one’s mind or the negative self talk and the angst takes over. It’s great to be able to take a step back and find the love for writing again. Even meditating and embracing that silence can lead to some great inspiration for your work.

    Reply

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