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:


I have so much to say

And I am saying it all

And that is Psychosis


I have so much to say

And I am trying to cage it in a coherent essay

And that is Sisyphean


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.