Yesterday, I was waiting for the bus to take me home. It had been a long, boring day in the Cube. I had scribbled a few words about a story idea but nothing more. The sky was cloudy and my mood wasn’t much brighter.
Just then, a tall man, wide as a refrigerator, passed by me, stopped, turned to face me and pointed a
finger at me. He said, “You! I like your books.”
I mumbled a shocked thanks as he walked away.
My mood lifted. Sometimes, it just takes a brief word to change a day.
I’ve been blocked lately. I need to get back to work. I want to get back to work.
When I crack open a new journal, click my pen and declare, “Okay! Let’s write a story!”, I feel deep inside me a great exhalation, as if this inner, bored muse is saying, “Yes! Finally!”and is so grateful that I’m finally getting back on track.
And that’s good, right?
But then there is another, thicker voice that lazily counters, “Ugh….. but why? Which story is worth the effort? Sure, you’ve got ideas. Kudos but, face it, you know it’s not going to go anywhere. Have you checked your Amazon numbers lately? When was the last time you received a royalty check? All that time invested in something and for what? What’s the term? Diminished returns. That’s it. Think about it. All the time and energy you put into it and what do you get back? Isn’t it more fun to pour a drink, kick back and watch Netflix? Hey, there are lots of shows you need to catch up on. OH! and your DVR. All that stuff you’ve been socking away to watch later. And podcasts. Have you checked your podcasts lately? Anything new? Or all those library books you still have checked out. Maybe you should read them. You really should do more reading. And researching it. Have you done enough research lately? You need to see what is hot on the market. What is selling. You should write that. But, first you need to do research. Not that it really matters. Face it. . Past your prime. You don’t connect to the people anymore. What do you know? What can you actually say? You had potential but wasted it chasing invisible ink dreams. You’re too old. Seriously, have you looked at yourself lately? You should go to the gym. That’s a good idea. Go to the gym. Doesn’t exercise revive brain stuff? Or is that alcohol. Yeah. Have a drink. All writers drink. It’ll loosen you up so you can do more research or read or something. But, first a snack. And a drink.”
You get the picture.
So, how to fight the shadow troll inside my head that echoes every vile doubt that I’ve ever heard from others or, worst of all, conjured up myself?
Remember that first voice? The one that sighed, happily, FINALLY!
I focus on her.
And I remember the flush of excitement when the words are rushing through me.
When the story takes on its own life and I feel like a passenger, a scribe, clacking on my keyboard, just a witness to it all.
And then that finishing stroke. When the story is done and I know it’s done. That ending crescendo that leaves a lingering note of music on the page.
I remember the times someone had told me that my story brightened up their day, gave them a life or just took them on an adventure.
Because when I take my ego out of the equation (and it is my ego that is focused on the bottom line rather than the finishing one), magick can flow through when I left myself open and be a conduit for story.
That’s when I know I’m ok. I’m not a waste. I’m doing EXACTLY what I’m supposed to be doing and if the story sinks to the bottom, never makes a goddamn dime, and is only read by a handful of people, that’s is ok.
Perhaps they were the only ones meant to read it in the first place.
Damien Echols came to town to push his new book, High Magick.
For anyone not familiar with Damien Echols, here is the backstory in a quick pinch: in 1994, he was sentenced to death for the satanic ritual murder of three 8 year old boys. The evidence used to convict him was his reading habits (Stephen King), the weird obsession of Jerry Driver, the local juvenile officer who was convinced that Echols was the kingpin of a Satanic cult, and the confession (multiple ones since he kept changing his story) of a teenage gas huffer who had the IQ of a child.
He and two other young men who were also convicted but given life sentences were finally allowed to leave prison in 2011 if they all agreed to an Alford plea which said that although they still professed innocence, the State had evidence that could convict so…..yay? Basically, it was a way the state of Arkansas could say, “My bad.” without really shouldering any blame.
All in all, it was a travesty and the more I read about it, I end up gnashing my teeth and wanting to renounce humanity to the dumpster.
Seriously. How fucking stupid?
Worst of all, the murderer(s) of those little boys went scott free. Even if the motherfucker popped up today and said, “Hey! I did it! Yep, it was me!”, Arkansas couldn’t touch him or her because of the Alford plea deal.
It just ….oooooh….my head spins.
Anyway, back to what I wanted to talk about.
So, Damien Echols came to town to push his book, High Magick, A Guide to the Spiritual Practices That Saved My Life on Death Row. He is a professed ritualistic magician and, I can tell you after listening to him speak, he is utterly void of bullshit. Whether or not you believe in Magick, he does. Wholeheartedly. And, most importantly, he truly believes it can help you as much as it helped him.
I’m not a newcomer to the idea of Magick. I’ve done a few Sabbats and spellworkings. I don’t think I’m bragging when say that I can throw a mean Tarot spread.
But I have to admit, my head spun when Echols claimed that he spends 7-8 hours a day meditating and doing Magick.
7-8 HOURS. A day?
Riddle me this, Batman: Who cleans your toilets? Who buys your groceries, sweeps the floor, walks the dog, work a day shift and come home to make dinner?
I don’t want to sound like Martha giving Jesus a hard time about not helping out with the housework but, damn!
How do you take care of the nuts and bolts of earthly existence when you spent 1/3 of it converting with the Machine Elves that run the Universe?
Do magicians have a staff?
Because, I can tell you all this right now, THIS witch does her own damn shit.
Or maybe I should get those freaking elves to lend a hand.
Last weekend, I learned the Enemy’s name and, more importantly, how to kill the motherfucker.
I was at Mysteries in the Midlands, a mystery writers conference in Columbia, South Carolina. It was a cozy (in more ways than one, which I’ll get into later) affair. It started with a lovely dinner at the Palmetto Club with the moderators, panelists and other bigwigs attached to the event. I was there as the +1 with my sister in law, Beth aka Jaden Terrell. So, since I was there as her arm candy, I was on my best behavior. No cursing, no farting, no politics and nothing too terribly macabre.
Well, 2 out of 4 ain’t bad.
Most of the writers there write cozy mysteries, stories where the violence happens off screen. No sex. No or very little swearing. The murders are cocooned between dinners, neighborly visits and garden parties as a delightful amateur sleuth figures out clues.
A very polite crowd. In spite of their craft.
I overheard a woman admonishing a man because he said, “Shit”. I was perplexed. Everyone at this table conjures up and plots murders, no matter how clean and civil, they are still MURDERS, and you’re all up in this guy’s grill for saying shit? Bitch, if thoughts are as dangerous as actions, every motherfucker at this table should be in prison.
But, as a +1, I kept my tongue still.
The next day, I went to a panel about Neuroscience and Creativity. A fascinating 90 minute lecture about how your brain works while being creative.
This is where I learned about The Enemy.
Get this. Your brain weighs around three pounds is about as big as both of your fists. Go ahead. Make two fists and put them on top of each other. That’s roughly your brain.
Now, see that bit that is around your first knuckle? That is where your prefrontal cortex is located. That piece of cerebral property is where YOU live. That controls all you know, think and how you see the world. It is your ego. All your hopes, dreams, fears and loves. Right there.
All that rest, merely a support system to keep the meat covered skeleton you live in working.
Now, here’s the thing. according to a bunch of people in white lab coats who study brain meats while, when you are being creative guess what piece of the brain is completely shut down?
The Prefrontal Cortex. That little piece of you. The ego. The self editor. The voice that says “Shouldn’t you be doing something else?” It shuts down. It shuts the fuck up.
The White Coats say that when this PFC shuts down, creatives are able to access what they have labeled, The Flow. That really cool feeling when you are knees deep in a story and everything falls away? Time. That headache you had. Hunger. Fear. Anxiety. All that shit no longer matters because you are in The Flow.
And that cool feeling? That is your brain is rewarding you with a download of dopamine and serotonin for your troubles.
Sweet, sweet dopamine.
But to get there, you have to shut down the Pre-Frontal Cortex. The enemy.
And that bastard won’t go down without a fight.
I asked the speaker, “Is it possible that the Prefrontal Lobe doesn’t want to be shut down? Like a toddler not wanting to take a nap. Is that where procrastination comes from?”
So, how do we access The Flow?
Lots of ways. You can just sit down and start writing. Just write nonsense (like this blog! HA!). Or take a walk. Sweep. Do something physical. Anything that diverts the Enemy until you BAM! hit it where it lives, put it to sleep and get that sweet, sweet Flow.
Or, much like the way I’m doing it (right now!), you can take a more chemical approach.
Neuroscientists have determined that it only takes 0.07 Blood Alcohol Content to put the sweet baby prefrontal cortex to sleep. A smidgen under the legal definition of drunk.