Still in my nightgown and robe, I sit at the kitchen table, glad for the light of the early summer sun that filters through the Chinese maples outside my apartment. I feel as though I'm getting ready to swim up from deep, dark water, finally ready to let fall away the pressure that's bound me these last months. Heartened by this promise of relief, I put my pen to the spiral-bound pages of my journal and fill each line from end to end, each page from top to bottom, hardly able to keep up with the flow of thoughts.
This hasn't exactly been a banner year. A freelance writer, I've been working way too hard for way too little money. I've been sick. Feeling dowdy and unattractive, I've been dateless for months, but that's actually a relief because the shock of the last man leaving nearly did me in. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer late last year, and though the disease has apparently been eradicated, I'm still reeling from the gut-level realization that my mom, the only constant in my life, is mortal.
I've even been writing on autopilot at times. While I don't think anyone's noticed yet, it won't be long. It's as if all the juice has seeped out through the cracks in my life, leaving me brittle as a husk.
I've known for a while that I had to remedy this situation. I've been skating on a precariously thin surface for far too long. Resisting the pull toward deeper knowing has drained me of the energy needed to keep up the pretense of graceful gliding. So finally this morning, I dug through the near-permanent pile of magazines and books at one end of the couch to unearth my long-unused journal. I saw that all the books were memoirs and personal essays. It makes sense: I've wanted to find out how other people cope with their lives. Now, though, it's time to take a shot at uncovering the last few months of mine.
This act of writing down my uncensored thoughts, words meant for no eyes but mine, is terrifically liberating. I'm surprised I so often forget that fact when I'm in pain. Nevertheless, it's easy to avoid journaling when I can't deal with one more jot of agonizing emotion, when I haven't the energy to expose myself in this naked, often inelegant way. (I'd hate for anyone to read my journals. I'm not afraid of what they might reveal about the most secret parts of my life. It's because they are so often inarticulate, rambling and pedestrian; not nearly as eloquent as I like to think I can be with a little forethought and innumerable drafts.) Yet when I finally work up the energy and begin to journal, it's amazing how often surprises come to light, little gifts offered up by my subconscious.
It happens during this writing. Somewhere in all the scribbling, the words I have searched for all these months flow from my pen: "I am stuck." I've been immobilized by all the physical and emotional stresses, and I don't know where to go from here. It's a simple realization, laughingly obvious once it rises to the surface. But it is the chink in the mortar that causes the whole wall to tumble.
Those three words - I am stuck - draw forth from my memory what Robert Pirsig says about stuckness in Zen and the Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance. Over the years I've read this book four times. I'll admit that, initially, it didn't make much sense, but I was drawn back to it again and again, and each time I understood more. The last time I read it, in 1993, Pirsig's words about being stuck helped me make the break into freelance writing. They gave me the courage I needed to abandon corporate life when I could no longer tolerate being chained to a stressful writing job, one where I'd taken to joking that my idea of hell was writing the employee news magazine month after month for eternity. Pirsig wrote about how being stuck is actually a great place to be: It's "the predecessor of all real understanding," he says, and he's right.
When we're mired in the muck, it's because we've exhausted all of our usual options. The feeling of stuckness comes from applying traditional thinking and behavior to new situations, and having them not work, repeatedly. The only way out is to try something new.
More words flow onto my journal page, offering a possible solution: "Maybe instead of going forward or backward, right or left, it's time to go up or down. Time to fly or to retreat to the depths for a while to see what you can find there."
I know I'm not ready to fly just yet, weighed down as I am with this emotional baggage I do not quite know how to drop, incorporate or otherwise deal with. But the notion of retreat is appealing. Not giving up, but simply being quiet, going fallow for a time and understanding that this is not my season for planting but for simply remembering how new growth is always stirring beneath the surface, no matter what's going on up top.
I've been fighting so hard to appear normal, to keep going on in the same way I always do, despite all the pain and confusion recent events have produced. Several people have suggested I "take something" for my sadness and depression. They meant well, but I couldn't get them to understand that I wanted to experience this. I'm not a martyr; I just knew, somehow, that these emotions could lead me to a place of transformation, if only I stayed aware. But I had forgotten to stay aware or, in the cosmic scheme of things, was not supposed to. The only way I knew to stop their advice was to smile when they asked how I felt. Denying the pain finally left me stuck and walled me in - until this desperate writing in my journal opened my eyes to the possibilities of transformation.
In our culture, the notion of fallow time is something to be avoided. Not running a hundred miles an hour makes us look lazy or aloof, but in reality, transformation is not possible unless we give it time to root itself, down deep in the moistness and the quiet and the dark.
So this is my fallow time, for as long as it takes. Having been rejuvenated by the simple movement of pen on paper, I am no longer fighting it. Instead, I will honor it, allowing whatever transformation awaits me to take hold.
Barbara Stahura liberated herself from corporate life eight years ago to become a freelance writer. Since then, her articles, essays and poems have been published in numerous print and web publications. She lives in Tucson, Arizona and her web site is www.clariticom.com.