My dreams are vivid, in color and in content, and extremely narrative. If I could write stories the way I dream them, I’d be able to break through my resistance to fiction-writing. But in my conscious world my inability to write fiction of any kind is a source of constant frustration for me.
Maybe I’m just not meant to write fiction. I mostly write essays and nonfiction. But even there, I should be able to use elements of fiction-writing to make my work more dynamic. I took a creative nonfiction class a few years back where the teacher emphasized “making scenes.” The message was, if I couldn’t dig deeper, if I couldn’t make my nonfiction come alive by using fiction techniques, I would never excel at creative, or literary, nonfiction.
I don’t know if I developed a block from that class, from being made to feel inferior for the way I naturally write, but I’ve been struggling with my self-image as a writer ever since.
But it does seem to me that my brain works differently than it used to. All I have to do is contrast my waking thoughts with my dreams. I am fascinated by my dreams. Sometimes I sleep longer than necessary because I don’t want to leave a dream I’m having. It’s as if, once I wake up, my brain powers down to a lower level of functioning. Ideas are harder to come by. Words come out of my mind more slowly and with a lot more effort than they used to. I can’t seem to write what I think and even when I can, what I think tends to be dry and uninspiring.
I don’t exactly feel like I’m in a fog. I have emotions, but they’re not as extreme as they used to be. I think this is partly because I’m older. I have a perspective that I didn’t use to have. But I wonder if I’m not also affected by the medications I take. I’ve worked hard with my psychiatrist to come up with a combination that keeps me from the horrible depths of depression and debilitating anxiety that I used to experience. I’ve contemplated discontinuing my medications but I just can’t face going back to the mindset that contemplated suicide regularly, that was paralyzed by fear and anxiety, that loathed myself and couldn’t abide the world.
Those feelings are still there, but I’m able to beat them back to the point that I can function–even if slowly and carefully. As long as I don’t have too much stress–and I have to make sure that I don’t–I can approximate a “normal” person’s state of mind. But at what cost? All I’ve ever wanted to be is a writer and now it seems as if a barrier has been set up preventing me from being one. Oh, I can still spin out a sentence, but it feels as if my soul is no longer in it.
I pray daily that I can break through this barrier without suffering the consequences from discontinuing my medications, but I’m afraid that it’s either one of the other. But what kind of choice is that? Suffering all the pain and paralysis that emits from my natural state of mind, or being able to mine my consciousness more deeply and creatively?
There’s a third possibility here: it may be that I can still write but can no longer assess my work, because I’m incapable of grasping its nuances. I have to write on autopilot, trusting that I’m making sense, that I’m using my faculties creatively–but not being able to make judgments on it because my brain doesn’t have the flexibility it used to. That could partly be because of my meds, but it could also be the result of an aging brain.
Then again, maybe I’m not capable of being the writer I once thought I could be. And maybe I never was the writer I thought I was. It might be that I’m more realistic now and can see myself more clearly. Naturally I fight this conclusion–it challenges all my assumptions about who I am and what I’m capable of. I have no choice but to fight it. I have to find some way to break through what’s keeping me from fully opening up, as a person and as a writer.
It may turn out that I’m a mediocre writer. It’s what I fear more than anything. But I may have to settle for that. Because I know I have to keep writing.