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The Tabula Rasa

After having done all I can for a writing project—after it’s finished, published, promoted, and my energy for it is exhausted—I enter creativity’s no-man’s-land. It’s a sprawling, barren landscape. Either I’m worn out from the last project with little energy for the next, or I feel used up, as though I’ve reached the end of inspiration’s wellspring, or I’m writing but whatever I draft is a sprawling, blathering desert of words. I feel bereft; I’ve left a lovely world of my own making and can never return. I’m hopeless, because despite whatever success my project achieved, it’s inadequate, and besides, what more could I possibly do? I wonder whether I’ll ever write well again.

Luckily I’ve been around this block enough times to know this emptiness passes. Continue reading

The Calculus of Faith

“What’s calculus?” Gwyn asked over dinner. Both Emily and I took calculus in high school but neither of us could answer, me because I’d promptly forgotten everything once I took the AP test, and Emily because how do you explain calculus to a ten-year-old? “It has to do with measuring amounts that change over time, like a car picking up speed,” Emily said. “Maybe?”

A week later the three of us were at church, about to serve a free meal, when we struck up a conversation with our pastor. Topics leapt from Gwyn’s deep skepticism about the existence of God to her passion for math. Paula said to Gwyn, “My relationship with math stopped growing when I was about your age.” Continue reading

Your Stories are Wiser Than You Are

Whenever readers express their admiration for what I’ve created, I feel abashed. For many years I interpreted this as feeling fraudulent, as though surely I hadn’t written whatever they’d read or perhaps they were projecting their own unintegrated esteem onto me or buttering me up. Then I went through a spell of deliberately trying to take in others’ praise. I’ve earned it! I told myself. But that didn’t sit right. Later I tried practicing gratitude; the opportunity to have a reader read my words is a real gift, and doubly so when the reading experience matters to the reader.

Somehow, though, none of these reactions to others’ praise felt right. Was I conditioned to deflect compliments? Why, despite positive responses, did I never feel worthy? Continue reading

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