Think about anything you’ve ever done on a regular schedule. Depending on the activity or task, making it a part of your routine can either be really easy or incredibly difficult. I’ve found that this depends entirely on the activity and how enjoyable it is. Obviously, if you really enjoy it, you’re more inclined to do it.
For instance, back in 2000, when my husband made his first run for Congress, I started working the New York Times crossword puzzle every day. Life was crazy back then, and any semblance of routine or ritual in our lives had been disrupted. Always a fan of order and structure, I found the crossword added some stability to my chaos. No matter what was happening, I could turn to the Times for a necessary distraction on a daily basis.
At first, I was terrible at it. If you’ve ever been a crossword fan, you probably know that the NY Times puzzle gets progressively harder as the week goes on. As a novice, I could usually get through Monday’s puzzle without too much trouble, but the rest of the week was a crapshoot. It was not uncommon for me to get stumped completely, leave the puzzle unfinished, and have to wait for the next morning’s paper to see where I went wrong the day before.
Those folks who create crossword puzzles? They think in the abstract, unlike most people. One of the first things I learned was that the most obvious answer to a crossword clue is rarely the correct answer. Lots of tricks, false leads, and plays on words. In order to be successful at the NY Times crossword, you have to learn to think like a puzzlemaker. It takes time. But I kept at it. I kept an arsenal of #2 pencils on hand for the ritual. And I learned to think along multiple tangents.
The daily puzzle was a constant. Like the sun coming up every morning. I held onto it like a life raft. And even when the election was over and life returned to normal, I kept working the crossword puzzle every day. For over eleven years.
Then I started grad school, and my daily puzzle ritual fell by the wayside. I missed it, but I had plenty of other things to occupy brain space, and those things created their own forms of routine and ritual.
Grad school went like this: Read and research during the week, write papers and complete assignments on the weekends. That was my habit for the next three and a half years.
Somewhere in the midst of grad school I got the crazy notion to start writing this blog. It seemed like a fool’s errand; did I really need to put more pressure on myself to write when I was already tasked with writing at least a paper a week?
Oddly, though, the blog turned out to be a good outlet. I could write about anything – music, food, Foos, social issues, you name it – and I never had to worry about citations or my GPA or anything academic. I could just write for myself.
And you, if you were interested in reading it.
Some days, the words just flew out of me, and writing the blog was easy. Other times, I struggled. The words wouldn’t come to me. I knew what I wanted to say but I fought to find the best way to say it. Like the crossword, though, I enjoyed the process.
But then, a funny thing happened after I finished grad school. I started to run out of words.
At least that’s how it felt.
Over the past year, my ability to blog on any kind of regular schedule seemed to wane. Once weekly missives turned into bi-weekly postings, then monthly ones. And then last fall, my well of words ran dry.
By late October, I’d seen all the live music that I (and my very empty wallet) could squeeze into my schedule and my budget, including two live adventures with my fabulous Foo Fighters (who, of course, did not disappoint.) Those shows, and a number of others, are certainly worth a mention, and we’ll get to them in due time.
Beyond music, nothing felt fresh anymore. Nothing fun or exciting was happening in my kitchen, certainly not anything blog-worthy. Lots of topics in the news were intriguing, but they gave me nothing new to discuss. It was all something of a rehash. SSDD – same shit, different day.
Racism and bigotry were running rampant again, but I had already said everything I could think to say on those issues, and my opinions hadn’t changed. The country was once again divided on the issue of foreign refugees, this time from Syria, but I’d covered that topic in this space back in the summer of 2014. Again, my opinion was unchanged.
And politics? Let me just say that I don’t intend to sully up my blog with politics, at least not at this point. The Presidential election season lasts a good 18 months if it lasts a day, I’m well beyond fed up with the current circus side show, and we’ve still got nine months left to weather. No thanks.
With one caveat: go vote in your local primary or caucus. Voting matters. It really does.
In retrospect, I don’t know why I stopped blogging. Maybe, like with my crossword puzzles, I just fell out of the habit. Maybe when I was no longer ruled by my academic calendar, no longer forced to follow a strict schedule for word output, I got lazy. Or maybe I just grew weary.
Over the past few months, while I’ve been on my hiatus, I’ve pondered this lack of motivation, and I’ve wondered how often this happens to other people who have a creative streak. We’ve all heard about writer’s block among authors and screenwriters. To what do they attribute their wells running dry?
Do artists and musicians experience similar droughts of creativity? Did Monet or Picasso ever stand in front of a blank canvas for an hour, and finally toss brush and palette to the floor in frustration? Did Chopin ever sit down at the piano, stare into the distance, and say “Nope. I got nothin’?
Does Dave Grohl ever pick up the famous blue Gibson, wrestle with a lyric or a guitar riff, and then set it back in the rack and go take a nap? God, I sure hope so. Surely anyone who creates anything has suffered a shortage of fresh ideas. It would be comforting to a lowly blogger like me to know that even the masters have their off days.
Whatever the reasons, whatever the contributing factors, I think the drought is just about over. I’ve turned a corner. I’m ready to create again. I’m not sure what it’s going to look like, but it’s time to get back on the horse.
But first, the crossword puzzle. Anybody got a pencil?