Live Through This

Pressing Play

The writer part of me had taken over so completely that I lost sight of the human part of me.

I’ve spent the past few months mulling all of this over, trying to figure out how to fix it. Throughout that time, my loved ones kept reassuring me, “You are still a writer. You will always be a writer.” And I, frustrated, would respond, “But this is scary! I’ve been fully immersed in writing for 14 years!”

I was saying those very words for the umpteenth time, in an email to a friend, when it hit me: I’d been fully immersed in writing for 14 years. I’d filtered almost every experience I’d had for nearly half my life through the lens of storytelling. I rarely went on a vacation that wasn’t a writing retreat or a “reward” for working myself so hard that by the time I got to my destination, I was too tired to enjoy it. When I traveled to Portland or New Orleans or even to a pumpkin patch an hour from home for fun, I’d find a way to turn it into a research expedition by spending all of my time on the lookout for story ideas. I didn’t even do my leisure activities in a leisurely way: The music I listened to, the TV shows and movies I watched, even the clothes I chose to wear, were dictated by whatever book I was working on. Like, I love the Gaslight Anthem, but I fell in love with them not just for the quality of their music, but because the first time I heard them I thought, This is the kind of music that could help me write a lot of stories. For years, my brother and several friends had been urging me to watch The Gilmore Girls, but I didn’t actually get into the series until one of them pointed out that the series was about a single mom and her daughter, who live in a small town—the very subject I was writing about at the time. I do sincerely love Rory and Lorelai Gilmore, but they belonged first to my characters, and then to me. That’s how wrapped I was in my identity as a writer—so wrapped up that when Amy Rose reminded me that there was more to my identity, my initial (internal) response was, Yeah, there is more to me—and it all feeds my writing! I had been “Stephanie the writer” for so long that I’d forgotten how to be Stephanie, the human being.

When I was little, as I went about my day, I was mentally composing my memoir: Stephanie walks to her locker, nearly getting knocked over by the stupid boys chasing each other down the hall… I still fall into this behavior when I’m in a crisis. When my cat was dying a couple years ago and I was in my bathroom with the fan on full blast to muffle my sobs, I found my thoughts trailing off into fiction: I started to imagine how I might use this exact scene in the book I was working on, replacing myself with my main character and my cat with a dead brother. It was a moment of respite from my grief, and in that way it was helpful, but it also robbed me of experiencing my own pain fully. I think I do this a lot: mentally repurpose reality for fictional purposes, allowing the stories I write to leech experiences from reality.

When I think back to my most creatively productive period, back when I was in college, I realize that I’d spent the three years before that just living: exploring abandoned houses, hanging out in cemeteries, driving around rural Wisconsin. I took all of that in as Stephanie the human being, and it fed my writing later. I think it may be time for me to open my eyes to the world that same way again.

For years, my brain has been stuck on “record”—I’m merely an observer of everyone else’s experiences and even my own. I record them and save them for later, when I can edit the footage to make a story. It’s very hard for me to be part of the action. Aside from last year, when I was moving across the country so it doesn’t count, I haven’t taken time to sit back and enjoy a single summer since 2000. I always make vague plans to have picnics with friends, to go to the pool and the beach, and I’m lucky if one of those plans comes to fruition.

Well, this year’s gonna be different. Summer 2014 will be the summer when Stephanie the human being gets to stop recording everything and gets to hit play. I will go places and do things for the sole purpose of experiencing them, not documenting them. I’ll listen to music through my own ears. I’ll ride out the emotional highs and lows in the moment instead of stepping back and filtering them through art. I don’t want to give up my identity as an artist, I want to reclaim my identity as a person.

I’ve invited my mom, my 17-year-old niece, and a couple of friends to come out and visit me in Seattle at different points during the summer. I’m going to show them my favorite parks and hikes, and we’ll do things I’ve wanted to do but haven’t gotten around to, like whale-watching. I have a friend who just graduated from college, and I’m looking forward to enjoying picnics, concerts, and silent films with her.

I don’t plan to write about any of this. ♦

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12 Comments

  • TessAnnesley June 2nd, 2014 11:31 PM

    Oh shittttttt i know this feeling… i can’t see a film without reviewing it, and whenever i have a deep feeling i need to write it down/record it artistically somehow or it didn’t happen…

  • spudzine June 3rd, 2014 12:58 AM

    Oh Stephanie, I know what you mean!!! I do the same thing actually. I record stuff from my daily life and use it for my creative pursuits, but I do it excessively to the point where I don’t feel like I’m LIVING. I do this with good moments too. I’ll remember a moment I deem as ‘good,’ but I don’t actually experience the feelings completely. I just catalog those memories for later when I don’t feel ‘good.’ I’m working on this all, but I want you to know that this piece, like all of your other pieces, are really brave! You’re so honest and passionate that I smile whenever you post something!

    http://spudzine.tumblr.com/
    http://emotwins.tumblr.com/
    http://rockogirl.tumblr.com/

  • itssabine June 3rd, 2014 2:08 AM

    This is so relatable! I still make mental memoirs all the time and whenever I’m going through something bad/really good I often catch myself being more focused on the art it will bring forth instead of actually experiencing what is going on.

    http://cursive-type.blogspot.com

  • Kirthi June 3rd, 2014 7:03 AM

    I just smiled through that entire memoir part. Its just what I do. I keep repeating them over in my mind until I can get hold of a paper and pen. Also, this exact worry, of not being able to write sometime in the distant future is keeping me back from my dream . Coward.

  • RatioRae June 3rd, 2014 8:12 AM

    This speaks to me so much, I haven’t written anything in months and it’s driving me crazy.

    http://thegirlwhodrankstars.blogspot.com

  • alexithymia June 3rd, 2014 9:10 AM

    Just a correction: the character’s name is Lorelai, not Lorelei (:

    • Anaheed June 3rd, 2014 11:16 AM

      Oops, that was my mistake — thank you!

  • Me_Magalloway June 3rd, 2014 11:55 AM

    “When I was little, as I went about my day, I was mentally composing my memoir.”
    Yes.
    Oh my goodness, yes.
    I thought I was the only one who did that. I am constantly removing myself from experiences by narrating them in my head. It drives me crazy. I wish I could just live, without documenting every single thing I do. And the thing is, I rarely make anything of the documentation. Instead of writing about it or making art, I just memorize it and store it in my mind.

    http://navigating-fairyland.blogspot.com/

  • beanqueen June 3rd, 2014 1:15 PM

    Rock on, Stephanie. This post helped me out a lot. I don’t have to be defined by the things that tend to consume me, I define myself. And Amy Rose, you too have inspired me to be a motivator. Y’all are the queen bees, keep on being your cool selves!!!!!

  • Monq June 3rd, 2014 2:21 PM

    OMG! You are me or maybe I am you. All I know this could not have come at a better time. I have been going through something similar to this as well but with drawing instead of writing. Thanks for sharing, Stephanie.

    xoox

  • LaurenMichele June 3rd, 2014 4:12 PM

    I needed this so much right now. I’ve been hardcore struggling to write anything this past month and it was freaking me the heck out. I only just started writing this past year (first year of college, yo), so when I got into this funk, I was really scared that it meant writing wasn’t my thing (even though I KNOW it is).

    I especially resonated with this quote:

    “I started to imagine how I might use this exact scene in the book I was working on, replacing myself with my main character and my cat with a dead brother. It was a moment of respite from my grief, and in that way it was helpful, but it also robbed me of experiencing my own pain fully. I think I do this a lot: mentally repurpose reality for fictional purposes, allowing the stories I write to leech experiences from reality.”

    I do this ALL THE TIME, because I feel afraid that if I don’t “think like a writer” at all times, I’ll miss out on some great story starter or something. I think the intense pressure I put on myself when summer first started to write every day and fill journals upon journals of ideas kind of froze me, and that’s why I haven’t been able to do anything. Stephanie, I am going to join you on this journey (well, not literally – I live in Michigan!) and together we’re going to not press pause!

    I definitely do think I am going to write this summer, but I’m going to stop pressuring myself and just let the inspiration come to me, rather than forcing it out of fear of not having any ideas.

    Sorry this post is so long! This was just perfect timing for me! THANKS SO MUCH!

  • LenoraLikes June 4th, 2014 10:53 PM

    This was great, Stephanie. I feel similarly to you, albeit on a smaller level. Two years ago, I would fill pages and pages of my journals with daily entries, fiction snippets, and scribbled story ideas. I even did the NaNoWriMo challenge where you write a 50k word novel in the month of November. However, in the last two years I’ve taken school courses that are fairly demanding with written work and have suffered from self-professed “writing burnout”. It sometimes scares me that a hobby which used to be my life (I even wanted to pursue writing as a career) is now more of a chore than a release for me.
    In short, I’m trying to come to terms with the reshaping of my self-constructed ‘identity’, and this piece helped my put my feelings into perspective.
    P.S. Stephanie ,I was at the Rookie event in Seattle last November and approached you about the essay you read afterwards. I just wanted to say that your work is still a powerful inspiration to me!