Atrophy is forgetting how to log into your own website.

75f952b6379311e3b39e22000a9d0df1_8I’m shoehorned into a narrow seat near the back of an auditorium of Columbia College’s campus in the South Loop, desperate to grab hold of my words as they fly through my head, in front of my mind’s eye, before they retreat to the depths of my heart where they came from.

A man whose name I’d heard but whose work I didn’t know just finished giving a talk, “What Panhandlers Can Teach You About Content Marketing,” at the all-day content marketing conference I’m attending. I scoffed at his presentation’s title, but after quickly giving up on a competing session about marketing automation, it was the next best choice. And of course, it was brilliant.

One of the words on one of his slides, tucked among photos of panhandlers with funny signs, juxtaposed as a clever nod to A/B testing, reminded him of a man with a Google+ profile. That man’s 44-some thousand followers see a photo every morning that he posts of a beautiful place — where he didn’t wake up.

Chevannes, France.
Shaftesbury, England.
Queenstown, New Zealand.

 

Yeah, I didn’t wake up there either.

Today, I woke up exhausted. I spent yesterday in a coworking space with fresh Intelligentsia coffee available all day — for free — and helped myself to three cups, spiked with almond milk and Splenda. I stayed at my computer all, at the long, white table I’d claimed as my own, and watched the Loop darken around me, cubicle desk lamps and office tube fluorescents switching off one by one by one by one.

By 8 p.m.? Hands shaking from the caffeine, I was minutes away from Thai food I would house in what felt like seconds (as usual), while glued to a partial episode of Law & Order: SVU.

I tossed and turned for hours last night until I woke up at 5:30 a.m., tangled in sheets that should have been stripped from the bed and sent to the washing machine a week ago.

Overheated, still not used to the radiators clanging to life right around the time the cats begin their daily attempt to break down the bedroom door.

I woke up to rain and a chill in the air: turtleneck and boots weather.

I woke up knowing I should work out but lacking the motivation to walk the half-block to the gym, so I found a 30-minute “yoga abs” workout on YouTube and did a workout in my living room with a woman in a pink tank top. And her French bulldog, who slept right through her downward-dog knee lifts.

I woke up, frankly, a little tired of being so damn inspired.

The Chicago Marathon just about made my heart explode, between the double amputee whose wheelchair flipped around the 20-mile marker, who struggled for 15 minutes just to right himself and get back on track — I watched him roll up to the final hill with overcooked pasta for arms, and finish — and the blind woman who did 26 miles with the help of three guides who, you know, also ran 26 miles.

Not to mention my dear friend Seth, who lost his 65-year-old father to a heart attack less than three weeks ago and found the strength not only to get out of bed but to tie his laces and run farther than most mere humans can even dream of in less than five hours.

I was so sick of myself by the time runners started limping past us, draped in foil capes — disgusted I couldn’t even commit to training for a 10K, didn’t even possess the self-control to stop at three pieces of pizza or two glasses of wine, don’t even love writing enough to give myself a couple of hours once a week to write something for myself — I know my troll will come here looking for something to criticize, so here’s one hell of a run-on sentence — that I didn’t speak to anyone on the way home.

One foot in front of the other. Channeling my rage, fighting tears I didn’t even feel entitled to. Because I hadn’t just run 26 miles. I hadn’t lost my father. I hadn’t done anything. I just stood on the curb all day and cheered a scratch into my throat, clapped until my hands were raw.

I used to revel. Couldn’t wait to scribble down what I’d seen that day, bask in the beauty of helping usher colors and smells and sensations from my memory to wherever I could share them with someone.

Now…well, everything seems to matter a little less.

But I woke up believing, as I do every morning, that yes, today will be the day I make words for myself. And more than 140 characters or a blue-and-white blip on the newsfeed. Non–revenue generating, non–SEO optimized, unfiltered, unchecked expression of that festering inspiration.

A blog post I started last week turned into a prattling missive of self-pity that I sent to two friends I knew would understand my plight. They both responded. Both brought me to tears. Here’s why:

I wish I knew the secret to ending writer’s decline because that’s what we have. It is far more serious than writer’s block. I don’t even know if the condition is reversible.

I knew he would understand.

It’s creative atrophy, and it’s horrible. But this is my physical therapy: stretching my fingers at the keyboard, more than an hour later in the same auditorium after everyone has come, listened, applauded the final speakers and filed out for post-conference drinks at a nearby bar.

So I will finish this, publish it and join them.

I’ll wake up tomorrow in the same bed, probably overheated and tangled, but feeling more myself. I don’t know if I have a marathon in me, but even a run down the block — 1,000 bloated, forgettable words — is an accomplishment I’m happy to bask in. Get me my foil cape and a cold beer.

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7 Responses to “Atrophy is forgetting how to log into your own website.”

  1. Tim G. Says:

    Good to see you writing for yourself again. I certainly can relate. It’s always a constant struggle for me. But yet its always so rewarding when I finally get my lazy ass to do it. I think sometimes I don’t write though because i’m afraid of what I will scoop out of me that I’m not ready to deal with at the moment. I really need to write at least 2 hours a day and I would be a hell of a lot better of a person. Or I might get carpel tunnel but at least it would be for a good reason. Keep at it, Lady. Oh and thanks for the birthday wishes.

    T.G.

  2. Traci F Says:

    Writer’s decline — such a great way to describe it. Take it from a midlifer — it is reversible. And, if it helps, I think the non-revenue-generating writing makes the revenue-generating kind much better, even though it feels indulgent sometimes to do it.

  3. BW Brooks Says:

    It’s always that first step that’s the hardest, and that Creative Therapy will take time. (I’ve been there a few times; it always does.) But CT, with time and effort, will shake away the rust. It’ll come back, and after a few tentative steps, you’ll be running again in no time. It just takes that will to move. (No mean feat, so running any race — real or metaphorical — is laudable in my book.)

  4. Seth Says:

    One of the things I learned writing Dad’s eulogy was JUST START WRITING. It feeds your soul, Paige, and ya gotta eat! If you don’t like what comes out first then scrap the first paragraph and enjoy the beauty of what’s left. You’ve got this.

  5. AJ Kohn Says:

    Don’t let the gremlins that live in the back of your head take over. They’re obnoxious, rude insidious creatures with whispers that echo and reverberate.

    Too many writers (myself included) are far too critical of their own work. Since you referenced me in a Tweet I’ve had this page up in my browser, a tab that I didn’t want to close until i had time to give it my full attention.

    I wish it had been sooner, not only because I don’t like to ignore people (I have serious guilt about that) but also because this is some really great writing.

    I doubt that me telling you that you’re not in some writer’s version of the gloaming is going to change how you feel. So instead, I’ll simply say that I was compelled to read every word of this post, which is a very rare occurrence.

    So I hope you wake up tomorrow and look outside or look up while you’re taking that same route you walk and are struck by how different the same view looks.

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