Being a writer means I spend a lot of time living inside my head. My body functions, but I’m often mentally multi-tasking; generating blog ideas while completing chores or lying in bed at night, scribbling poetry in parking lots. I always carry a notebook with me to jot down lines or passages. Other times I’m lost in the world of others, reading or musing over stories written by someone else. In my teenage years, I let food burn while immersed in books. I still don’t know how to navigate half the journeys I’ve traveled as a passenger dozens of times, because I’ve been lost in the pages of a book. My father used to chide me about this tendency: “You can’t live life through books, Pam. Get out and go do something.” I’d nod, and generally turn a page.
But I’ve missed knowing how to get places. I’ve tuned in partially to conversations. I’ve lost sleep. I’ve chosen time with books and pen over time with people I care about. I’ll never retrieve those moments. There are costs to being a writer. When I mentally retreat, I am agitated and irritable when disrupted. I don’t want to engage. Sometimes words are like an illicit lover, summoning me away from duties, from reality, from ones who truly love me, leaving me needing ever more time away, another liaison, feeling guilty at wanting to spend so much time focused on my own desires. It’s like an insatiable parasite is leaching my life.
It’s not only words on paper that pull me away from the present. Though my background in Psychology can help me empathize with and understand others, and I can reflect insightfully, I struggle to confine my own voice and listen when I am excited about a thought or idea. I catch myself finishing other people’s sentences, over-talking, assuming, turning the conversation during times when I should be asking questions, seeking additional information to understand more fully.
I know that voice is important to me and the need to create and share through words is part of my being. As a woman, I’ve sometimes allowed that voice to be dominated through learned submissive behaviors, and in my thirties, I’m now more cognizant of that dynamic and even more reluctant to let go of the power of voice. But when I let that need for voice dominate my ability to engage with others, or stymie my ability to listen and be fully present, I’m allowing an internal, ego-driven, fantasy world to overpower connection to the physical world and to others.
Listening to the tragic stories of those who lost their lives in the recent tornadoes, imagining their last minutes reaching for family, trying to hold on to life, I am reminded the importance of being present in the moment. Though we’ve settled in a bit more to our life after two years of living in West Virginia, I am so used to every life situation (jobs, friends, homes) being temporary that I still find myself retreating, fearing that connecting, attaching will only cause me pain with the next inevitable transition. My internal world is so alluring, so comforting, so consistently available. It is an easy escape. It is also a place to hide from the fear of loss. But in retreating into myself, I am already losing memories, losing time, missing out on moments to love.
Hearing about the 15 month old toddler who died as a result of injuries sustained during the tornadoes in Indiana, I find myself snapping out of that internal world to hold my little daughter a little tighter, to soak in her funny quirks and sweet toddler-isms, remembering that mental distraction severs me from the important and unpredictable amount of time I have with her. Turning away from the computer or my own thoughts to snuggle with my husband, or to ask him questions when he tells me about something that happened during his day, I am choosing connection I can feel. I am choosing relationships over self-isolating in narrative. The joy in those moments in which I am fully present with my loved ones cannot be replaced by words. Words cannot fill an empty life. In fact, only life can provide a foundation of meaning for the words I write. It is a constant balancing effort, to be present, especially when an internal world feels safer and at times more fulfilling to an introverted writer. But the practice of living in the physical world, of sensing and experiencing, of connecting with others, is real, and is the force behind all the words I could ever read or write.
Linking up with Shell at