I have experienced several reasons not to write in my life… writer’s block has never been one of them. I’ve never even understood the concept of writer’s block, especially for someone who wants to be a writer. Why would you want to write if you don’t actually want to write?
I think I am infected with hypergraphia, actually — it is a condition Dostoyevsky supposedly had, and it is characterized by an overwhelming compulsion to write, coupled with extremes of emotion and hyper-sensitivity, a possible connection to bipolar, and a definite connection to temporal lobe epislepsy. While I don’t have epilepsy, I had seizures as a child and had an EEG, but they never found the reasons for my seizures and blackouts.
Hypergraphia and writer’s block are influenced by the same part of the brain, two extremes of the same impulse, like turning the switch on or off. Alice Flaherty, who wrote a book on hypergraphia and writer’s block, describes how people with hypergraphia have too much temporal lobe activity, which makes them want to write, and not enough frontal lobe activity, which puts the brakes on the urge, making the writer edit and pare down their output. People with writer’s block have the opposite problem: too much frontal lobe inhibition making it difficult to get the words out. Since low frontal lobe activity is also associated with things like addiction and lack of willpower, we can be fairly certain that my frontal lobe is limping along, half dead, while my temporal lobe is gunning the engine and making me want to write.
The problem lately is that I know if I sit down to write anything “for myself” (i.e. not for school) I am afraid I won’t be able to stop. I have so much planned out in my head and I’m dying to write it, but I don’t have time. I’m trying to finish all my classes as soon as possible so I can graduate and get on with my life. One consequence of my addiction, I think, is the inability to do more than one thing at once — and by “at once,” I don’t mean multitasking. I mean that while I’m in school, it’s very hard for me to concentrate on anything else, even when the schoolwork is done for that day. I can’t organize my thoughts enough to juggle four difficult classes, chores, shopping, money, etc… and writing, too. I’m dying to be done with school so I can start working on my memoir for real.
I just finished a 13-page research paper about Wikileaks for my investigative journalism class… took my Russian final this morning… finished the final draft of the article for my feature writing class on Thursday… now I just have to do some writing assignments for my data journalism class, and I’ll be done with this term. The last two terms I only took two classes — last spring I was too busy with the school paper, and last fall I ended up dropping a class that was SOOO boring (newspaper editing… thank god I know that I can never be a copy editor!). So taking four now seems like a crazy amount of work.
Next quarter I’m taking Russian again, a class about interviews in journalism, a psych class for a science credit, and an anthro class for another science credit. The anthro class is about the role of storytelling in ancient societies and how it influenced the evolution of humans… it sounds super interesting. I was looking into the anthro department and it looks like I have so many anthro credits from Reed that if I just take one more over the summer, I can do a minor! If I stuck around for one more year of Russian, I could minor in that too… but I’m anxious to leave town.
Originally I was thinking of moving to Oakland, but since I last looked into moving there in 2011, the rents seem to have tripled. And San Francisco is such an island of privilege now… I started thinking about moving to New Orleans. Other than SF and NYC, it’s probably my favorite city in the country. The weather is warm, there’s tons of culture, and it would give me a chance to live somewhere I’ve always wanted to live, before I get too old to move around the country as much. I’m taking a trip there, actually leaving tomorrow, to see h0w viable that plan would be. The rents are really really cheap there — like as cheap as Portland 20 years ago — whereas Oakland is now several hundred dollars a month more expensive than Portland, for a 1BR.
I’m actually terrified to leave Eugene. Most of the time I’ve lived here I’ve been desperate to leave, and I still am, but it’s scary, too. This is the place where I finally got clean. Though I’m able to stay clean mostly effortlessly when I go up to Portland or other cities where I used to do heroin, it still makes me nervous to think about leaving here… not because I think I’ll relapse, but because my home here is so comforting. I didn’t realize it at first, but I used a lot of things about this place to rebuild by sense of safety and heal some of my PTSD. (not that it’s all healed, by any means, but it’s better than it was last year.) Living in such a small, safe town really helped. Being able to come home to all my stuff and my cats and not having to worry about insanely expensive rent… I suppose not having to work helps a lot, too.
The fact that I am afraid to leave only makes me more determined to do so, because I know I don’t want to stay here, and I feel like I should get out as fast as I can before I become more entrenched. I’ve been here for almost two years now — this is by far the longest place I’ve lived anywhere since my apartment in Portland in 2000-2003.
Most of the time here I am scarily happy. Scary because I always feel like it’s about to disappear. I spend most of my time doing one thing I really enjoy, while looking forward to doing another thing I really enjoy. It’s kind of been blowing my mind.
I think this is how I felt before I became a junkie… it’s hard to remember, but I recall being really happy pre-heroin. Unlike most addicts, I didn’t start using because I was depressed. It was more of a personality problem, an identity crisis, a failure on my part to understand how reality and the world worked, anxiety partially corrected when I was 27 and had a startling revelation about the world: people don’t have to be perfect to be successful or happy.
So I guess I’m actually better off than I was pre-heroin. A lot of stuff that haunted me back then no longer bothers me because I have spent years correcting my ingrained beliefs. Even though I still have a ton of anxiety and unneeded worry, even a 10 percent change in that department seems to have a remarkably positive effect.
I started a garden last year, and even though I’ve been too busy so far this spring to do much other than plant some seeds and repot a few things, I’ve been enjoying my lilies and peonies and other flowers coming up from last year’s roots. I trimmed about 3/4 of my roses off, and they are producing new leaves… they’ll probably flower soon.
The garden feels like the first time in a long time, maybe forever, that I’ve been able to enjoy the fruits of previous labor. I’ve felt like Sisyphus a lot… endless difficulties, endless striving, no reward. The few times I made progress with anything, I would skip town, quit the job, and go back to drugs.
I haven’t yet graduated or made a cent off writing, but all that work I did last year — picking up the trash and broken glass, pushing the huge dumpster off to the side, digging up the gravel parking lot that was our “yard” two feet into the earth, filling it in with potting soil, planting dozens of plants, watering and tending to them all summer — is paying off again, now, as spring arrives. I think life is supposed to be like this.
Well, I have to go pack for New Orleans… I need to figure out how to balance writing here and my memoir work with my schoolwork. It’s not that I don’t have enough time, exactly, but that I am literally afraid if I start writing, I won’t be able to stop. I’ve always had trouble with moderation, with the middle ground. But maybe that’s a feature, not a bug. 🙂