I think. A lot. Too much. I don't mind how much I opine, but the thinking ... the thinking doesn't stop. And the non-stop thinking sometimes, but not always, doesn't lead to realization. It just leads to more and more thinking. I think about believing and believe in what I'm thinking, but somewhere along the way, many things get missed. Feeling. Experience. Connection.
I spent last weekend at a retreat where all I did was try to stop thinking. I went to the Catskills, to a place in Haines Falls, NY (near Hunter Mountain). I didn't bring my computer, and I received virtually no cell service. I brought my iPod and reading material, but I vowed to utilize both only on the bus rides there and back. I wanted and needed to spend some time with myself. That's different from spending time alone. I already spend a lot of time alone. I'll go through waves of time where even when I go into my office, I won't necessarily interact with that many people.
But as I wrote (hell, how did it get to be) two weeks ago, I'm good at distracting myself. I don't only distract myself from things I should do, but I somehow to manage to distract myself from things I actually want to do. It makes no rational sense since, as part of my thinking and overthinking, I'm always looking for the "why" and the logic and the rationality. But instead, I've created blocks, and many of the blocks have been ... well ... calling them counterproductive or even detrimental would be understatements. And the thing I probably distract myself from the most isn't a thing, but rather, it's just me.
The retreat was a workshop. Technically a writing workshop. I've been having so much trouble forcing myself to sit down and write anything -- not just this blog, but my own journal as well as other projects -- that I've been going kind of crazy with it all. It's fascinating (possibly to nobody but me) that I would make such a statement. As I wrote here in what it seems was the second post ever placed on this blog a full four-and-a-half years ago, I remember Spaulding Gray telling me years ago during an interview for his Monster in a Box that he had to write to get the thoughts out of his head. Here's what I wrote back then:
Sitting across from [me at] a small desk in a tiny office of some notable (at-the-time) PR flacks, he wouldn't put down my tape recorder, saying it made him feel "in control." More importantly, I'll always remember what he told me about why he writes: he didn't enjoy it, he said. But he had to do it. Every day. If he didn't, he would no longer be able to think. His mind would become too confused. And he would, quite simply, "explode." Writing was obviously his therapy ... I wonder if it simply stopped working.
I haven't come close to reaching that breaking point. In fact, there may often be a looming explosion inside my grey matter, but at some point I've managed to calm it with thought-provoking exercises like watching eight hours of DeVo'd reality TV.
The trouble is, I've reached that breaking point, I think, but continue to bend instead of actually breaking ... bending or stretching to such a degree that I often become useless, at least to myself if not to others, but also often enough to both. The weird part is that while I haven't reached that breaking point, I feel like in some ways I've moved beyond it to where I should feel like I have to write just to get those thoughts out of my head, and yet, I just ignore the sounds of cracking and disrepair.
The weekend was one more of illumination than education. I hesitate to say that I learned new things as much as found some crystallization in things I already knew. The biggest realization certainly had to do with -- in case you didn't get this from the beginning -- thinking. The most beneficial part of the workshop for me were several free writing drills we performed. The facilitator would give us a phrase or an idea, and then we had five minutes to write something. Actually, she regularly gave us less than five minutes, and the "one minute left" warning, was generally about 30-40 seconds. When we were done with one, we'd instantly go into another. Four pieces at a time before we'd move on to something larger. (If you're curious, here are the pieces that came out of me.)
I've done these kinds of exercises before but not in a very long time. Some of the pieces were easier to write than others, but all of them made me realize something very valuable -- I never think when I write. Yes ... I realize anybody who might be a "faithful" reader of this blog likely thinks, "Uh, that's obvious Aaron. If you thought while you wrote, there'd be much less nonsense here." But actually, I don't mean that I don't think about what I write ... just when I write.
My greatest block of all -- and I find that this goes across many aspects of my life in addition to writing -- isn't the action or activity but the thought process before engaging in it. I will come up with a list of ideas to write here -- reviews, opinion and reaction pieces, whatever -- as well as short and feature film scripts, short stories, journalism pieces, etc. I will think and think and think about them. Most of the time, I won't even write notes, but I'll think about them. I'll get new ideas in the shower, on the subway, while watching a movie or a play. They'll come rushing at me, and quite inefficiently, I will file them away in some recess of my overactive mind. And the more I think about an idea, the more I tell myself, "OK, later I'll sit down and write it out," but first I keep thinking.
I do the same thing when I have topic-oriented conversations or when i know I'm going into a meeting or when I'm in the middle of an argument. Certainly, I'm sure most people have a similar experience much of the time: you debate something with somebody, you leave him/her, and 30 minutes later you smack your forehead about that perfect point you completely neglected to mention. I spend so much time thinking of every point that I wnt to make, that I often make none of the points at all by just avoiding the figurative conversation. And yet, once I'm in it -- once I've started writing or engaged a situation -- not only am I fine, but I stop thinking and instead act and react. (Of course, now popping to mind is a Seinfeld episode about this very situation: George had no comeback for a guy at work who made fun of him, and he started obsessing about would he could say if he found himself in the same situation with the guy. I remember him ultimately coming up with, "Oh yeah, well the jerk store called, and they're running out of you!" George thought it was brilliant, but of course, even when he had the opportunity to use it, it wasn't.)
I've known that about my writing forever. I've possibly mentioned it here before, but I know I've mentioned it to others. Finding that catalyst in myself is the hard part. The sitting and writing/typing itself generally isn't, because apparently, I'm always tricking myself. Once I finally force my thinking to move into the action of writing, I stop thinking and just write. What comes out just ... comes ... out. At most, I'm thinking four or five words ahead. The flow controls itself, and what I often discover is that I've forgotten one, two, even several of those crucial points I had to spend so much time considering. Now and then, one of them will stick out and I'll go back and find a place; mostly, I'll realize they disrupt the flow, and they're actually not that important. And ultimately, I'm done when I'm done; when I stop; when there are no more four or five words ahead.
This is also why I have so much trouble with editing, at least editing my own work during the same time period I've written it. Once I'm editing, I'm thinking again, and yet, I don't want to anymore. The process of writing is a release to get the thoughts out, so reengaging with them isn't necessarily something I want to do. After some time, with some distance and objectivity from those thoughts, I can go in and see ways to change and improve, but in the short term, even if something seems right, I have the hardest time determining how to make it better -- and it can always be better. I've already moved through the process of letting the words find their own direction to elaborate on the initial thought and following my gut. Now reacting to the words offers ... much less.
The weirdest thing is I'm not 100% sure how I got here -- more thinking, less writing. When I first started this blog, I often did similar things, but I would still get going with the writing sooner. I would rarely if ever formulate an argument before writing the post. What I considered important would simply show up when I sat down to write it. Sometimes that led to brief posts; much more frequently, it would create pieces that were much longer than I intended, and I'm sure in many occasions than they needed to be.
The most frustrating result of this past weekend, though, is I find myself writing about it as we head into the next weekend. Somehow, after my 40 hour sojourn, I found myself more exhausted than refreshed. I had, in some sense unknowingly, gone through an emotional and intellectual experience that required a lot of energy even though it took almost no physical work. The place I went was gorgeous and peaceful, and the weather was mostly great all weekend accompanied by one of the most tremendously entertaining thunderstorms I have ever experienced. And yet, when I got home on Sunday afternoon, after eating, watching some TV and checking my email, I found myself crashing around 5:30 PM. Over the next 17-18 hours, I somehow found myself sleeping for about 14. The rest of the week, reverting to many old habits and finding a lack of motivation, I endeavored to find a way into putting everything into balance. I was thinking. Again. Mentally trying to determine everything I should and wanted to do without doing any of it.
It's a very frustrating way place to be. It's a frustration that I've caused for myself. It's a situation that seems to get worse not just the older I get but the more I come to notice its existence. I can't explain it. I'm not sure I should explain. But I do know I have to stop focusing on how to explain it.
So we'll see. And in the mean time, maybe we'll write. And during that time, maybe I'll find my place again.
And for now, at least on this, there are no more words.