“After a cruel childhood, one must reinvent oneself. Then reimagine the world.” – Mary Oliver
In “On Writing”, Stephen King tells us that if we don’t make time to read, we don’t have time to write.
I’ve thought about that a lot over the years. In a way, he’s saying that if you don’t love to read, you probably won’t love to write. At least, that’s one of the ways I interpret it.
When I was a teen and in my early 20s, I did my best to make myself go out to the movies every week. I saw everything that I could see, sometimes twice, so I could study and learn from it.
I did not enjoy any of it. I hated being in theatres full of people who had no respect and basic courtesy for their fellow audience members, and most of what I saw bored me.
It took me years — maybe decades — to realize that while I like some movies, I don’t love film, the way my friends who are successful directors and actors do.
Actually, more than realizing it, I admitted it to myself, because I knew it all along. It’s just that I believed my mother’s gaslighting when she would tell me that it was MY dream to be an actor and to work in film and television, not something she forced me to do against my clearly and repeatedly-stated wishes.
So I’ll watch some movies when they are on DVD or streaming, and I’ll probably take myself to actually see something with an audience once or twice a year, but I don’t need to do that to breathe, which is the level of love and devotion I think we need to have for art, if we’re going to make our living and find our emotional fulfillment as an artist. I don’t have that love for acting or filmmaking. I just don’t. It isn’t there, even though I’ve worked in that industry for my whole life.
Which brings me back to On Writing.
For the last year, I have been in a cocoon. I have been withdrawn from public life as much as I have been since I started my blog twenty years ago, and I’ve been equally withdrawn in my personal life. I’ve spent a little over a year processing and trying to heal from my abusive childhood, and that has been a full-time gig for me.
Let me just take a minute to loudly and gratefully acknowledge and own how privileged I am, that I have been able to afford to work less than most people, while I get to spend almost all of my time doing therapy and healing as best as I can. I will also be proud of myself for having the courage to do this work, and to stick with it when it’s been incredibly difficult and painful.
Okay. Back to On Writing: since I finished writing and rewriting my first novel, I just haven’t made the time to read for pleasure. I’ve only read when it’s narrating an audiobook,or part of my homework for school. I’ve tried to make time to read for pleasure, but my brain just refuses to focus and build the author’s world in my imagination. It’s been frustrating, but part of my healing process is to practice mindfulness, to accept what I can’t change and focus on the things that I can change. I’ve known that I’ll eventually become a capital-R Reader again, that it’s just a matter of time before I can begin to emerge from this cocoon, so while it’s felt like something that should be a priority — I’m a writer, right? — it clearly wasn’t something I had room in my life to make a priority.
This morning, one of my internet friends showed me this collection of short speculative fiction stories at Amazon Prime called Forward. They are included in my Prime membership, to read on Kindle without charge, but they are ALSO available from Audible at no charge to Prime members. Each of these stories can be read or listened to in about an hour.
I was intrigued. I am a fan of many of the authors and narrators, but could I set aside a whole hour? Doesn’t that seem like a silly thing to ask myself? That’s my reality, though, at this moment in my life. I wanted to carve out an hour, but could I?
As I very slowly and cautiously emerge from this cocoon, I am making an effort to invest some time in my physical health (again, very grateful that I have been able to focus so singularly on my mental health, without my physical health suffering). I’ve done little things like walk my dogs, but for close to a year, I haven’t done any other meaningful exercise. I haven’t jogged, I haven’t even practiced yoga. And my body is starting to tell me that I need to take better care of it. I listened, and I don’t make new year resolutions, but back in December, Anne and I committed to walking at least every other day, with the goal of doing a 5K in the future.
To slowly work my body back into a place where it can do a 5K and not collapse, I walk every day, even if it’s just around the block, because I’m middle-aged, and it just takes longer for my body to work itself back into good shape than it did when I was younger. But I haven’t taken a long walk, by myself, until today. Today, I put on my headphones, picked a book to listen to, and took Jason Isaacs and NK Jemisin out with me. I literally did not want to come home until I finished listening to him narrate her short story, “Emergency Skin”. My legs were all, “bro, we’re getting tired” and I was like “shut up and keep walking. I need to know how this ends.”
My artistic spirit feels nourished and inspired, and my body feels good. I could easily have spent that hour doing nothing but goofing off, but I made a deliberate choice to do the personal work I need to do on my body and my mind, so I can live my best life.
I still have a TREMENDOUS amount of pain to heal, and while today is a pretty good day, I know there are rough days ahead (and also other good days), so I’m choosing to be present and grateful for that.
Over the last year, I’ve worked really hard to heal myself and unpack a lot of pain and trauma. I’ve made a lot of good progress, but it’s come at a cost. I’ve forgotten how to read. I’ve forgotten how to have fun. I’ve forgotten how to be joyful. But it’s slowly and surely coming back to me.
And I now have at least five hours of what looks like great reading/listening ahead of me, that I hope will inspire me to write my own stories.
PS: speaking of audiobooks, I had the privilege of narrating Andy Weir’s The Martian for Audible, and it debuted at number one when it was released last week!
65 thoughts on “stay awhile and listen”
On the topic of depression, seen this?
Stanford’s Sapolsky On Depression in U.S. (Full Lecture)
I feel for you. I am a 61yo mental/physical/emotional/sexual abuse survivor who has never been able to heal. I wish I could, but there are just too many things involved. I have managed to muddle through without actually going mad (whatever that means), but it has never been easy.
When you started sharing your journey to recovery, I was very impressed. I could never confront myself, or my abusers to start any kind of real healing. I did go through some therapy, but it was a waste of time because I couldn’t open up enough to really get to the root causes.
I have mainly become a hermit in a practical sense to protect myself from further hurt and abuse. I don’t know if I can say that I like it, but it kind of works.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that we (the abused) are going to survive one way or another and your story is one that I can really appreciate and sympathize with and look at with more than a little bit of envy for what I am not able to accomplish.
I do envy your ability to write and to put your hurts out there for all to see. I can’t.
I wish you well on your journey and I hope that it will have a happy ending.
BTW; keep up the voice-overs and voice acting. I have really enjoyed your performances.
I’m listening to The Martian audiobook right now, and it’s awesome!! You are really the only person, in my opinion, who could have done this narration. I actually bought it because you’re the narrator. Great job!
Reading is my escape and legacy from Mom. Congrats on putting yourself FIRST. Can’t help others or create if one is not in a good place. Keep it up! Rooting for you in CT.
Listening to 311 helped me a great deal to look for what’s positive and good in my life right now. Give ’em a chance, man. Their music is well worth the time.
“Between stimulus and response there is space.
In that space is our power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” – Viktor E. Frankl
Hey – just a quick note to let you know that I enjoyed the recommended short stories 🙂 and passed the idea on to a co-worker.
Encase you haven’t already seen this…
We love you dude. You are loved. I hope all is well with you and yours.
Talking about writing, are there any updates regarding your novel, you can share yet? Not meaning to put pressure on you, just really looking forward to reading it.
I’m really glad that you have the opportunity to work on yourself. I think that you’ll find it a fulfilling project in the end. I just listened to The Martian and thought that your narration was brilliant. I have found your voice to be very soothing and comforting regardless of what you’re reading. Sort of like Mac ‘n’ Cheese for the soul. I re-listen to many of the titles that you’ve narrated just because it makes it easier for me to fall asleep sometimes. I hope that the enjoyment and solace that your talents and stories have offered others over the years helps your healing process.
Hi Wil. I am glad that you are finding time to heal and feel comfortable sharing your pain and your process with the world. I’ve really missed you on Twitter, as I enjoyed your commentary on the madness of the world. I recently heard that you will be hosting the new Star Trek after show, beginning with Picard, season 1, and I was glad they chose you, someone we know and love. I hope it turns out to be a good experience for you.
I bought an audiobook copy of The Martian as soon as I heard you had done the narration. We listened to it on our driver to NC and back to FL. It was great! Thanks so much for doing it.
I had a very abusive father. He was an drug adict/alcoholic who constantly beat my mother in front of us. Always yelled–always threatened us. Pretty useless father. When he was dying of cancer around 13 years ago, I had the awesome experience of reminding him of all the evil stuff he did. I told him a list of everything he did and said he was a pretty evil guy. I then forgave him around an hour before he died. Forgiveness is such a great experience and I’ve very happy with life.
Thank you for sharing this. It makes me feel not so alone.
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