When I seek inspiration, I head into nature. Among indoor venues, a locker room wouldn’t even be on my radar.
Last week, as I quickly stored my belongings at a health club I recently joined, I noticed someone to my right who, even though barely dressed, looked familiar. I tried to stealthily glance over without staring. Rather than wait for an appropriate opening to say something, I closed the locker and went to my appointment with a trainer. That’s when I realized I’d left something behind. I returned to my locker. This person, by now clothed, looked at me and asked if we knew each other.
Indeed, we had taken a memoir writing workshop many years ago. Although offered by a local literary center, our class had been held offsite in a classroom at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. While my fellow students had been mostly cordial, the vibe, as I recall, had not been cozy, partly because of the hard tables and fluorescent lights. Based on that experience, I hadn’t been inspired to continue with that center.
As we stood in front of our lockers, we talked about our writing paths taken, and those not taken, since then. I told her I had enrolled in other memoir classes in Denver but, daunted by the task of completing a longer work, I had chosen to dial it down, blogging regularly to make writing an actual habit, not just something I did when I knew other people would read my words. I don’t regret blogging, but at some point I allowed it to become an end in and of itself. I told her that in the last year and a half I’ve branched out to writing for other outlets. I wondered aloud why I hadn’t done it sooner. She had her own story, of being in a kind of limbo, and entering writing contests rather than submitting regularly to journals. I understood. I had entered a few contests, too, as if winning or placing would have given me the validation to keep going. But that is not how writing or any long-term endeavor works. We must dig our own wells of encouragement and permission all the time, especially when the rest of the world ignores or doesn’t appreciate our efforts, even when our efforts appear fruitless to ourselves.
I noticed it was easier for me to empathize with her, and for the choices she had made, than to find compassion for my own writing process that kept me in a single gear for a long time. Learning the territory of one’s own writing and figuring out where that fits within the larger, and frequently changing landscape of publications, journals, editors, etc., has felt paralyzingly daunting at times.
She then told me about a new hobby of hers, one unrelated to writing. Her eyes lit up. I connected to her enthusiasm and felt a wave of relaxation wash over me. Sometimes the best way to feed the muse and nourish the soul is to do something else. That this valuable reminder showed up as “locker room talk” made me smile.