24 June 2014
“We never do anything well till we cease to think about the manner of doing it.” William Hazlitt
Have you ever heard the allegory of the centipede which, when asked how it knew which of its hundred feet to use when, found itself unable to move when it started to think about it? Well, this is me. Obviously, I don’t mean that I’m a centipede, or that I’ve got a hundred feet. No: but the minute I think about how to do a thing, you can guarantee I find myself unable to do it.
Case in point. I don’t know whether you’ve noticed but, for the first four months of this year, I managed to be extremely consistent and post two blog articles every month. Amazing, what?! And I don’t know whether you’ve also noticed that, for the last two months, I haven’t published anything at all? (Nothing like going from one extreme to the other). So, what the devil happened?
Well, it wasn’t ‘the devil’, much as I might want to blame it on someone or something else (some supernatural distracting force that body-snatched me, and put a stop to my literary musings).
To put it simply, ‘I’ happened. ‘I’ did it. And the question is, how did I do it? Well, it wasn’t with a spanner, in the library, with Professor Plum, that’s for sure.
No, it was far easier and simpler than that. ‘I’ noticed how consistent I’d been, and so ‘I’ started thinking…
Rather than continuing on with what was working (which meant just going with the flow, spontaneously writing whenever I had an idea, and not thinking about the logistics of how to do it), I started to worry about how long this would last, and to plot how to ensure the continuation and improvement of this happy state of affairs (meaning posting more blog posts every month, ‘cos I have an obsession with the idea that more is better), I decided to stick my oar in and tinker, once again, attempting to set up a routine for my writing which would maintain and improve my productivity. Concrete thinking here we come!
I really do have a problem with rigid thinking, and wanting everything to be written in stone, even though you can guarantee that I’ll change it at some point (whether it be sixty seconds, sixty minutes, sixty hours, or sixty days later). This seems to be one of the areas where the autistic and the ADHD in me clash and/or overlap. My personality is geared to wanting such tight control of everything, which just exacerbates the rigidity: and vice versa.
And then there’s what might be the trait of spontaneity (the jury’s still out on whether I have any of this) which longs for freedom, but which possibly transforms and manifests as the flighty impulsivity due to my insistence on attempting to nail it down. ‘Cos that’s what I do to myself - construct a solid concrete prison, which I call routine, rather than a wooden framework that can easily be altered, dismantled, rebuilt, or added to as necessary. I don’t so much flow as clunk through life.
So, point in question - writing. Having unfortunately noticed the longed-for consistency, I determined to set out a routine (set of rules) for my writing that I believed would help me continue with this novel concept which I seemed to have inadvertently stumbled upon. In short, I got caught up in the minutiae, yet again.
This meant questioning everything involved in the process of writing - when’s the best time for me to write; how long/how much should I write (eg should I do it in short bursts to accommodate my ADHD, even if I find myself happily focused and wanting to continue beyond the allotted time); how often (daily, every other day, weekly, three times a day, every hour); best place to be (living room, bedroom, kitchen, outdoors); best position (on the sofa, at the desk, at the dining table, on the bed); seated, standing, reclining; on paper or the computer, or rough draft on paper and then computer; one draft or more, rough outline/plan, or leap straight in; what to write - blog article, short story, poem, novel, peace treaty!? Who knew there was so much to the art of writing, before you even set pen to paper? Now I see why I often resist doing it!
And amazingly, as you can see from the evidence, all of my attempts to formalise and formulise my writing has produced miraculous results - I haven’t managed to produce a sodding thing!
Yet I still insist on trying to exert control. Why is that? Well, apart from the fact that I just naturally like to be in control, it’s partly because I retain the persistent (but misguided) belief that I can’t be trusted to do anything unless I’m forced into it, using the timeworn method of rule enforcement; and also because, having read copious amounts of info on the subject, I now find myself copying. Unfortunately, most of the stuff I’ve read (and taken personally and literally) incorporates the concepts I’ve mentioned above, such as disciplining yourself to write daily (another way of saying forcing yourself), etc.
The fact that most of these people are talking about writing for a living, writing full-length novels, and that they aren’t catering to autistics with ADHD goes completely over the top of my head. Their motivation is completely different to mine, yet I find myself adopting theirs, which results in writing losing its pleasure for me. And once it does that, once I start writing from a distorted sense of necessity and fear, then my well of inspiration dries up completely. Kind of like God saying, “I’m sorry, Lisa, but I don’t want you to write for money or fame or any of those other materialistic motives: I’d just like you to write for the pure joy of it.”
And it’s not only my writing that I’ve picked apart just lately: I’ve done it with art, too. Well I would, wouldn’t I? Once I start doing it with one thing, the trait takes over and spills into everything. It’s not the individual thing that’s the problem, but me, and there’s no point trying to focus all my attention on fixing the object or situation, in the belief that once I’ve done that then I’ll cease to worry, ‘cos it doesn’t work. I’ve tried, and failed - numerous times.
So, for example, when I start worrying about one thing, I’ll then find other things to worry about, until I end up in a permanent state of worry, where the focus of my anxiety becomes completely irrelevant. It’s like setting a time bomb ticking, and letting it run until it culminates in one massive explosion - an autistic meltdown. Unless, of course, I have the wherewithal to remember to turn the timer off, rather than running around like a loon, trying to manage a live bomb, doing silly things like trying to bury it when it’s still active.
As to art, all of my paintings so far are done by copying from photos. But a few weeks ago I had a sudden inspiration for something I could do from my imagination. Of course, it almost scared me to death - I mean, I’ve never been able to draw from my mind (at least, nothing decent: they always resemble the scribblings of a two-year old with hiccoughs, in my opinion), and yet here I was, on the cusp of some great change. Not only that, the idea I had was abstract: I don’t do abstract. Obviously God must have been at work, overcoming the confines of my limited imagination, gently nudging me forwards to try something different: especially as I have been saying for a while that I would like to be able to produce my own original work.
But saying it and doing it are two different things. So what did I do with this spark of an idea? I obsessed about it, talked about it, did a brief sketch, and then abandoned it in favour of going searching for ways to practice playing and having fun with my art - ‘cos that’s what I decided was what was holding me back, the problem being that I take it all too seriously. Which is true. But, basically, my solution was a way of procrastinating about trying something new, and in itself involved trying something new. How dumb can you get?!
Which is how come I ended up spending hours trawling the web, looking first at art therapy (I thought it might help me to express myself!?), and then landing on art journalling, which I was convinced was the answer to my prayers (and a way to combine art and writing, so becoming consistent at both at the same time). I even bought myself a ‘proper’ artist’s sketchbook, with thicker watercolour paper, for the purpose (not thick enough, as it turns out: the pages buckle on contact with the paint. Sheesh!). Fortunately it only cost me about £3, and it turns out it’s not the answer to anything, really, other than avoiding doing art. Which I have successfully managed to do. As was my unconscious, fear-driven, intention.
You know what I find really strange about all of this, though, and which gives me cause to wonder whether I do, in fact, have the innate ability to be spontaneous (despite my seeming autistic genetic resistance to the whole concept)? I don’t recall having this problem when I was a child. I would write stories when I wanted to write, draw pictures when I felt like it, and launch myself into trying things like handstand (and succeeding with persistent practice - something I’m not now well known for) without prior instruction, because that’s what my body wanted to do.
I didn’t question whether it was possible or not, but simply believed that I could do it, and so just did it. Whereas now I think I have to have a fucking step-by-step guide to how to do the simplest of things because I’m afraid of getting it ‘wrong’. Which leads me to wonder whether the problem lies not with a lack of spontaneity, but with having absorbed the idea that there’s a ‘proper’ way to do everything, and that you can’t just decide to do things, willy nilly, without having someone teach you first.
The question is, how did the first people learn how to do everything when there was no-one to teach them? It’s something my best friend asks me whenever I insist on going off to look for instruction on the internet, clinging like a limpet to the static idea that I need someone to copy, to tell me what to do. And then I ignore them, or alter the instructions. So it’s a bit bloody pointless anyway.
"Do you believe in Magic?" asked Colin.
"That I do, lad," she answered. "I never knowed it by that name, but what does th' name matter? I warrant they call it a different name i' France an' a different one i' Germany. Th' same thing as set th' seeds swellin' an' th' sun shinin' made thee well lad an' it's th' Good Thing. It isn't like us poor fools as think it matters if us is called out of our names. Th' Big Good Thing doesn't stop to worrit, bless thee. It goes on makin' worlds by th' million - worlds like us. Never thee stop believin' in th' Big Good Thing an' knowin' th' world's full of it - an call it what tha' likes. Eh! lad, lad - what's names to th' Joy Maker."
From 'The Secret Garden', by Frances Hodgson Burnett
"There is no way to happiness - happiness is the way."
The Dalai Lama
"If you don't stand for something you will fall for anything."