WRITER’S BODY: My secret pain management trick

Gorgeous photo of me mid-Chaturanga during my morning physical work

How often are you told to “Get out of your head”?

I sweat when I think.  It seems to alarm strangers.

Once every hour, someone will presumptuously advise me to get out of my head.

The advice usually comes from a (strongly) self-identified male. It’s always posed as a friendly invitation, “Get out of your head”, as if it were prophecy, offering me a bed in a home in a promised land where I don’t yet exist because I’m too intellectually inclined and therefore missing the glory of being as fascinating as a man who gives out unsolicited advice.

Get out of my head and go where?

I sit there thinking about it, effectively further in my head, further away.

The process is his failure and my reward.

I like being in my head.

Clearly, it doesn’t help me with Men but I’m ok with that.

(A sigh of gratitude to my head)

 

Thoughts make us sick

Thinking too much leads to ego inflation.

Usually when our ego is inflated, we treat the body either profoundly well (think:  Phelps) or terribly (think: Hemingway).

Our bodies are physical representations of our egos.

We actually aren’t much more than our bodies.

Theoretically, everything other than what physically represents us is only here very temporarily.

The great great pay off of being creative is the amount of physical shit in the world that ends up representing YOU, the I, the Ego. The pitfall is the stress. 

Ego-stress leads to pain.

 

The occupation of Making Things (artist) is incredibly dangerous

Art is (in one way) the act of transforming thought into construct.

“HERE IS WHAT I THINK” is at the basis, the very cellular level of everything we make. Most minutes of the artist’s day (THINK ABOUT HOW MANY MINUTES ARE IN A DAY) are spent in contemplation, in the head, in the ego and, if unsupported, the body begins to weep.

Two years ago, I graduated from The National Theatre School of Canada as a playwright.

Attending that program for three years, which is a long time when you’re entering your late twenties, is the best decision I ever made in my life.

It was not always enjoyable. In fact sometimes I sat in my program director’s office trying to explain to him why I thought the workshop that he spent many many many hours and dollars inventing for the six students that make up that entire department was useless (to me and my process, at least). I was polite about being a dick but I was being a dick. I was over thinking everything.  I felt, I was at NTS to be a writer and I had to make sure that I came out of it A Writer.

It took me five semesters to trust and enjoy the training.

The light bulb came when I began to acknowledge my body.

 

To some young writers, training the body feels arbitrary

I would have asserted that exact sentiment when I was twenty-five.

In my first year as a writing student at NTS, it was mandatory for the playwrights to take Movement class with the actors.

“Movement Class”, which I called “sweaty humiliation time”, is taught by a woman I  greatly admire for the qualities she possesses which truly make her a generous mentor to young artists (an almost impossible ‘thing to be’).

Unfortunately, I was not prepared to approach the class with my body.

I approached Movement Class with my head.

The only thing I didn’t think about was how challenging it is to approach a Movement Class with your head.

Insecurity took over.

Of course, upon going, and this is the beauty of a movement class, I would explore surprising territory and often gain inspiration because the exercises we were asked to perform are so intellectually ludicrous to an aspiring author who is arriving every morning to nod her head at the practice of being wind, all the while she is not-so-secretly ready to die because she has (kind of important, not that important) deadlines that AUTHORS NEED TO MEET BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT AUTHORS DO AND I AM AN AUTHOR….I’d go through all that thought but eventually let go and feel a little easier…sometimes.

The class was great, my approach was challenged.

I did not acknowledge the gift of my body when I was in theatre school

I couldn’t.  I decided that Body is for actors.  Writers use their heads.  I must, above anything else, remain a writer.

Aspirational stress kicked in, tensing everything I had, my eyes shutting down, my hands shutting down, my pelvis feeling like someone shoved a (insert the thing you don’t want to read about) into me, my gut, my cunt, my glory hole and I couldn’t even wear pants because I would cry while walking from the pain in my hips, my legs going numb, my body weeping.

There was no explanation for the pain. I drove myself and a couple other people crazy investigating it.

The answer was so simple and so annoying, it took me two years to acknowledge that ok fine, all I need to do: Is calm down.

Let go.

Stop worrying.

Ego: Bye.

 

I am an artist and I need my ego

Ego is my steam for inspiration.

But, that’s all it is: Inspiration, motivation, why I make things, who I make things for, this blog, social media, the outfits we wear, the fact that I think eating is for humans and starving is for geniuses (WHERE DID I COME UP WITH THAT), choices, all the choices we make are all ego.

There is always going to be pressure

We push ourselves to identify as something specific.

We objectify ourselves.

We look for identifiers in one another.  “Who are you?  Who am I?  Let’s be sure to prove it so that we can control our meaning.”

It’s all pressure.

Of course in an institution which by default categorizes it’s students by discipline there is a chance that the students will obsess over that label, as if it came from an oracle, as if now it has to be.

It doesn’t have to be.

I’m still a playwright but I also write other things.  Novels, memoir, even fucking poetry which, when I was in school I was convinced that I couldn’t write.

The playwriting department accepts two students a year. The other woman in my year is a brilliant poet. Well, ok, I thought, I can’t be a poet then.

WHY?

My co-hort, a friend of mine and an artist I admire with vigor, is quite different than I am both in background and in artistic practice. Ergo, I was convinced I had to play the character of her opposite with a decided urgency. I am not her. I am not her. I am ME. There is only one ME.

This disease, this ego-driving thing, which people tend to callously term Narcissism but that would be a completely ignorant use of that term so I would really prefer to just call it being Young, the diseased edge of youth propelled me to act so insistently different than my counter-part, I couldn’t even investigate for myself what I admired in her: Poetry, thoughtfulness, decent strategies for social engagement, kindness, good humour, expression of knowledge…I just decided that I had none of those things, that I WAS none of those things and I stressed the opposite.

My head worked overtime.

Two plays a year and the execution of an architectural framework for my soul.

I was in so much pain.

My body tense with anticipation.

One doctor, just one, gave me anti-inflammatories for my migraines.

Upon re-visiting that doctor, I listened when he told me “you need to calm down”.

It had already been stated to me by other doctors but those were doctors who were more focused on my Bi Polar Disorder than my holistic well being and I didn’t trust them when they refused to offer pharmaceutical relief.

I want to be clear: I was not on the hunt for Oxy. I believed I was sick. It was insulting to be dismissed because of a mental health diagnosis. I am not my mental health diagnosis. I am a writer. I deal with more than just mood swings. I deal with creative urgency and a disciplined tendency towards invention and I cannot calm down until I really trust that it will help me to “calm down” because if it doesn’t help me I will lose my edge and if I lose my edge I will lose my stories and if I lose my stories I will lose my impulses and if I have no impulses than I may as well have no fucking eyes or hands so just take them if you won’t give me ANY PILLS PLEASE….ego. (No one was giving me Oxy, for obvious reasons.)

I learned the hard way: Writers need to move.

I began to invent a personal, healing event every morning.  Just for myself.  Just movement.  Most of it is yogic but sometimes I run, now I’m planning on going back to swimming, in the summer I took long bike rides.  The intent is always the same.

Physical discipline has fascinated me my whole life.

When I was eleven I read a book about Kundalini Yoga. I found the book in my mother’s house. It was called something like “How To: Kundalini Yoga” and I remember it’s by Ravi Singh. I still use it. It’s near my desk at home. I am writing from my mother’s house today so I can’t pull the reference but the point is, each few pages in that book outlines a yogic regiment for a specific ailment. Stress, digestive problems, self-esteem issues?   No problem, bend over and breathe through your nose while gripping your knees and chanting a few syllables to the back wall of your room, then take a cold shower and chew a broccoli stem, move onto the next pose after five minutes, and on and on and on. I basically memorized the book when I was in middle school. My family was on a Floridian vacation and while they were at the pool, I was breathing, in my room, at home.

In my final semester at NTS, I returned to that book. It was on my shelf. I picked it up. There is a sequence called “Warrior” and I do that every morning.

I Warrior every morning

When I don’t do it, I can feel it. When I do it, I can feel it. Either way, I acknowledge my body daily and I have no pain. Everything works. I don’t need to wear sunglasses inside or sit on a cushion or obsess over squeezing a tennis ball. I don’t have to answer “how are you feeling” every day. I don’t have the egotistical inclination to just be Sick because I am scared that I will fail as a writer which was the ultimate path I took once stress had pushed me towards a depressive insanity.

I love my body.

It is very strong.

I work from home now and so I have time to wake up in the morning and just be with it for an hour and a half. I get out of my head. I stay in my body. I start with Warrior but then maybe I pretend to be wind. Maybe I pretend to be a child. Maybe I pretend to be dead. Maybe I just keep being a warrior. I don’t think about it. I don’t think about it ever, not after the fact, not the next day when I come back to the mat to do it again.

I believe it is very important for everyone, writers and non-writers, everyone, to move every day as if every piece of you is valuable. Move every day as if there is shit stuck in your pieces and, if you don’t move them today, you will never move them again. Feel for your joints, for the systems and connections that make up your physical self because that’s all you are. All you are is this body.

Thoughts can come later in the day when you’re trying to figure out which selfie best supports your personal brand or which of your employees you need to fire or which of the customers you are serving most deserves to be punched in the face. That can come later.

But, the body needs to be prepared or else it will weep. Sickness is so easy.

Take care of yourself

Get out of your head when it’s safe, when it’s for you, when it’s fun.

You can get back in later.

Believe me, your thoughts are not going anywhere and a remarkable thing happens when you take meditative and physical time in the day to vacation from your ego: you learn that you don’t need it.

Trust that your body can be here on it’s own, let it move, maybe take it somewhere and use sensory exploration to trigger inspiration, but don’t do it for any reason.

When you return to reason, pressure is gone

The secret is: There is no reason.

The body laughs at reason.

“You idiots”, it says, “we’re temporary”.

We are our bodies.

Don’t get caught up in what isn’t here.

 

Dear reader,

Thank you so much for being here.

If you can relate to this post, please share via social media.  So many artists struggle with alienation.  It is my aim to craft an inclusive community of individuals who can relate to one another’s pain.  If you are struggling or if you have struggled, am so sorry for your anguish but it may help (as it helps me) to spread these articles as far and wide as possible. 

Try sharing?  If it doesn’t help, delete the post (we’ve all done that).

Again, thank you so much and please come back.  Feel free to contact me with thoughts via the Contact page.

Love and Hope—

-Rachel