Lately, I’ve been having a rough time being at peace with my writing life. For example, I recently saw my long-time friend, the woman I moved out west with; the woman with whom I spent a week driving somebody else’s used-up gray car across the United States so we could end up as far west as land would take us, and with whom, when we arrived in our chosen state, we kvetched how we’d entered desert, not rainforest, unaware we had much more driving to do to find all the trees. After a few years, I moved even further west, right to the edge of the ocean. My friend reminded me how this September marks twenty years we’ve lived out here. Which meant to me, when thinking about it later, for twenty years, I’ve been working at being a writer – sending stuff out, writing books, getting a master’s degree, teaching writing, and trying to “make it,” as they say. I cried at the realization of how in twenty years, besides a lot of writing in my drawers, it often seems to me in my moments of pity-pottying how not much else has changed.
At the suggestion of a wise elder, I’ve been reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron again. My copy of this book is well highlighted and tattered. I’ve done TAW twice fully in the past decade and re-done many of the exercises again and again over the years. Each time I’ve worked the whole book, the effort inspired new creative writing from me, unexpected writing, and also, made me know that my only desire in life, besides, as of late, being a present and helpful mom, is to write.
My friend suggested I re-do the exercise called “The Seven Deadlies,” where you put seven little slips of paper, labeled one each with alcohol, drugs, sex, work, money, food, family/friends, into an envelope. You pull one slip out and write about five ways it’s had a negative impact on your life. Then you put the slip of paper back into the envelope and do the exercise again, for a total of seven times. Cameron says, “Yes, you may draw the same deadly repeatedly. Yes, this is significant. Very often, it is the last impact on the final list of an annoying ‘oh no, not again’ that yields a break, through denial, into clarity.”
When I did the exercise this time, I drew Sex three times. I wasn’t thrilled about writing about this subject, for from my younger days I could recall several ways sex was negative, and, since the birth, how my relative lack of sexual interest is a negative aspect. But when I drew Sex the third time, said, “oh no, not again,” and had to write about the subject even more, I got to the awareness that sex is also about the balance of sexual energy – the yin and yang, the feminine and masculine – and how in my life, I don’t do that feminine yin all that well. I’ve known in the past that I don’t like the female aspects to be equated with the receiving vessel, (too much connotation of Shakespeare’s empty vessel comes to my mind). But this time, while writing, I could see how my resistance to my own yin has had negative impacts in my ability to bring my creative endeavors to full fruition. In other words, not accepting my feminine side has meant I haven’t been able to give birth in the ways I’ve wanted.
Being pregnant with a new life is the best creative thing I’ve ever done. I was most happy when my baby grew inside me, I felt the most spiritual, most connected to a bigger universe, and by no coincidence, the most sexual and sexy I’ve ever felt. I know this kind of pregnancy is not true for all women, and I feel sad for those whose pregnancies are the opposite. However, though I may have accepted that yin energy while pregnant, when it came to giving birth, my masculine energy forced its way into the room. My fears of opening, of being vulnerable, of birthing the creative life I had grown inside for so long, may very well have been part of the block to my hoped-for birth experience. To not have birthed my child through my body’s natural processes has been one of the hardest disappointments I’ve grappled with in my life, and I’m still grappling.
The other great disappointment of my life to date is not getting my creative work published in the ways I’ve hoped. This past week, I received another a rejection letter – a hand-written, fast scrawled “no thanks,” which the editor had to write, based on the date of the letter, the very day she received my long-thought out and worked on proposal, causing me to wonder if she’d bothered to look at the work at all. My wise elder friend reminded me the rejection simply meant my work didn’t fit that press’ list at the moment, and the editor said as much in her rejection. But still, I had to ask, with the twenty years of toil count fresh on my brain, why? And the answer that came to me: too much yang, not enough yin.
With publishing, it sure seems those with a lot of masculine energy, at least in their work, are the ones in the room (see, for example, reviews on this topic about Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, which I’m currently and inexplicably reading). Masculine dominance has often been the norm in this industry as it is in many, many others. Call the imbalance whatever you like – male privilege, patriarchy, penis envy – but, still, those men who succeed in publishing must be somewhat in touch with their yin. And since I’m a woman, and not birthing my creative work in ways I still hope for, I’m considering the possibility that my over-abundance of masculine energy is working against me.
At the moment, I haven’t wrapped my head around how I can be the passive, receiving vessel and yet still get my creative work out there. Every time I send out a story, poem or manuscript, I say a little prayer to the universe for the swiftness and smoothness of its birth. And I accept the (in the big scheme of things) rather minor disappointment of not having had the outcome of those births I’ve hoped for. But still, I’m interested in mastering the paradox of Sex, the Zen koan-like yin yang, which applies to both childbirth and publishing – how one must be open to receiving while simultaneously be willing to push. Balance the energies just enough to allow the lovely creative new life to come through.