Thursday, August 28, 2014

Alumni Voices with Jackie Hesse: Falling into the Void

As I was blow drying my hair today–after adding the special conditioner for the ends and the thick opaque gel uniquely formulated to smooth and oh, and a few pumps of volumizer to the roots–as I stood there, pulling the round brush forward and then twisting it just so, I lamented my fate.
If only I were somewhere isolated where I didn't have to get dressed and fuss like this.

If only I were somewhere I could just get up and all day long focus on writing.

But that's a lie, isn't it?
Isn't this hour-long hair prep what I really want? Isn't it somehow saving me from some worse fate? Something ... dangerous?
Aren't I actually grateful not to be holed up in an isolated cabin in a rainy wood, with no excuse not to write and nothing to get between me and that blank computer screen?
Yes. I am. And you probably are too.
Because here in our busy lives we are able to procrastinate.
Procrastinate. Such a Minnesota nice, innocent word for such a menacing, massive obstruction to our success.
Andrew Steeves is frank, and funny, and insightful about his ability to procrastinate. "We have all these fantastic stories in our heads," he says "and the only obstacle to sharing them with the world is the hours and hours sitting at a desk translating the language of your brain into something other people can understand."
Peter Pearson is endearingly honest when he writes that even when he was in a place, "where all quotidian roadblocks between me and Transcendent Genius™ have been removed" the words did not flow. Up in his literal tower at the Anderson Center in Red Wing he did not spend hour after glorious unmolested hour at the keyboard pounding out what was sure to become a "triple Newbery."
Instead, he came face to face with that thing we fear.
Steven Pressfield calls this thing, or blockage, or obstacle, resistance.
I call it the void.
And the void is not a thing, it is a feeling.
The void is fear.
H.P. Lovecraft
H.P Lovecraft said, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”
Scarier still is not the unknown that is lurking somewhere out there, but the unknown that inhabits the deep jungles of our own interiors.
When we stare into the void the questions rise and are released: What am I really made of? Really capable of? What if I am less than I believe? What if there's nothing more than me and this fear?
And so I cling to my busyness. That's probably why I got up to sharpen my eyeliners in the middle of writing this. It's why I take an hour to fix my hair, clean the sink drain, organize my sock drawer, pick a neighbor up from the airport. Doing any of those is so much easier, familiar and secure than whatever questions, whatever answers might be of asked or escape from the void.  
I asked a psychiatrist who specializes in addiction what addiction is at its heart. "Addiction," he said, "is the thing we do so that we do not have to face the thing that scares us." The scary thing is usually a deeply buried belief about ourselves, one that no matter how silly sounding, just might be true. We avoid it because to acknowledge and face it would be overwhelming. It may even destroy us. And so we keep ourselves distracted with booze, shopping, sex, gambling, the internet. Much like what we do to escape writing.
But there is no friend needing a ride, no socks needing organizing, no imminent trip to Walgreens pressing on us when we are alone in an isolated cabin in a rainy wood or up in a writing tower.
Instead, we have to sit with ourselves, with the void. F.E.A.R., it has been said, is nothing more than an acronym: false evidence appearing real.
But something greater than fear brought us to write, brought us to Hamline. This thing is love: a love of story, a love of writing. Love is not false, love is real. And love is stronger than fear. It is what allows us to get to the chair, to face the screen and write. 

Jackie Hesse is a January 2013 graduate of the MFAC program. She lives and writes in Saint Paul, Minnesota and teaches at Normandale Community College.