Contrary to what some readers may believe, I am a man who at times can be crippled by self-doubts. It may sound strange to hear that a writer who refers to himself as a wolf and world-eater can be emotionally fragile, but it’s easy to portray confidence when manipulation of the written word is your craft. The truth is that I’m my own harshest critic, and often find myself writing from a place of pain or discontent rather than happiness. I question myself, my decisions and my talents every single day. I ask if I am the writer and man that I long to be, and what I have to do in order to become that person. I deconstruct myself and my works over and over, constantly pushing myself to become more, and to give more of myself to my dreams and to others.
But living your life this way is foolish. When you continuously deconstruct and scrutinize every aspect of your life you either end up accomplishing nothing, or sending yourself insane. For me personally, I feel as though I’ve been spinning my wheels as of late. After finalising the editing process of my sophomore novel ‘War’ two weeks ago, I’ve struggled to find the creative drive that usually consumes me.
I’m not really surprised to find myself feeling stifled. It’s a bitter-sweet feeling to complete a manuscript that has taken almost eighteen months to create. And it’s a scary thought to think that I’ll now have to open up a blank document on my computer and start penning my way through an entirely new piece of work. And yet, I know that once I do, the creative urges that are currently escaping me will come flooding back in waves.
When I find myself stuck in a slump like this I am notorious for being abrasive and difficult to be around. I internalize conversations with myself, picking apart my life more vigorously than I already do. My self-doubts can cloud my judgement, and leave me feeling crippled with anxiety and the fear that I’m not good enough to start over again with a new creative endeavour. And yet, it’s often when I reach this point of frustration and defeated self-loathing that I find the inspiration to create once again.
…Which is exactly what happened when I found myself staring at the road.
People often tell me that the path or road that I choose to travel ultimately defines who I am. The proverb usually comes as a result of a conversation in which I try to define what it feels like to constantly be treading the fine line between being fulfilled, and feeling inadequate in one’s accomplishments. So while I know that my friends and family aren’t referring to a roadway in a literal sense (I’m not going to become a new man by taking a different route to the grocery store), the comment leaves me frustrated and often creates a point of contention between us.
But as I recently sat inside a café and stared down at the roadway outside, an idea settled into the back of my mind and made me realize that maybe there is more adage than I had previously realized. The thought went like this:
At some point, every single road within the country is connected. You can choose the wrong route and find yourself lost, or at a dead-end. But with the right direction, you could end up anywhere you wanted.
In a purely physical sense, if I was to walk out onto the roadway right now and stand on the two unbroken yellow or white lines that mark the centre, I could theoretically begin a journey that took me to just about any location within the country. In a psychological sense, if I were to close my eyes and envision those same two lines as my starting point, I could embark upon a journey within myself that is limited only by my own imagination and the routes that I decide to take.
It sounds like the plot for terrible children’s movie doesn’t it? The man whose imagination allows him to follow the roads he creates within his head; all his dreams are connected and within reach. He can be anything or anyone he wants to be… If he follows the correct route.
And yet this is essentially how we all live our lives. Inside of our heads we are constantly exploring the roads of life, making decisions that have the potential to alter our psychological location just as much as our physical one. As children we walk alongside our parents and guardians, holding their hands as we take our first delicate steps and begin to map the contours and gradients of our own life maps. With their help we learn the rules of the roads of life, and understand that poor decisions can lead you down alleys and laneways of frustration, angst, heartbreak or regret.
Then as we grow older and our carers release us from their grasp, we begin to forge our own paths. We follow highways of conventional thinking, and explore side streets and back alleys that are traversed only by minds inspired to do so. We become lost, and are forced to trace our steps backwards until we become found again. And we find others to explore the land with, forming relationships that allow us to experience love and companionship.
But we can’t wander forever. There are moments when we need to stop and assess where we are on our maps, or to appreciate the beauty of the roads that we are choosing to walk upon; or maybe even to admit that we are a little lost. There is no harm in standing still. There is no problem with arriving at a fork, or a T-intersection and taking the time to understand where each decision will lead us. When I feel as though I am spinning my wheels, or I begin to over examine my talents and desires, I shouldn’t beat myself up. This is just my mind’s way of saying that it needs a moment to refocus, and see where I am verses where I want to be.
So while I may have had a couple of slow weeks creatively, my mind has consulted the map of where I am and where I want to be, and I’m ready to start following those unbroken yellow or white lines inside my head once again. I might take some detours, or end up off course, but eventually I’ll reconnect with the writer that I want to be and we’ll start creating a new story together. Until then, I’ll appreciate that no matter where I am physically or emotionally, the road beneath my feet has the ability to connect me to wherever it is that I choose to go.