Stuck Where We Were
by Jennifer Paros
Several years ago we had Venetian blinds in our living room that were old and had deteriorated to the point where they could no longer be opened and closed using the handle. Instead, we would fuss with the remaining nub at the top corner of the window frame in order to adjust them. One day I began daydreaming that I was in our living room struggling to open the blinds.
I stopped, aghast that I was daydreaming broken blinds. I was so used to their broken state, that even when I had the ability to experience them as working (in my imagination) I did not take it.
We have great power in our minds, even to the extent that we can become so used to what is, we forget to purposefully imagine something different or better. I was letting where I’d been dictate where I was going, unconsciously committing to an old idea filling the space in which a new one could be growing.
I’ve had this experience in my writing and illustration work as well. I’ve felt stuck, when in reality it was actually just an issue of focus, and what I was focusing on. In other words, what seems like a shortage of a good idea was actually just a matter of me in my own way. Here’s an example:
In my first years at art school I was starting to consider myself a bit of a surrealist, and was creating pictures that were complex, with layers of worlds peeling back to reveal yet more worlds. Each piece took a great deal of time and became a struggle as I worked to figure out and keep straight what was happening in the compositions. In the end I usually liked the pieces, but rarely enjoyed what I often found to be a torturous process. Then one day I became quite sick of it all and decided to do something simpler. I let go of the idea of complexity, and in came new ideas that I liked more and were easier to work with. These ideas came as a result of me letting go. I got out the way of the flow of new ideas by releasing my fixed stare on what I had thought my pictures needed to be and what they had been. I allowed myself to imagine something new.
Not too long ago I had a dream in which I was making cookies and I happened to put in an extra cup of sugar. Quite upset I shouted out, “No! No! No!”, only to find myself suddenly aware I was dreaming. I awoke to the fact I was asleep, and I thought to myself, “Why am I choosing to dream a mistake? Why am I choosing to dream something I don’t want to happen?”
Sometimes, it takes a while to realize we are focusing on the opposite of what we want, and that’s why we feel “stuck”. And just as with my broken blinds, often we do it simply because it’s what we’re habitually used to, an idea with which we are almost too familiar.
New ideas can come from our experiences, and yet they also develop on their own–not unlike a baby. The seed is planted, and then the rest of the process informs and directs itself. No expectant mother creates her baby cell-by-cell, bone-by-bone using cleverness, willfulness, skill or previous experience. Her resume is irrelevant when she’s pregnant; the work is being done for her. That’s the allowing part. She’s a key player, clearly, but yet more than anything, she’s letting something happen in her and through her.
And so it is with writing or any sort of creative endeavor. We are critical players doing much and some of the most important “doing” we’re doing is getting our old habits of thought out of the way in order to allow the new to grow.
Being “stuck” actually affords us the opportunity to awaken to what we’re focusing on and no longer allow where we’ve been to determine where we’re going.
It’s time to get un-stuck from where we were.
Jennifer Paros is a writer, illustrator, and author of Violet Bing and the Grand House (Viking, 2007). She lives in Seattle.