The Hole


I was spending an afternoon perusing the writer’s guidelines for magazines and newspapers to whom I was interested in submitting some of my essays. I’ve written a lot of essays, so I had to reread some of them to figure out which ones I liked best and where I thought they might fit. This can always be a little tricky. It’s one thing to reread your own stuff when you’re editing it or after it’s been published, it’s another thing when you’re getting ready to submit it. If you’re not careful you’ll wind up trying to read with someone else’s eyes, trying to answer the age-old unanswerable writer’s question: I wonder if they’ll like this?

I was doing okay at first. I’ve been at this a little while, after all, and I even wrote a book about how to avoid that very question. The trouble started when I found that most of my essays were either too long or too short for the publications I was most interested in. Then I got an email back from The New York Times politely informing me that the Lives section was no longer taking submissions.

Before I knew what was happening, I fell into The Hole. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d fallen into The Hole, and so I didn’t yet believe where I was. I should have known, because when I’m down there, nobody wants my stuff. That’s the insidious little vampire-thought that quietly worms its way into my psyche. I made the mistake of rereading one of my essays, still hanging onto the notion that I was in perfectly good shape to keep submitting. The essay was a sloppy mess. That I had thought it was good enough to share with other people, that I had shared it with other people, was just embarrassing.

That’s when I realized where I was. Here’s the thing about being in The Hole: if you’re down far enough, which I was, you can’t just jump out. You can’t read your way out, or write your way out. You can’t tell yourself to just get over it, you can’t remind yourself what you’ve published and where you’ve published it, you can’t remember the nice things people said about what you’ve written, or the places you’ve been asked to teach. In The Hole, none of that means anything. All that business was in the past, and none of it was ever stable enough or real enough to support you. That’s what The Hole teaches you if you’ve forgotten.

The only way to get out is by doing nothing. Distracting yourself helps a little, if only to keep you from digging down any further, but eventually you have to just do nothing and let yourself see where you are. If you do, you’ll notice you’re not actually in a hole. You’re just sitting alone in your office and nothing is much different than yesterday. Is that okay? Is it okay to just be you without doing anything, to be you without the ribbons of accomplishments draped around your neck? If it is, then you’re out. If it’s isn’t, just do nothing a little longer until you’re reacquainted with the part of you that exists before you do anything.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual coaching and group workshops.