The times in my life when I have felt most at ease, most like the person that I would like to be every day, are the moments when I am creating. The creative process should be easy, particularly if you have a natural affinity for something you might think “oh that must come naturally to you”. It is true that when I sit down and write for the most part the words just flow, but there are things that get in the way which is mostly my fragile psyche. I have had to learn to be nicer to myself.
I suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder (herein referred to as G.A.D.) and until I was thirty seven I had no idea that G.A.D. had so defined my life. I mention my mental disorder only to place into context my creative process. In my life before my diagnosis all my creative endeavors had several things that they all held in common. Firstly I rarely if ever finished a project. Second upon completing any project I would never take the next step which would be to submit my work and get feedback. Thirdly more often than not I would purge my completed material leaving writing behind when I would move apartments or simply throw work in the trash. I never held my own voice in high regard let alone did I have the courage to “flex” about my work.
It has been recounted to me, that as a toddler, I would quiet if I fussed when given a book, so 1970 me slept with car and airplane books. Stories surrounded me; we went to see plays in Cape cod in the Summers or Movies in Massena. These stories were the driving force in my day as a child. My mother would wheel out a black and white T.V. (Television set of roughly 10 inch tube screen, so these things were heavy) on a rolling table that I was placed in front of for a lunch of Kraft dinner. Bugs Bunny and Road Runner Hour taught me the hero’s journey and I was hooked. There is a rush that comes with creativity. You can feel it when you go to a concert; it’s a palpable taste in the air.
When I was perhaps seven years old I wrote a series of poems that my teacher asked me to transcribe to stenograph paper; my grade school didn’t have a photocopy machine. I claimed I lost the original poems the next day so I wouldn’t have to share them. That would likely have been my first anxiety attack, but this would have been 1977 and the most anyone would ever say of me as I grew up was that I was “quirky” society didn’t have the words to describe what I was.
I knew I was a writer in my heart though in the summer of 1986. I was fifteen years old (turning sixteen in the beginning of July) and by the end of that summer away I would forever have a writing implement at hand. I’ve been figuring myself out since I first went off to boarding school at 13. The year of 1986 I had spent 92 days in my father’s home or on family vacations. My real life was spent at summer camp and the rest of the year at my High School Home in Plattsburgh NY, I could be myself in those places, I had been developing the real me, only in retrospect are these things clear now. Summer of 1986 my summer camp best friends were Larry and Eric and together we somehow connived to put on our own “Saturday Night Live” for the staff. So a few weeks that summer we sat the three of us and wrote.
The C.I.T. (Counselor in training) section of camp was arranged with Girls and Boys Cabins divided by a head counselor cabin, which had a netted in porch. That porch was where we figured out how to arrange a show that we had only ever watched, the skits were ingrained in us. Discovering the process of constructing so complex a task, only the truly naive could take it on with as much confidence as we seemed to have. That youthful exuberance was my fuel, the alchemy of life would have to continually find new renewable sources.
My senior year of high school I made a few stumbling attempts again to explore my creativity. Through the school year for my junior year I found ways to explore my creativity. I helped with layout of the year book, wrote an ill-fated play with my friend Karen, and finally at years end, I showed my homeroom and English teacher my fairly lengthy short story. None of those attempts resulted in a particular amount of accolade and so the absent requisite outside encouragement that I needed left me paralyzed. I had this creative force inside me that I hadn’t the courage to face. I burdened myself with notions of what it would mean to send my writing to publishers. There was no internet and the idea of printing Zines wasn’t something I was aware of. Sending my writing to publishers seemed like an outrageous dream. I would persist no further than to write down my thoughts and put them away.
…Then they start murdering your people again and you can’t keep your damn mouth shut. My voice, the one that I share with you now, it wants nothing more from life than to tell stories and damn my anxiety, because I have no other saleable quality. We are all people and this is me, shitty back and out of shape and unemployed, yes I mean what is colloquially known as “Welfare”. So for the right wing fellow in the audience I am a socialist.
What I am is a writer, an observer of people and our strange habits. I firmly believe that if you get most people alone (notice I do not say all) for five minutes over coffee they can be quite nice. The barest minimum of social etiquette still remains in certain public domains, the grocery store and café (coffee shop) opportunities arise to offer assistance when someone is in need. The small kindnesses of holding a door or helping someone with a grocery cart. It’s been the way that I have reminded myself that my neighbors are just people. Those little interactions are most often with people for whom I likely don’t share a political viewpoint, That’s fine so long as we remember to keep above all a sanctity to life,
You can make those moments any time; offer that small kindness to a stranger. With an ideology you can never make assumptions. So I try to make them in my day to day activities, these small gestures of holding a door, saying please and thank you. Performing a #smallkindness will pile up and make a difference.
Finding the courage to after all these years simply start sharing my voice has been the best kindness I could offer myself.
J. Avery Cain
Post Script: My writing process consists of Cue Cards and legal pads. On cue cards I write ideas and place these in a grid like layout on a wall. Sometimes in order of priority but usually the layout of the cards is a timeline of events. The entirety of Project P was developed in this way. Excel spread sheets work just as well and are great for quick referencing. Essential to my process is research and reading for pleasure.
Be seeing you,
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