There’s a pain scale image (The Wong-Baker Pain Scale) which I’m sure most of you have either seen or been asked to point to in the midst of your own pain. Invented for children, it’s become ubiquitous for adults as well, despite it’s reductive simplicity.
When it comes to assessing my own pain and/or energy levels, especially when I’m trying to write, or to create in any way, I prefer this one:
(edited: original image by @patricesmith9196 on Instagram)
It’s absurd, and yet relatable. It helps alleviate some of the frustration and unhappiness I feel when I want to write and yet there is a great void between my intention and the energy I need to actually make something. When I was younger I thought writer’s block was a lack of will, a kind of cowardice even, certainly my fault in some character-defect kind of way. Now, after long years of learning not to judge myself so hard, I experience writer’s block as something else- the body, mind and spirit telling me there is not enough, right now, to give. Just that. No judgement, no blame, just self-compassion, although there is still plenty of sorrow at times, and a kind of existential loneliness.
There’s another kind of writer’s block though: adversary-silencing. This has its own pain scale, ranging from Enthusiasm to Despair. Sometimes it seems the world is conspiring to silence the voices of compassion and kindness; the voices of vision and hope, of calls for reparation and change. It’s shaming and discouraging and the most toxic of all, it can contribute to our own internal silencing. On days when I’m ok physically, I can still stop myself from writing a poem, or an essay, because who am I to say anything at all, or it has all been said, or what I write will be wrong or worse of all, no one will ever care whether I write or not. This is a mindset brought on by the assaultive effects of bullying, gaslighting, and fear. And the outcome is a hurt soul and mental pain.
Yet, because at this point in my life I finally have the time, the means, and the luxury to spend my energy on more than the basics of survival (as so, so many do not), I want to evolve beyond the comforts of privilege I might otherwise cling to. To push past the silencing effects of mental, physical, and emotional violence happening on so many levels in our country, in our world. Sometimes that means being justly and painfully held accountable for what I believe and say (thank you especially, wise millennials, for teaching me so much). We (and by we, I mostly mean white people) are rightly being called to radical change at this crucial time in our human community. We all suffer when we let complacency or even despair, kill our gift of creativity.
Creativity, when practiced with a good heart, is a potent catalyst for change, no matter who is doing the work, or who the gatekeepers are, or who is sanctifying it. Creativity is a potent antidote to futility. That is something we can bring to the world, that is how we keep going, and that is how we can find a way to persevere and even to laugh sometimes in the face of the reductive absurdity of white privilege and fear; ours, or someone else’s. Creativity, at its best, seeks to alleviate suffering and to free all of us. So at least for today, I will take a minute to locate myself on the pain scale, even if I am so far up the scale that all I can do is think about what I might write if I had the energy to do so. Or perhaps I can’t think at all, but can just be a part of all creation. That’s ok too. I will at least try to remember to bow with respect to my own and the world’s beautiful and powerful resilience, and go on.