Working the Kinks Out of Writing & Life

September 12, 2011 | 38 comments

She’s trying to work a knot out from my back, and it hurts — the kind of hurt that, curiously, makes me want to laugh instead of cry.

“Is that normal?” I ask her. “That I want to laugh? Is that normal?”

I’ve rarely visited a massage therapist — only three times — so I don’t know what normal is here, with my face pressed down into the head-rest of a massage table. In this position, I see only one bare foot with pink-painted toes.

“Yes,” she reassures. “Totally normal to laugh.” She kneads my back. The muscle protests. I have permission to laugh now, so I do.

She says the knots speak a language of their own. She can read bodies like I read books and newspapers. I know authors without looking at bylines, because I can hear individual voices in the way a person strings together words. And this woman with the pink toenails? She reads a sort of internal body language.

“I can tell you sit at a desk a lot,” she says, kneading a stubborn knot above my right shoulder-blade, “because of this muscle right here.”

” And I can tell you’re left-handed, because of this one over here.”

I tell her I’m a college journalism instructor and a writer, with three pressing deadlines. I’ve been at the desk a lot lately, with my back to the world. (And yes, I’m left-handed.)

“Maybe this will help your writing,” she says, trying to extract this tension between my shoulder blades. 

It seems obvious … that extracting tension would produce better writing, that kneading loose the knots might help me live a little better. So why don’t I do this more? Why don’t I step away?

Maybe it’s because I’m scared to “switch realities,” as L.L. Barkat calls it. Maybe I’m scared to push back the desk chair. How can I make my deadlines if fingers aren’t tapping keys?

I know this much about myself: I am focused, task-oriented, high-achieving, people-pleasing. I don’t just want to MEET deadlines. I want to beat them. 

Confession Number Two: I don’t want my work to be mediocre. I want someone to think it’s great. Under that kind of pressure, new knots form.  

I think of L.L. Barkat’s words in her new book, Rumors of Water: Thoughts on Creativity & Writing. I remember how L.L. writes that “we’ve let our bodies get frozen into position, and our brains are not as likely to fire with creativity…”

If we step away and switch realities, we can “take time with a real seashell or a real creek,” L.L. writes.

We can take time with someone who will help us untangle knots. 

“There,” says the woman with the pink-painted toenails. “You feel that?”

Finally, it is gone. No more knot.

And then — only when the pain is gone — do I finally feel a single tear fall.

How about you? Have you identified the knots?
How has “switching realities” worked out the kinks?

Work cited: Rumors of Water. Five-star recommendation for this new book by L.L. Barkat.

Writing in community today with L.L. Barkat and Laura Boggess:

by | September 12, 2011 | 38 comments

38 Comments

  1. Marilyn Yocum

    I walked away a long time and am convinced that staying in the chair would have down nothing but turn out fluff… and add knots.

    If I could change anything about that time, it would be this, to worry less. I worried too much my time away that I was failing to keep up. I kept hearing that voice and learned its roots went deep.

    Wonderful post!

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Thank you, Marilyn, for sharing. Your comment affirms what I’ve been feeling as well.

      Last week, I willed myself to stay in this seat for three hours straight. I wrote hundreds of words, and it was painful getting every one of those words on the page.

      I went back to the page the next day, and determined (quite accurately) that about 90 percent of it was completely horrible. Thankfully, I was able to laugh. I saved only a few sentences, and started over. But not before walking away from it entirely for another 24 hours.

      Reply
  2. L.L. Barkat

    I got to that last line and let out and audible, “ohhh.”

    Jennifer! That single tear has a world in it, does it not?

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Yes … that the tear would come in the release of the pain, not in the actual pain itself. It surprised me.

      Thanks for your book. Have a pio-pio-pio kind of day, my friend. 🙂

      Reply
  3. Sheila

    Jennifer,
    This is so beautiful. It’s reminding me of what she wrote in the book about her daughter not being able to write about the woods right away….somehow maybe that single tear was a sign for you that something you need to write is now ripe for your words?

    Thank you, friend. You always make me think.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Hi Sheila, I absolutely loved L.L.’s story about the woods. I hadn’t considered that connection until you raised it here, Sheila. Thank you for making that connection. I’ll go back and read that chapter again. (I have a feeling this is a book that I’ll be returning to over and over again.)

      Reply
  4. Michelle DeRusha

    I always resist taking time out from writing to exercise — I feel with my tight deadline schedule, I can’t afford any wiggle room. And I’m always, always wrong. Running gets the creative juices flowing. I write whole posts in my head out there, and then dash in the back door all sweaty, grab a pen and jot notes for later. You’d think I’d learn how well this works…but I still resist it.

    Awesome post, Jennifer.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      So you get this, Michelle? Makes me feel like I’m in good company. 🙂

      Reply
  5. Megan Willome

    That tear … that’s when this post when from good to great.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Wow, Megan. Thank you. That really means a lot coming from you, my friend. Love your writing.

      Reply
  6. David Rupert

    Who would have ever thought to connect a massage to better writing!

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      I know, David. Crazy, huh? I’d like to make a habit of it. Too bad it’s so expensive. 🙂

      Reply
  7. Deidra

    Our bodies do tell stories, don’t they. Thanks for this reminder that it’s okay to stop and listen. If we are going to be better at what we do, we must take care of ourselves.

    Reply
  8. Erin

    this is good. I’ve been struggling to get the words out lately. Thanks for the reminder that it’s okay– even necessary– to walk away for awhile. I read in *Teaching to Change Lives* just yesterday about the importance of learning and taking in so that we have something worthwhile to give– so our students (or readers, in this case) are drinking from a running stream instead of a stagnant pool. 🙂

    Reply
  9. Kathleen

    What L.L. said. 🙂 This was perfect. There seems to be a common thread weaving us all together today. Megan was brilliant too, today. “Life does beget writing.”

    I concur. We have to live, hear, see, touch, and smell our surroundings in order to have something to process and write about. amen. 🙂

    Reply
  10. Charity Singleton

    Jennifer – This is great. This is such a good metaphor of the struggle I have with writing. Sitting there at the laptop too much means my writing is stale – just like I wrote about on my place. A lack of reading also means lackluster writing. Getting away from the desk, reading, experiencing life, these are what energize the words, aren’t they?

    Reply
  11. S. Etole

    I rarely find words anywhere. Perhaps a few massages are in order. I certainly enjoy yours.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Funny — I think you always seem to find JUST the right words, and the right images. 🙂

      Reply
  12. Eileen

    Jennifer, I needed to read this post. I am in the process of trying to work all the kinks out as well. To find the balance between writing and life. This is all somewhat new to me and I’m having a difficult time knowing how to step away.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Hi Eileen,

      I am finding the balance difficult, too. And when those deadlines loom, I sometimes panic. I’ve been trying really hard to completely shut the computer down when the girls walk in the door. Just as hard as it is for some to do Butt On Chair time, for me, it’s often just as hard to get Butt Out Of Chair. I get so focused, and when that happens, my family and my spiritual health suffer as a result.

      Reply
  13. floyd

    I appreciate the type “A” personality confession. I think it’s probably typical in most of your readers? Just a hunch…

    Switching is easy for us that are still in another world. We wear the hats of a different world. I might be old enough to understand that the gift of living that dream might trap me at a desk chair, longing to push back and walk off…

    Reply
  14. Patricia

    I got home from work, whipped open the computer, started reading and sighed…ran to pick up kids at sports, made dinner, sat down to read again and sighed. Just then my youngest appears and needs something. So she starts kneading my feet (because, yes, she is that smart.) She got exactly what she needed and so did I. You made me smile and relax… that’s great!

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Hi Patricia! So glad your youngest girl could see just what you needed. I love how intuitive our children can be. 🙂

      Reply
  15. Lyla Lindquist

    I keep reading this thinking I’ll know what to say in the comment box. And I don’t.

    Because I really get this.

    Reply
  16. Laura

    Oh, ouch, Jennifer, this hurts. But you know the old eighties song, Hurt so Good, right? I needed to hear this, to be reminded of L.L.’s words and hear yours fresh. *sigh* I”m all tied up in knots lately.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      I do hope the knots loosen, Laura. Love you…

      Reply
  17. Diana Trautwein

    I am ABSOLUTELY with Lyla on this one. Perfect post, in just about every way I can think of. Thank you.

    Definitely time for a massage…so overdue it’s not even funny.

    Sigh.

    Oh yeah, driven, people-pleasing, striving for excellence. Oh yeah, I SO get this.

    Reply
    • Beth Werner Lee

      Diana, I can take you for one on Hollister!
      But for now, tonight, THANKS for doing Neighborhood Bible Study while Magaret is in England! Let me know when you’re free for that massage, ok?

      Reply
  18. Beth Herring

    as a ‘type A’ myself, i can fully identify with this post. i am steady working out the kinks in my life but so thankful that God is my massage therapist!

    i’ve never had a massage myself and i don’t think i ever will!

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Hi Beth,

      This makes me smile. 🙂 Glad you are working out the kinks with your Heavenly Massage Therapist.

      Reply
  19. Beth Werner Lee

    Jennifer, I saw the link from HCB in my inbox and because he titled it “Does your work need some unknotting” I figured it was something corporate and almost passed it by and then read Getting Down with Jesus and I thought oh yeah, I gotta read that, there’d be something there for me. Thank you!!
    Allergy season and rubbing out my shoulders just eases everything. Now and in December it’s particularly bad around here. But the one time I fondly remember is when a neighbor did my shoulders and I just wept out unforgiveness and found release. Isn’t that cool? She didn’t even know or want to know the particulars.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Hi Beth,

      I soooo get that — the weeping. And yes, very cool, especially when she didn’t demand to know the particulars. Blessings to you!

      Reply
  20. Laura

    Hmmm…maybe that will help my writing!

    Good idea…!

    Reply
  21. Dolly @ Soul Stops

    Wonderful post! It made me think of this quote from Corrie ten Boom: “Jesus Christ is able to untangle all the snarls of my soul, to banish all my complexes, and to transform even my fixed habit patterns, no matter how deeply they are etched in my subconscious [or in our muscles – my little add-in].” {Smile}

    Reply
  22. Jennifer@Adam's Rib

    Deadlines make it hard to hear his voice, too. Stepping away, working out the knots may be just what we need to simply listen.

    Reply
  23. Duane Scott

    It worked! I’m going to have to go get a massage because this post just rolled off your tongue.

    I love the thought of switching realities.

    Gonna feature this one on my site. Thanks for being so honest!

    Reply
  24. Kathy Robbins

    Hello-
    This is my first visit. Linked to this post from The High Calling. Great post. Good information. Look forward to my future visits and getting to know you.
    Kathy

    Reply
  25. Bob Gorinski

    We often don’t think of static sitting as a cause of repetitive overuse injury. But yeah, those muscles holding up the neck and head take a beating! Especially when you’re pressing against deadlines and you enjoy your work and you’re doing an excellent job (loved this writing). “All things in moderation” is sometimes hard!

    Reply

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