Last night, my husband and I fought about Oreos. As ridiculous arguments go, this one possessed a rare degree of inanity. The end result of this rather poisonous little scuffle was predictable: the bag of Double Stuf was half empty, and we plunked ourselves on opposite couches in stony silence, I on my laptop and Greg on his iPhone.
Naturally, I was upset, and my upended feelings refused to settle long enough for me to work on the book file I had open on my computer. After I went to bed, dejected (next to Greg, snoring peacefully), I woke up at 5:30am in my running clothes. But my hurt feelings persisted, and instead of spending a glorious 90 minutes running, or writing (both of which could have boosted my sour mood), I wandered downstairs and sat on my couch from the night before, staring at my shoes, too phlegmatic to do much of anything.
When we have difficult days, our unsettled emotions can keep us from entering our familiar “zone” for writing, or running, or any hobby that brings pleasure.
In extreme cases, a lack of interest in one’s daily existence is a sign of clinical depression. However, if you can point to the cause of your consternation, and know that you just don’t feel like [writing, jogging, cooking or any other activity], here are five easy ways to break through and salvage your time:
Channel all your unhappy energy into writing. Sourpusses can make good storytellers. When you’re angry, instead of working on your article about the ascendancy of the Chinese yuan, tackle some writing projects that require such intensity. Been meaning to write that letter to the editor of your city newspaper? Emailed your congressional representatives lately with issues you care about?
Deflect your unhappy energy away. Deflection can be as simple as saying this mantra, out loud: “I’ll be unhappy later. Right now, I want to write.” Make sure that you acknowledge your emotions (so they don’t crop up unexpectedly) before you deflect them. Then, they can wait to be felt at a later time.
Write out loud. If you’re a restless type, like me, sometimes the only thing that can quiet the mind is using the body.
I love to run. A hard five miles over the hills in Litchfield County can leave me breathless, red-faced, pulsing and too winded to even form complete thoughts, much less stew in an argument or dwell on unpleasant news. If you don’t have time to exert yourself before writing, consider talking into a tape recorder while exercising as audible “writing,” and jotting down the good bits later once you’ve cooled off.
Deal with it. One of my favorite writing moods to strike when I’m exploring difficult material, like emotion, is matter-of-fact. This type of writing can be cleansing for the soul. Write very bluntly about the thing that’s bothering you (example: When I have petty arguments with people I care about, I don’t have peace because I tend to blame myself for them, even though they’re not always my fault…).
Make sure you’ve written everything you want to say about your botheration. Once you’ve captured your problem, get rid of the passage, Put it in a drawer, file it away or drop it into your computer’s archives, and get down to the real work.
Step out to help before sitting down to write. This could be as simple as petting the cat that’s desperate for your attention, taking your dog for a walk someplace new, finally deciding to sign up for that charity run or that five dollars per month commitment to the local children’s hospital, or baking some cookies for your kindly old neighbor. The surest way to quit giving your problems so much energy is to give that energy to someone or something that needs it. When you do sit down to write, you’ll have a whole new category of emotions besides unhappiness vying for your attention
And that, at least, is an interesting place to begin.