I believe in stomach ulcers the way most people believe in God.
I can’t see them, nor do I have proof they’ve ever existed in my body, but somehow, I BELIEVE THEY MUST BE THERE.
I mean, how could you do the kind of things we do and not have some sort of evil acid eating away at your small intestine?
You know the kinds of things I’m talking about:
Forcing ourselves to answer every email in every inbox before we can even think about relaxing (noooooooooooooooooo! they repppplllieeeeedddddd!), juggling a long and drawn out stream of luke warm obligations that stick to the back of your soul like gum sticks to the bottom of your shoe, saying “yes” over and over again like an enthusiastic bobble-headed chicken (when we really wanted to scream NO MEANS NO YOU GREEDY HUMAN BEING), giving clients our 100 bazillion percent, giving the blog our 100 bazillion percent, giving social media 100 bazillion percent, giving the taxes and the accounting and the contracts and the paperwork 100 bazillion percent, and doing the same for our significant others, our families, our friends, our other friends, and every other ghost from Christmas past who randomly decides to contact you on Facebook looking to “pick” your “brain.”
Let’s just all agree: This is how macaroni and cheese got invented.
(Spaghetti and cheese was apparently disgusting.)
We’re the poster children for chronic stress.
And there are consequences.
You’ve got the infamous greying-of-the-hair-ing, the anxious fidgeting-of-the-fingers-ing, the weird and creepy taking-your-laptop-to-pee-with-you-ing, the disturbing knowledge that mysterious cortisol chemicals are slowly but surely clogging every artery in your body and making you fat-ing, the snapping at the chirpy customer service representative at the bank when she tells you you’ll have to just “go ahead!” and process the wire one! more! time!–ing, and last but not least, the not to be forgotten, ever popular, shuffling around your big old behind in bed as you lay wide awake at 3 o’clock in the morning wondering why, exactly, they haven’t stopped making popcorn ceilings and simultaneously pondering all of the profound things that being a business owner requires you to ponder, like “Are those head shots going to make me look like a transvestite?” and “I’m a horrible person for judging transvestites!” and “No wonder sales are down,” and “I need to work harder,” and “Sloth!” and “Why am I even trying to sleep?” and “Might as well just get up,” and “WHY AM I REWRITING MY TWITTER BIO AT 4 O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING?” and “Life is unfair,” and “Nobody appreciates how hard I work,” and “My writing sucks,” and “I can’t even write a stinkin’ Twitter bio!” and “Maybe it’s because I haven’t slept yet” and “I should sleep” and “Sleep is for sissies!” and “But…sleep,” and “But…popcorn ceilings,” and “But…sleep,” and “But…so many emailssss,” and “But…sleep,” and “But Gary V says to hustle!” and “But…sleep…or else YOU WILL DIE because stomach ulcers aren’t actually like god and they WILL NOT SAVE YOU FROM YOURSELF.”
But I digress.
Because I’ve grown to accept a lot of that stuff as simply “parte de,” as they say in Spanish, or, you know, the stuff that just “comes with the territory.” I can deal with a few sleepless nights (okay, all of them) and a friendly little 40-year game of Sorry! Your melanin’s evaporating!
But beyond weird habits and annoying lifestyle frustrations, there’s a greater consequence that comes with chronic stress—
—and that’s the effect it has on your creativity.
And your sanity. And the ability to form a clear, coherent thought—even if it’s just reciting your social security number with certitude.
I have to say: Stress is particularly mind-twisting for writers. (Which automatically makes it emotion-twisting, too, since our work is our minds, and our minds become mush, and there is NOTHING less emotionally-stable in this world than a writer who CAN’T WRITE.)
While my photographer pals can edit photographs on auto-pilot with the The Ramones blaring at 2 o’clock in the morning, a writer can never do their work on auto-pilot. There is no auto-pilot. You cannot summon the ability to take boring, dry, overused & commonplace concepts and reimagine them into original, jaw-dropping works of pure poetic brilliance if you cannot seem to concentrate, you’re obsessively compulsively checking your email and the only thing going through your brain is an endless loop of “The Thong Song.” (Save us all.)
To a writer, stress isn’t only stressful—
—it’s an electric chair.
Heck, most ‘normal folk’ have trouble even writing an eloquent sick note, let alone award-winning prose. And that’s under normal conditions.
Yet, writers are tasked with the unspeakably difficult job of keeping their minds locked behind a steel wall at all times—because one day of concentration lost and an entire project might come unhinged. One day of stress-filled thoughts, and creativity is murdered.
And so the usual people give you the usual advice: “Don’t let it get to you!” “Just bang it out!” “Take a walk!” (By the way, telling a writer to “take a walk” when they’re in the middle of writing is like saying to Thomas Edison, “I know you’re on the precipice of discovering how electricity works, but why not just take a quick break and stroll down to the Turkey Hill?”)
But they don’t know what you and I know. They don’t know that the writer’s brain is a finicky little snob, and it refuses to produce brilliance if it’s not feeling up to it. Read: If it’s feeling mentally stressed, overwhelmed, overtired, overstimulated, overworked, and over IT. Yeah, you can “make it happen,” and yeah you can “persevere” and yeah you can “get through it,” but that’s not writing. That’s writhing.
So what are we creatives to do? Hide from the world and cross our fingers? Stop living, loving, talking, caring, sharing and existing? Put not just our minds behind a steel wall, but our entire lives? Do anything and everything to prevent bad things from happening to us in a feeble attempt to minimize the possibility of stressful events? Stop taking risks? Stop taking leaps? Stop challenging ourselves? Stop answering emails? Stop saying “yes?” Stop interacting with the world? Stop believing that most people have good intentions?
We can’t do that. And so it only leaves one alternative:
Make peace with the unpeaceful.
Stress, in some way, shape, or form (and maybe all of them) will always find a bed in the house of our minds—
—But instead of letting it plop down next to us in the master suite, perhaps we need to be more diligent to guide it back to the guest bedroom where it belongs.
As a guest.
The kind of guest that might show up at your house unexpected, without any wine, right in the middle of dinner, without calling first—but also the kind who you can train not to barge into your bedroom in the middle of the night, curl up under the covers, and then insist on telling you the 3 hour story about this one time at band camp.
We might not be able to get rid of the stressful things in our lives, but we can certainly excuse ourselves from them from time to time—even if it’s just to write one mind-blowingly magnificent sentence, edit just one minute of video, design one piece of the logo. Creativity comes in small bursts—and fortunately, so does traction.
You might not feel creative all of the time. And your mind might be muddled most of the time. And you might go through some really hard stuff sometimes. And you’ll start to flatline.
You don’t have to be brilliant all the time. You just have to be brilliant once, for a little while—and then twice, and then three times, and then four.
While you might start off with your brilliance tiptoeing around your stress, eventually you’ll get so practiced that your stress will have no choice but to tiptoe around your brilliance.
And sooner or later the hard stuff will faze you less.
And that’s the moment you take back control.
That’s the moment when your brilliance stops being dependent on the external.
And that’s the moment when you realize that no matter what happens, it makes no matter.
Because as it turns out?
It’s all parte de.
And things like stomach ulcers?
Are just a sick and twisted bonus.