I was in sociology. Now that I'm pregnant and helping disabled homeless people, I feel strangely blocked creatively
Having trouble finding my column on Salon? Bookmark http://www.salon.com/topic/since_you_asked/and click on that every day. You could also subscribe to the Salon email newsletter and see how that works for you.
Another thing: Please write me more letters on problems of creativity! It makes me think!
I recently quit a Ph.D. program in sociology. When I started it, I was full of enthusiasm and desire to learn about the human experience. As I progressed through it, I found myself wishing to be a participant in society rather than an observer. I care very much for social problems and wish to fix them, and you compromise your academic integrity — or the perception of it — when you engage in social activism. Beyond that, I was very tired of working to someone else’s expectations for no money. The things I enjoyed writing were more creative nonfiction, and I knew my career would not survive that.
So I left. I now work helping disabled homeless people find housing. The day of my job interview, I found out that I am pregnant. Now I am six months into the pregnancy.
So here’s my creative problem: I don’t know what to write about! I am happy; my life is now consumed with logistical struggles. My new job doesn’t pay childcare, for instance, and my husband’s income is not enough to cover all of us.
The sorts of essays I used to write now feel too personal to share. I still write, bits and pieces every day, but I am anxious about publishing. I also feel like my exposure to ideas has decreased quite a bit. I pull books from the library a lot, and use my downtime at work to read articles from the places that gave me many ideas, but my mind feels blocked almost. Beyond that, I am quite nervous about finding time to write once my daughter is here.
Do you have any advice for relighting the creative spark, or to get over my newfound shyness?
What you have now is a generalized fear of disclosure that is stopping you from being creative. I suggest you look at your recent role change for answers.
You were a graduate student. Now you are a social worker and soon to be a mother.
You changed roles. These roles are really different.
Since you are trained in sociology you probably know how to examine the effect of changing roles on individual attitudes. I suggest you examine these things.
But how? Ah, there’s the rub. How? How do we make ourselves the proper subject of our own study?
To solve personal and creative problems we need access to our own hidden or automatic assumptions. We need access to our automatic life.
One of the biggest moments in my life was when I first saw the beauty of cognitive behavioral therapy in action. This has been a lifelong and necessary practice: to gain access to the automatic assumptions and beliefs I have, and then gain control over how I respond to them.
You may be quite right that your new roles will require you to be more circumspect.
But how? In what precise ways?
Our minds generalize before we have had time to consciously work things out. So we have to slow down that process. Cognitive behavioral therapy offers techniques for slowing that down. Making lists of our beliefs is one way. Making a list causes us to slow down and see exactly what beliefs we have been carrying around. “If I write this, my clients will lose their faith in me.” “If they knew this, they might fire me.” “If my family knew this, they would look down on me.”
These kinds of beliefs hover around in us but are hard to pin down. They’re like fireflies flitting around. I used to like to capture fireflies and put them in a jar and watch them for hours. We can do the same thing with these flitting beliefs and assumptions. We can catch them the instant they flit by, the instant we note a change in mood, a sudden feeling of discouragement. If we can get ahold of them, we can take them apart and see where they are valid and where they are just generalized fears, and where, even if they are true, we need not worry too much. For instance, what if a client did lose faith in you? What would that mean? Would the client then refuse housing? Would the client insult you or be harder to converse with? How bad would that be? What would be the concrete outcome?
You know what I mean?
And then the other thing, now that your role is shifting, is to affiliate yourself with new groups that complement your new role. As a graduate student, you would affiliate with other graduate students. As a mother, you will want to affiliate with other mothers. Ideally, you will want to affiliate with other mothers who are also highly educated and are driven to write.
There are such groups out there.
I have looked at a few online but since creative affiliation is so subjective, I can’t really recommend one over another. It’s not like recommending a place to get your tires fixed.
But I do know some people in this realm and of course there are rich resources here at Salon in the person of, well, all the women and mothers who have written over many years about the delicate calculous of balancing child-rearing, creative pursuits and social activism.
In short, I’m just suggesting that you study your new role in society and how it is affecting you. I think you will find answers there. And if you need techniques to gain access to your hidden assumptions in order to examine and deconstruct them, such as the techniques of cognitive behavioral therapy, then certainly avail yourself of this knowledge. The David Burns book “Feeling Good” is always a good place to start.
- Send me a letter! Ask for advice! Letter writers please note: By sending a letter to firstname.lastname@example.org, you are giving Salon permission to publish it. Once you submit it, it may not be possible to rescind it. So be sure.
More Related Stories
- Anonymous rallies behind Kaitlyn Hunt
- Mistrial in penalty phase of Arias case
- My text blew up in my face
- Boy Scouts end ban on openly gay boys
- Mississippi could begin prosecuting women for miscarriages
- Teenage girl claims she was beaten up for looking like Taylor Swift
- Billionaire hedge funder: Babies, breast-feeding "kill" focus, keep women from succeeding
- "Bookless library" set to open in Texas
- Man arrested for sending Craigslist sex party to neighbor's house
- Greek yogurt, toxic waste hazard?
- Glenn Beck: CNN interview with atheist tornado survivor was a setup!
- Incoming BBC news director on journalism gender gap: "We can do better"
- Illegal construction, shoddy materials at fault in Bangladesh factory disaster
- Pope Francis: Atheists are all right!
- Lawsuit alleges anti-gay hiring practices at ExxonMobil
- Boy Scouts poised to vote, still greatly divided on gay youth
- Is recreational pot use safe?
- How I ended up in a pyramid scheme
- My bipolar partner beat me
- Teenagers care more about online privacy than you think
- Radio host tweets rape joke, blames journalists for reporting on it
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11