Guardian of the Well
Years ago, when I was struggling through a dry patch of writer’s fatigue after completing a particularly demanding feature story, my wise Jungian analyst remarked that “sometimes you have to take time to let the well fill up.” Like stones dropped into water, her words sank into my psyche and stayed there. Now and again, when I’m coming up empty with words or narrative, I practice waiting for the rain to fall and the well to fill.
Waiting for the well to fill, I realize, can conflict with the demands placed on writers by the hyper-communicative world of social media. As my brother John, a writer and editor, likes to say, these days you have to be famous before you’re famous. His words neatly fit the times, as most writers and journalists must feed the daily beast of twitter, facebook, and linked-in simply to stay competitive. This is not without benefits, as social media affords writers unprecedented opportunities to build their own media platforms without even getting out of their pajamas or leaving the house -- something this introvert loves. As I’ve also discovered, social media lights up connections with new people and old friends, creating vibrant networks of communication around politics, ideas, art, psychology, family, and other shared interests.
But lately I’ve begun to wonder if the solitude and quiet that anchor us to the depths of inspiration and creativity are becoming as endangered as whales and dolphins, or as polluted as the oceans they swim in. So what if, I wonder, writers were to become activists for silence and just being? For entering the secret gardens of their interior lives, and letting the well fill up with the sweet rain of dreams, images, fantasies, insights and ideas? More emphasis on preserving the wild spaces of our inner lives, in fact, might result in less environmental stress on the outer, natural world that is being stripped for our material enjoyment.
A dream I had pictures something of what I’m trying to express. Feeling inspired by some new writing projects, I’d recently purchased three new notebooks, and begun filling them with research notes and riffs. Turning off the phone and my computer, I’d savored the simple delight of musing and imagining. That night, I dreamt that I was in a spacious new home. Pen in hand, I was inside my study, sitting at a long, curved desk made of smooth golden wood. The desk was built into a wall with wide windows overlooking a walled garden lush with green plants and fountains. Musing out the window, I watched as a tall, strong, female security guard patrolled the property for intruders. The dream itself was like a film clip of the creative space I’d just entered, as well as the need to guard this enclave from outside interruptions.
The dream made me think that perhaps what writers and other artists need to do in this age of constant connection is re-imagine the architecture of their creative spaces: The real “platform” we rest on is the foundation of our inner lives; its firm underpinnings sustain us in our ability to tolerate the solitude and introversion necessary for creative work. Social media, on the other hand, is more like the 19th century salon or parlor; logging onto twitter and facebook, we meet with friends and family “dropping by” for a cup of tea or a glass of wine to discuss the news and gossip of the day.
Especially with work that revolves around the inner life, as mine does, writing means my words must spring from those invisible levels of reality we all sense, but cannot touch or see. For me as a writer, this means entering the solitude of my inner study and connecting to unseen dimensions as peopled and vibrant with life as the outside world. It means, in other words, taking time to fill the well within, then dipping my pen in the waters of life and writing -- then finding pleasure in some well-deserved salon time with friends, family, and acquaintances, on the web or in the physical, everyday world.
How do you take time to fill your inner well of inspiration and protect it from intrusion? How do you manage social media so that it doesn’t distract you from your creative and inner work?