A Girl, A Log Cabin, and a Head Full of Neuroses

Last week I embarked on my first ever writing sabbatical. I dropped my son off at school Monday morning, packed the dog in the car, loaded up on goodies at Wegman’s, and listened to 4 hours of RadioLab as I drove to Deep Creek, MD. 

A friend had generously loaned her cabin to me for the week and this is what I pictured: 5-6 days of non-stop, up-all-night, can’t-put-the-keyboard-down writing. The kind of writing that helped me finish my master’s thesis in 72 hours consisting on nothing more than Butterfingers and Dunkin Donuts coffee. The kind of writing that inspired me to figure out how to start a blog and get writing in the first place. My best writing has always been of the fast and furious nature. It’s how I composed many a lamenting post-breakup letter, and even how I won the essay contest in 2013 that helped me first get published. Fast and furious writing works for me because it doesn’t allow my brain a chance to interfere with the message I’m trying to convey. There’s simply no space for nagging criticisms, constant rewrites, and the molecules of doubt that are so eager to invade each oxygen intake. But alas, fast and furious was not what my sabbatical had in store for me.

Instead, I found myself sequestered with no human interaction except the most painful, annoying roommate imaginable: ME. For about 48 hours the cabin was transformed into my own personal padded room, a safe and isolated space for my multiple personalities to emerge and strike warfare against one another.

You can’t write a whole book, idiot. Who asked you to anyway?

And how long have you been working on this project? And what can you show so far?

You’re not a real writer anyway. You landed here through extraordinary, unforeseen circumstances.

In return, I had only the following answers to offer (relayed to my other self during sporadic breaks from an avoidant Netflix binge):

No one asked to me write a book. And who knows if I can write a good one? But maybe I could finish a crappy one.

Um I’ve been working on this project for 2+ years. What I have to show so far are a lot of unnecessary revisions.

You’re right. I’m not a real writer. And that’s mostly because I’m not writing right now. Instead I am wallowing in consuming, paralyzing panic. This makes me a professional anxiety producer, but certainly not a professional writer.

These conversations went on for longer than I care to admit. Back and forth, on and on: “You can’t do this,” “Yeah, you’re right.” It wasn’t inspiring. It was maddening. It was also probably necessary.

At the end of last school year I left my job as a fourth grade teacher to try something new and scary and risky. And while I’ve always been a proponent of change, I don’t think I’d given myself much of a chance to process what a significant shift in identity this decision has caused. With some other big changes on the horizon, I’ll admit that I’m a little bit of a hot mess as I struggle to grip hold of the faith that everything will indeed turn out alright. What I need to do next, I already know. In fact, I’ve done it before. And that is to dance like no one’s watching, write like no one is reading, and live as if the worst thing has already happened, The possibility of professional failure carries very little weight when you’re able to operate with this mindset. In life, the only real stakes of consequence are those that affect our survival. Finding and embracing our creative outlets is nice and spiritually rewarding,, but the reality is that it’s not a life or death situation. We can choose to create or we can choose to pass and we’ll probably end up just fine in the end. But at my core, I know passing is just not an option for this particular project. I don’t want to spend years upon years in a metaphorical cabin yelling at myself for taking the passive approach to life.

I recently gave a speech on the topic of resilience vs. fear, but if I have any secret, it’s that I’m full of fear. ALL THE FREAKING TIME. I worry endlessly about the future, our safety, our health, global warming (and, honestly, we should all be a little more worried on this topic), financial stability, whether my son will start running with the wrong crowd when he gets to middle school (he just turned five), etc., etc.. It’s a fucking circus in my head most of the time, as I’m sure it is in yours, so it serves us well to sequester ourselves once in awhile and battle it out until it’s possible to press the restart button. Fast forward almost a week, and I feel pretty good about getting the crazy out of my head – that is, until my next tune-up.

Big takeways from this maddening, enlightening experience? When it comes to our worst enemies, it’s a close tie between foreign terrorists and ourselves. At least with ourselves, we have the power to take down the enemy peacefully and as frequently as necessary. Other big lessons: sometimes being a writer is as dramatic and nonsensical as the Ernest Hemingway character portrays it in the movie Midnight in Paris. In other words, much ado about pretty much nothing but our own fragile egos. Lastly, you can only give yourself a title if you actually do the thing implied by that title, which is why I’m relieved to end with the declaration that today I was a writer.

And finally, questions to engage the audience:

  • Is anyone else as obsessed with RadioLab as I am? If so, can we compare favorite episodes?
  • Do other reasonable people go to the woods alone? Or was this just a half-brained experiment performed by a conversationally-dependent, urban extrovert?
  • Are you sad there are no photos with this blog post? I’m testing for attention and IQ here. It seems like everything has to have a photo in order to be readable these days.

Wishing you peace and victory as you manage your own inner battles today.
​XO Abby 

7 thoughts on “A Girl, A Log Cabin, and a Head Full of Neuroses

  1. Wonderful write. I can only imagine how great your book will be when you capture my interest when you just put down a thought. Especially when I don’t like reading.

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  2. As evidence that you can write a book, please reread your post. 🙂 I read the entire post, even if there were no photos and even though I’ve never heard RadioLab. Your honesty, humility, and insight are so clearly evident in your writing that I can’t help but read it all.
    And yes, I, a fellow conversationally-dependent urban extrovert, has also gone off to the woods for a week. I chose to travel by bike and camp with this great idea that I could (a) prove that I could do it, even though no one questioned this and (b) be alone, even though as it turns out, I like company.
    Please keep writing.

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  3. I have a relative who is a psychologist and he once told me that fear is the ONLY motivator. I had to really think about that, but I believe he is correct. Everything we do, when you take it down to it’s basic level, is done out of fear. We eat so that we don’t starve (fear of pain and death). We get dressed every morning because we are afraid of cold (pain) or embarrassment (nudity). I put new license plates on my car today, because if I didn’t, I have a fear that the law will get me. You can go on and on. Even the most mundane things we do is related to fear. So…….my friend…….you are entirely normal.

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  4. I went to grad school with TC, and have followed your posts off and on over the years. One thing that I have found dealing with some minor trauma in the last year is meditation to calm all those crazy thoughts. Also, I now listen a lot to Tara Brach podcasts and meditations. She’s pretty awesome. I think with time this kind of practice and reflecting can help find security and grounding amid the chaos and fears of life.
    Great post, and I look forward to reading your book! no pressure 😉

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