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    My daily writing--emails, journal entries, marginalia, more emails, blog posts, and tweets--shapes me as a writer, helping and hindering the big stuff I'm trying to accomplish. Every word counts.

    My name is James Black. I'm on Facebook and Twitter. Friend and/or follow me if you like.

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Lost in a Tunnel

It’s been almost a month since Jane’s and my retreat. I’m reflecting on my experiences, by which I mean I’m daydreaming about the freedom of the retreat, the kind of freedom that allows you to figure things out as you go along, which is slightly different than navigating the murky waters of work-related troubleshooting.

One morning as Jane and I drank our coffee, a fellow retreater sat with us and shared advice she had learned. The advice was to live each day as if you’re emerging from a tunnel.

The image struck me as particularly fitting, an appropriate metaphor for my retreat experience. Each time I sat down to write, I didn’t know what I was getting into, and as I began to write, I felt unsure of my direction. I got lost in the writing as much as I could, torn between feeling like that was a good thing or not, but at some point I usually forgot to care and just allowed myself to lay down some words. At the end of a writing session, I would emerge, feeling I’d learned something, and usually ready for something to eat.

While at the retreat, I finished reading the latest collection by David Sedaris. In one of the essays is a line that seems to respond, from an oblique angle, to our fellow retreater’s shared advice: “Leaving the tunnel was like being freed from a clogged drain.” My joy in emerging from writing, I have to admit, is more about relief than discovery. Do things get hairy? Ugh, yes. But I persevere, no Liquid Plumr involved. Free, until the next time.

The freedom, the open-endedness, makes the tunnel of writing challenging. I don’t have to do it in the same way I have to do my job. But I have to do it, i.e., am compelled to. I can put it off, and I do, quite often, but eventually I head back in.

It’s so dark in there, and messy, and as journeys go, it’s pretty mundane. After a while of feeling my way along the damp, curved wall, I see light. Sensing a hair on my tongue from the clog I battled about a hundred paces ago, I become distracted for a moment as I rub my tongue on my sleeve. “Eeeeewwwwww.” My voice echoes. I realize I’ve made it all this way alone.

Then I give my full attention to the light, move a step closer, feel a rush of air, and say, “Ahh…”

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