So what does one do when the well runs dry? Mind you, it hasn’t yet, but for someone who has a need to produce that is always the fear that lurks. What do I do when nothing comes, be it words from my keyboard or shows or paintings?
When I left my job six years ago, I wasn’t quite sure where it was going to take me. I learned a lot about letting things happen and trusting the universe with a little nudge from me from time to time. I have become an appreciator of process and “beshert” (destiny), of how life unfolds, each action we take feeding the next experience. I am fascinated with the way we each write our own story, most of us unaware that we are doing it day by day. And I must confess to being intrigued with watching my own story unfold, as if I am reading a very interesting novel and want to see what happens next. I often peek at endings, but in this case can only live it out.
I began this blog almost four years ago when I went to study Yiddish at the Vilnius Yiddish Institute in Lithuania. I hadn’t envisioned that I would still be writing it. At the time I thought my experience would be of interest to others traveling in that region or attending the Institute. The conventional wisdom of blog writing is that you hew to a specific theme to attract readers who have an interest in that theme. I don’t work that way. I have many interests and many of them interrelate. If you are reading this blog you get a mixed bag from family history, travel, literature, identity and legacy, artwork and the occasional reflection on how it all knits together.That is the benefit of not doing this for a living. I write because I have something I want to say that I think might be of interest to someone else out there in the world.
But lately I have been thinking, “What next?” I recently closed out my most recent interview series. I’ve written about each of the interviews in this blog. There is not much more family research to uncover and I’ve visited all the towns in Eastern Europe that family came from. A few weeks ago I wrapped up an Artist Residency at a local synagogue working with different groups of congregants.
Now lest you fear things have come to a screeching halt, let me assure you I still have a few things on my plate, but I am at a point of reassessment. When I began this journey I framed what I did in terms of areas of interest, artwork and family history. As I moved into it more deeply I reframed it to a broader purpose, that of telling stories. And why stories? Stories are how we understand another’s experience and artwork helps to fix them in our memory. My artwork is one medium through which to tell stories, this blog and my talks are yet another. With story as my larger purpose I begin to think about the many ways one can tell a story and the prospect of a book may lie ahead. My interview series certainly gives me rich material with which to work. Researching some of the themes that arose may take me deeper into the material.
A very different direction has been suggested by friends who advise me to write about reinvention. Reinvention is something that I have done with some success and a lot of conscious thought. I am an observer by nature, identifying the patterns and points of connection, distilling them down to the core learnings. Many of my contemporaries are at that stage in life where they are thinking of how to navigate a transition to a different kind of life, one that feels meaningful and fulfilling. Whether my experience offers broader insights is something I will consider and possibly explore further in this blog.
So I am at a turning point. I remind myself that change often comes out of listening carefully and being open, a lesson I have struggled to learn and often need to remember. There is less certainty about the next step because it is a new one, one that takes me into unknown and less familiar territory.
I am often struck by the irony that in my former work life I succeeded because of my sense of urgency, my need to drive to a conclusion, to get things done. Now I remind myself that the need for immediate results is often a trap. Results come in their own time, not always in response to my sense of urgency. There is a gestational stage in painting where a painting begins to emerge in my thoughts long before I put brush to paint. Then there is an interaction with the idea, shaping and reshaping it as it begins to take form. I think that same process is one we play out at the change points in our life. A time where we must let go of result and open ourselves to the process, feeling our way, testing and reframing until we find our new direction.