“The story is always better than your ability to write it.” — Robin McKinley
I’ve been wandering around the city, looking for places that inspire me to write because I find if I go to the same place too often — if I repeat the same patterns — I begin to find my mind in an infinite loop.
It’s an interesting phenomenon, one I wonder if other folks have. I don’t get the idea that they do but not living inside their heads, I can’t say for sure. If I don’t bump myself out of the rut, if I don’t consciously force myself to go other places and experience other things outside my routine, I find myself spiraling into a creative void.
I get stuck on one point. I get locked into one idea, scribbling and scribing on it until it becomes something different entirely, something new and so far removed from its origins that only I can understand the thought train.
It happens in my life as well. Patterns are important for my sanity. It’s part of a little thing called Obsessive Compulsion Personality Disorder, an issue that I’ve been dealing with (consciously) since 2001 thanks to a great therapist in San Francisco.
According to Wikipedia:
a personality disorder which involves an obsession with perfection, rules, and organization. People with OCPD may feel anxious when they perceive that things are not “right.” This can lead to routines and “rules” for ways of doing things, whether for themselves or their families.
There are loads of ways to deal with the issue but we’ve pursued a Cognitive Behavioral approach, one that focuses on goal-oriented actions (which is how I think anyway). I go through periods of success and failure dealing with it — as most of the folks who’ve spent any time with me know. It’s an ongoing, infinite process that will never stop because OCPD isn’t something that goes away.
Ironically this thing that makes me a difficult human being to be around (try figuring out my rules, it’s maddening) is what makes me a writer. (Apparently, according to my therapist, lots of writers have this affliction. Hence the movie, As Good As It Gets.)
When I get to writing, when I find myself in an infinite loop, I can spend hours — days — obsessing over my words. I can sit down and write 5,000 words in one sitting, never moving from spot. I can sit and write longer than I can actually write.
(My parents can attest to this life-long obsession. Whether it be sports — taking hundreds and thousands of groundballs on our driveway, computers — spending hundreds and thousands of hours parsing into the brains of machines and networks or anything I’ve done. It must be done thoroughly and completely before I can walk away.)
And therein lies the problem. My compulsion to write outlasts my mind’s ability to write. My mind operates on a different wavelength than my creative OCPD, needing time to recuperate and rejuvenate ideas.
So I find myself wandering, passing time, awaiting the moment when the thoughts and ideas return so that I can sit down again and write.
Those intervening times, those barren wastelands of isolation, are the times I most have to pay attention to the OCPD. Those are the times, if I let myself, that I find it easy to remove myself from reality without even trying. It. Just. Happens.
The infinite loop, repeating itself.
One last aside: the late David Foster Wallace is one of my favorite writers for many reasons. His essays are brilliant and biting. And his writing has, for me, traces of the OCPD (although I have no idea if he had it; I do know he was severely manic depressive). You can see the thought trails wander. They trail off, end and peter out with no apologies.
And I don’t think it’s an accident that his master work, Infinite Jest, has the title that is does. Of course, that’s just my take on things. I’ve got no basis in anything other than my own over-riding belief about this thing I’ve always had — this infinite loop. This belief that there is something funny about it, ironically funny, that the thing that alienates me most from the world is the thing that makes me most connected to my work.
It’s a cosmic, Infinite Jest.