T is for Tartarus
Tartarus. The prison of the cyclops and the 100 headed giants and then the Titans. A place of great darkness – a deep, gloomy place, a pit, an abyss used as a dungeon of torment and suffering that resides beneath the underworld.
What is the writer’s Tartarus? What puts chains and shackles on our arms, our legs, our thoughts?
Osho, a spiritual leader from the 60’s-70’s says about creativity, that all children begin life creative and able to be artists, but that society and the way we are taught in school drives this out of us. We are told to color within the lines, not outside; play with trucks or dolls; wear blue or pink; be embarrassed to dance or play sports; that we can read, or can not.
Kindergarten starts the process, standardized tests finish it.
Osho was on to something. I have seen all these cultural beliefs (based on social values, not nature) placed upon my son by teachers, other children, by parents, sometimes even myself. Everyone is influenced by them in some way even if we do not act upon them to the same degree. Conform or be sanctioned (looked at differently, nobody will be friends with you, made fun of, verbal abuse, physical violence).
We start off as creative beings and lose sight of that wonderful freedom, so says Osho. Many think Osho was crazy too. I think he was a mystic, a crazy mystic who journeyed inward.
For me, writer’s block, the inability to write, is a personal Tartarus – a cell in the underworld with a grill that lets in only a sliver of light. It’s like Steve McQueen’s cell in Papillon (one of my favorite books and movies).
Loss of faith in myself and my work and a publishing system that grinds up writer’s and eats them for breakfast helped me to place myself there. I say place myself there because I own that the space is mine. I created it and I have existed in it. It is a part of my process. I know my own process of writing has ebbed and flowed over the 34 years that I have been writing and sometimes publishing. A few years ago I lost faith in myself – in my writing. In Papillon, Steve McQueen paces back and forth, eats cockroaches and water-bugs, talks to himself while his teeth fall out and he waits for his opportunity to escape.
I’m not big on water-bugs or cockroaches, even if they are high in protein. And I’d like to keep my teeth.
What saved me in my cell was that although I couldn’t write much in the way of new fiction and could not start a new book, I could still edit and I could still write other things. I kept my muscles working, even if only a little. I paced in my own way and looked up at the sliver of light that came from the grill.
I wrote blog entries about my son and being a father.
I wrote poetry.
I drew a lot – Faber Castle markers have always been my favorite. What I couldn’t put in words I put in pictures.
Until I found the door to my cell was no longer locked. I pushed it open, looked outside and started writing again. My process had changed. The words have not flowed as easily. But I have a deeper faith in myself. To me that’s the only way to get out. It’s better than waiting for Zeus to get you out. He’s got other things to do. He’s a God after all. And Greek.