Defeating Monkey Mind


Monkey in Bali, Indonesia

Monkey in Bali, Indonesia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is a synchronicity to life sometimes that frankly both amazes and delights me.  In yesterday’s blog, I touched on fear and the yatter of monkey mind.  (By the way, mine is named Phyllis; I figured if I was going to repeatedly tell her to shut up, there would be more force to the command if I called her by name.  Apologies to those of you out there with that name.  No insult is intended.)This morning, I came across an essay by Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones) entitled “Facing It” that talks about temporarily (that’s an important word, pay attention to it), temporarily giving monkey mind the reins and letting her run free, but making her work for that pleasure.  By that I mean taking pen or pencil in hand or sitting down at the keyboard and letting the bitch/bastard run.  Give that soul-sucker ten minutes of your time and let her rage at you.  Give her a chance to let it all hang out, as they used to say.  Let’s face it — unless you’re a far stronger person than most I know, she’s going to have her say anyway, so why not control it a bit?  Instead of letting that energy depleating litany run over and over in an endless loop, get it down on paper.  You’ll find after a few lines that her repertoire is dismally (thankfully) small.  Bitch doesn’t have a lot to say, only the ability to do it over and over and over without cessation.  (Sort of like a toddler who picks one word or sound and then spends all afternoon repeating it.)  Maddening, right?

I thought I’d take a moment or three here to dissect my own darling Phyllis, to see what she really has to say.  (Oooh…a thought just occurred.  I think I just discovered the underlying reason why I chose that particular name for my anti-muse…but that’s a topic for a different blog.)  Okay, Phyllis, you have the floor.  Let ‘er rip!

You’re ugly.  Yes, I know.  Okay, actually, no I don’t.  I’m not the world’s most gorgeous woman, I know that.  I may not even be what some people would call pretty, but does that matter?  What’s it have to do with the price of eggs?  Yes, through much of my life I hoped and prayed that I’d wake up some morning and be what I thought was beautiful, but beauty has its own issues.  (I used to know a woman who once worked as a model.  Stunningly gorgeous creature.  She told me that she was so sick and tired of people responding to her just because of her beauty.  Men wanted to f**k her, women wanted to be her.  Whatshewanted was for someone to engage her as a human being with interests outside the physical.)  So, no, I’m not physically beautiful and that’s not likely to change, but I have a pleasant enough face  and body and I’m not about to screw with them with plastic surgery or cosmetics or Botox.  Unnecessary surgery isn’t for me; cosmetics make me break out; and the last one is just all sorts of wrong, at least for me.

You’re stupid.  No, I’m not.  I used to think I was.  I had teachers through school (Mrs Ashe in 4th grade; a 8th grade science teacher; a 9th grade math teacher — and I’d name them if I could recall those names) who made me believe I was.  (In the case of the math teacher, she said it to my face.)  I have my strengths and my weaknesses, same as everyone else.  I may be ignorant about some things, but that doesn’t make me stupid.  It only makes me untaught.  Do I make “stupid” mistakes sometimes?  Sure.  Do I beat myself up over them?  Yes, I do…although I wonder why, since I have Phyllis  to do it for me.  Do I need to stop doing it?  Yup.

I hate you.  Cool.  I hate you, too.  But you’re a part of me and I think I need a new determination to use you to my advantage rather than the other way around.  Next?

You can’t write.  Ah, well, there you’re wrong.  I write well and I know it.  Not from the words of friends and family (who, let’s face it, for the most part want to be supportive so they’ll say just about any good thing.  My family doesn’t like what I write — they aren’t into fantasy — and most of them don’t read what I produce.)  But those who don’t know me, those who spontaneously buy my work and then take the time to let me know what they think — both good and bad — are invaluable.  And, you know, the perverse side of me really loves it when my writing pisses someone off.  That means I got under their skin and isn’t that what a writer wants to do?)  I write well, but writing well and being  published are, alas, not always the same thing.  Not every good writer gets published (once or repeatedly).  We hunt for markets until our fingers bleed.  Unfortunately, there are plenty of poor writers out there who do get published.  What can you do?  Give up?  Not me.  If I stopped writing, I’d explode.  So I’ll write and submit and be annoyed when I get rejected and live to write again.

You’ll never make it as a writer.  That may be true.  I don’t know if I’ll ever reach that enviable state where I can support myself with my writing.  I’d sure as shit love to, but there are no guarantees.  But I won’t know unless I keep trying.

You’re lazy.  Yup, sometimes I am.  Sometimes I do a totally lousy job of prioritizing the writing.  I dither.  I do other things.  I make excuses.  (I think my old nemesis fear comes into play there, although I’ll need to examine that one more closely.)  Occasionally it is just plain old ordinary laziness.  Sue me.

You don’t have what it takes.  I think you touched on that in You’ll never make it as a writer.  I’ll be honest — there are days when the sheer enormity of what one is “supposed to do” as a writer totally overwhelms me.  It’s not only the writing anymore (which, in itself, is a daunting task if you’re going to do it well).  It’s the social media thing.  One must have a presence nowadays and I don’t know if I have the chutzpah to get out there and extol my virtues as a writer.  I prefer to let the words speak for themselves (hence this blog and the other venues I’ve found for my work).  How can I be on Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn and blogging and all the other permutations….and still have time to write short stories and novels, the words that burn through my veins to get out?  I have what it takes, I just don’t know that I have the time.

You’re a failure as a human being.  Sometimes I am.  Sometimes I speak before I think.  Sometimes I hurt friends…occasionally to the point where they don’t want to be friends anymore.  (That doesn’t happen often, but it’s happened once or twice.)  When I became a stepmother, I did some things well and other things awful….just like every other parent I know.  I’m not the perfect wife.  I’m not the perfect friend.  I try to be there for others, but lately, with all the running back and forth to care for my mother, I’m inclined to be a little selfish with my so-called free time.  (Ha!  What a misnomer.)  There were times when I was a sterling Coast Guard sponsor mom…and times when I sucked swamp water.  (Right, Ian?  Right, Pritch?)  My big failing (if it can be called such) is a burning desire to have everyone like me.  That hearkens back to my childhood and I know it and logically I realize that not everyone I meet will like me anymore than I’ll like everyone I meet.  Still, it’s a beast I battle.  I fail at things, sure.  But a failure?  No, I won’t cop to that.

You’re ugly.  Sorry.  Already touched on that one.  Is your litany over so soon?

And that’s how monkey mind works.  The endless loop.  The tireless run of words in your brain that undermines you to the point of immobility…or, if you’re persistent, can drive you on.

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About Melissa Crandall

Longer ago than I care to admit--although I will--I cut my writing teeth on fanzines and media tie-in novels. Since then, I've moved on to narrative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and essays. I write to explore and understand the world around me, the things I see and experience nearby or from a distance. If I shake myself up, cool. If I shake you up, even better. Not gratuitously--what's the point in that?--but to set what I know, or think I know, on end and realize, "Well, doesn't it look different from this side!" My work is neither sexually explicit nor graphically violent. Let's face it - your imaginations will come up with things far worse than anything I could write, no matter how descriptive. Besides, it's just not my thing. I live in Connecticut with my supportive husband Ed, a cat named Ruby who might just think she's a dog, and an epileptic Australian shepherd named Holly who isn't quite certain anymore who she is, except she knows she loves her mommy.
This entry was posted in Challenge, Choices, Essays, Lies, Life, Melissa Crandall, Monkey Mind, Truth, Writer, Writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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