This post was originally shared on Medium.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that stress kills a boner.
During the two years that I was writing sex advice, the first most common tip I gave was to communicate. The second was to take the pressure off. If sex is a symphony of sensation, pleasures swelling and crashing together, stress is a wristwatch ticking just barely at the edge of perception, off-beat.
The brass is blaring, your heart is marching in step, and — tick — oh god am I impressing her?
The woodwinds are pulling you along with a feather touch, your breath captured, and — tick — shit, what do they think this means?
The drums boom. Your bones shake. Everything disappears but for — tick — how do I compare to his last partner?
A tiny wristwatch has no business drowning out a symphony, but the truth is that volume has nothing to do with it. It’s a matter of attention. Try to ignore the ticking and you only notice it more. The harder you strain, the more your focus narrows. Tick, tick, tick, until all you can hear is clockwork and you might as well be back in your lonely apartment for all the good you’re getting from the performance in front of you.
The trick, of course, is to take the pressure off. Mindfulness approaches suggest treating the ticking thoughts like leaves on a stream: acknowledge them and let them float away. A more hands-on approach might look like uncovering the root of the stress and working to dig it out. If you need assurances, seek them. If doubts are interfering, raise them. Rob the intrusive thoughts of their power by changing your circumstances.
This isn’t a post about sex, though. It’s about writing.
I finished a post today. After participating in the Women’s March on Saturday, words were practically dripping from my fingertips. I rushed to my computer, hoping to catch a few of them.
But the urgency faded. The ink dried. I felt an obligation to acknowledge the many important criticisms of the Women’s March before indulging my optimistic sentimentality, but that was kale before fudge. Today, with several days’ rest, I finished it, but again my cursor paused before “Publish”. The piece still felt off.
Sigh. Another draft for the bin.
Writing about politics feels imperative these days. A liberal arts education and years of blogging have convinced me that my thoughts and words are my most potent weapons, and with every day of the Trump administration bringing new horrors, I desperately want to arm myself. When my throat chokes on anxiety, I reroute the panic and think of what I could say. My imagined words quell the tides. For a brief, blissful moment I feel the serenity of control.
It lasts until I begin writing. Then the waves return. I agonize over every word choice. I strain for nuance. I strive for an impossible tone: optimistic one paragraph and sagely cynical the next. I don’t know what to say.
I love flirting with politics writing, but whenever we fall into bed together, I can’t let go and enjoy myself.
So I fall into a pattern. All I can think about writing is politics, so I start politics drafts. I write two hundred words on politics before my passion wilts and I close the tab. Days later, kicking myself for not Writing More, I return to the draft and extract another four hundred words. I hate the process and the product. I don’t publish. I convince myself I’m bad at writing and should leave the words to other people.
But I don’t hate writing. I’ve been doing it as long as I can recall. On the contrary, I love weaving words together. There’s magic in conjuring images through text, as I rediscover every time I sit down to write something not about politics. Get me going about the philosophy of Magic: the Gathering and I can’t wait to return to my keyboard. As a peek through my journals shows, I will write florid pages when I’m head over heels with a crush.
I write politics when I don’t want to feel helpless, but it feels wrong because that’s not why I write. I write for the sensual joy of expression. When I can lose myself in that — naked but comfortable, free in my vulnerability — the ticking stops.
It’s a matter of choosing who to fall into bed with.
I have long since learned the folly of blanket proclamations about what I will or won’t write. In 2010, I planted my flag in a post titled “Reclaiming My Blog” and implied there was edgier content in the pipeline. It didn’t materialize. When I finished my 2014 blogathon, I chirped, “While I’m certainly not going to be blogging every two days from now on, I am going to try to blog much more regularly.” That proclamation also dissolved.
So I’m not gonna say it’s no more politics posts for me. With my luck, I’d find my stride tomorrow and fill my feeds with eloquent thoughts on Every Fucking Thing That’s Wrong Right Now — making myself look quite the maroon for swearing off the subject. Without making any promises, however, I can say that thinking about this has helped me understand another aspect of my writer’s block. Knowing why I write, I feel better equipped to pick subjects whose music I can get lost in.
Violin and bed photos are public domain via Unsplash.