Thoughts on ERP, Writing, & Uncertainty

Uncertainty.

For so many years, it was my enemy– or so I perceived it, especially because full-blown clinical obsessive-compulsive disorder made me fear and reject uncertainty even more than the average bear. Everything in my life was about pursuing certainty, answers, black & white.

And, of course, I was miserable.

In 2008, I went through the harrowing but ultimately beautiful process of exposure therapy, which took my OCD out at the knees, giving me the bandwidth to live with uncertainty, questions, and all the shades of gray.

It’s only recently that I’ve recognized exposure therapy as the training ground (or maybe even battle ground) that would let me later pursue my dreams of being an author.

A hard truth: writing is full of uncertainty. 

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Not just writing– but publishing itself too. There is this crazy-making stretch of life in the middle of writing a book that feels both unclear and perpetual. What is this book really about? Who are these characters? Can I do this? Can I finish this? Is this story going to matter to anyone but me? Is this going to even matter to me? Will my writing group like it? Will my agent? My editor? Readers? Will I find success? Will I get another contract?

The writing life is, for many of us (and especially for younger writers), a world in grayscale: a constant state of uncertainty that we have to persist in in order to find any relief or success.

For as many days as I think I’m totally failing at life and writing, I have to remember what it would have been like to be writing and publishing before exposure therapy, back when uncertainty was unbearable. I’m not even sure how it would have been possible to be doing what I’m doing now without exposure therapy laying the groundwork for me to bear the not-knowing, let alone to thrive in it.

“The world doesn’t work that way.” I hear myself and other OCD awareness advocates saying this to sufferers all the time. In context, we mean, “Life inherently is full of uncertainty. You cannot eliminate it.”

The truth of that hits me over and over again in the field of writing.

Exposure therapy was the terrible, grueling practice for the writing life. Uncertainty is rampant; I try to keep my arms open.

 

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I spent last weekend with my incredible friend Cindy, whom I know from Northwestern.  Cindy went to law school at Georgetown and now lives and works in Washington, DC, and she was kind enough to take the Amtrak to Boston to spend the weekend with me.  So, so good.

We did lots of fun stuff, but to be honest, some of the best parts of the weekend were just all the wonderful conversations.  You have to understand that Cindy is 100% brilliant, and you can talk to her about absolutely anything, and she has all this valuable insight.  One night, we ate a late dinner at the Cactus Club (where, btw, I had the most incredible chicken and avocado quesadillas), and we got to talking about Rene Descartes (since I had begun his book Meditations on the flight out to Boston and because he is playing quite a significant role in my YA book) and about his dream argument and the way he was establishing universal doubt.  It led to a great conversation on uncertainty and how healthy it actually is (in fact, it was the key to my therapy!).

Cindy and I talked about how certain statements and discussions used to jar us in regard to faith, but how as we got older, we both reached a point where we decided, “Look, I am committed to this Christianity thing.  I think it is true, even though I can’t really know that.  But I’m not going to be swayed by every new scientist and fact and detail and argument that arises.  I’ve made a choice and I’m sticking with Christ regardless.”

I’d like to hear what you think about this.  My assumption is that different ages will have different reactions.

Not to go all Narnia-nerd on you (but let’s be honest, I can’t always help it), but I told Cindy it reminded me a lot of Puddleglum the Marshwiggle in The Silver Chair.  Are you familiar?  Let me set the scene for you.

Puddleglum and friends are in the Underworld, and the evil Queen of Underworld is strumming her magical guitar and has tossed some sweet-smelling something-or-another into the fire, and the marshwiggle and his friends are falling under her spell as she tries to convince them that there is no Overworld.

“But we’ve seen the sun!” they argue.  The queen asks what a sun is, and they describe it as very large, very bright lamp.

“You’ve seen my lamp,” she contradicts, “and so you imagine a bigger and better one and call it a sun.”  The same argument is repeated when they bring up Aslan.  “You’ve seen a cat,” she said, “and you imagine a bigger and better one and call it a lion.”

But Puddleglum puts his foot into the fire, shocking him into clarity, and he essentially says, “It’s sad that if you’re right, we’ve still managed to make a play, fake world that licks your real world hollow.”  Then he goes on to say, “I’m going to live like a Narnian, even if there isn’t any Narnia.  I’m going to serve Aslan, even if there isn’t any Aslan.”

Cindy and I feel the same way about Christianity.  Now, don’t get me wrong: I believe Christianity is real, and I believe Christ is real and is alive today and is working in my life.  But I will allow for doubt.  Uncertainty in certain dosages can be very healthy, and I have made a choice to serve Jesus Christ, no matter what.

Thoughts?