In my young twenties, the ceaseless pouring of words and dreams and art suddenly stopped. It was alarming; and more quickly than I’d like to admit, I became accustomed to the phrase like the common cold you catch — “I have writer’s block,” I’d say. I felt I cursed myself whenever I said it. It loomed over my life, an unmoving cloud.
I didn’t understand it then. In hindsight, I know that this writer’s block arose when I began to feel the pressures to transition from living a young life full of presence and fearlessness and adventure and being here now to a “life” of debt and big girl jobs and fears and bills and big decisions that need serious forethought. I didn’t know what to call the sensation then, but I recall imagining I was a pierced balloon pooling out water onto the floor. I didn’t question the pressures, I didn’t know how.
In this mist of youth transitioning I roamed, trying to understand who I was while weaving together a haphazard tapestry of who others thought I was. I began to try and tell the story before it told itself — guessing at the endings, skating on the thin ice of habitual future thinking.
This was writer’s block.
The cloud lingered overhead.
Years rolled by.
A little over a year ago, I moved home from the West, tail between my legs, after a catastrophic ending to a long and complicated relationship. I crash landed into my parent’s attic. I got a job, I worked hard to distract myself. In my free time the grief would swallow me and I would linger like a ghost in the quiet corners of the house. I was 28.
Grief is a powerful tether to the past, but it is also so particularly potent that to be filled with it is to be entirely present. There is no escaping grief in the moment. It binds itself to you. Grief began to well up in me then and I felt I would drown in it.
Spring came. A breeze drew in through my bedroom window from the forest, whispering green and recent rain. I dug up my boots from my still-unpacked suitcase and walked out to the tree line, my dog Ajie at my side.
My parents moved us to the country outside Philadelphia when I was 10. We settled into an old, old house, with creaky floorboards and secrets from many lives in its walls. My whimsical young mind saw the forest that stretched out behind our house as ancient and full of magic, and each day after school I would go searching for faeries, naming the dells and fallen trees and the rings of space where light changes — those spaces that feel different when you step into them. I never saw a faerie, as hard as I looked, but I sure saw signs of them.
Ajie ran on ahead as I walked with even steps, recognizing the now humbled landmarks of my childhood map. Still, the magic folded in. Into the roots of that fallen tree where I made onion grass soup in puddles. Under the steep bank’s knotty overhang where gnomes made their homes. The words in me began to pour out to the trees and to the faeries. The grief drained from me into the forest floor and I could breathe again.
It was not a decision, it was a need — I came back again and again to the forest to walk and sometimes talk, and usually cry.
The grief and the silence and the peace kept me in the present, and as I walked on through the days, I began to see my life anew.
As days walked into weeks, my awareness of what surrounded me bloomed. I fell in love with the dark, noble stands of stinging nettles — one of the powers of urtica is her ability to call hurt people into relationship with the wild world. Nettles are endlessly enchanting and giving of themselves, if you dare to step forward and exchange with them. They are a blood purifier and restore the strength of women. I discovered happy, shaking umbrella crowds of mayapples that laugh as you walk by. My explorations took me further and further out in radiating circles, binding me closer to this land and bringing peace to my old chaotic urge to run away, for fear of belonging.
The poems began writing themselves across my mind like they used to. The dreams returned. I had created space for myself and my heart in the here-and-now — I abandoned chasing abstract futures.
It’s a paradox, but I am more productive and more creative when I let go of hunting and instead step into deep presence and relationship with what surrounds. It’s a life lesson that must be learned by being felt. It cannot be achieved by action or study. When it hits you, it’s not like a train full force. It’s a realization like the sensation when you’re outside in the garden, kneeling over the earth, and the back of your mind notices the sun disappear behind a cloud. When it returns, there’s no loud crash or blast of burn. The light fills the space again as silently and gently as a cat walks into a midday room.
A year has passed. It is spring again. Ajie crashes through the skunk cabbage and heavy wet grasses. I am walking and watching lines of poems curve their way across my mind. I am voicing thoughts to trees.
A step, and then there she is — a little Jack-in-the-Pulpit — one dancing, curved petal twisting up, holding a tiny figurine in her cupped center. She is a wildwood beauty, muted green with nearly-brown violet edges along her petal.
My first faerie.
She is all these words I write, within her very being and the way she came to me. I kneel and look at her a long time.
The seeking, the running, the stressing. It is planned. It is future-minded. It’s easy to slip into being that way.
But this can become easy too — the mystery and the beauty that unveils itself to you when you let go and trust that the right things will come to you when you are just being yourself. When I carry this ease straight out of the woods and into the rest of my world, the blind racing hunt for inspiration ends. All the good things that I most deeply desire and cannot yet name, they come to me.
Like the man who has my love. I never saw him coming. We met simply, in this town, both of us pieces put together better after brokenness. I’ll never shake the feeling that truly, he walked straight out of the forest to come to me.
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Grace Antonini is a yoga teacher and artist. Her writing has taken her from Anthropologie to journalism aboard a ship in Congo. When she gets to wander, she’s in the woods with her dog, soaking up the beauty.
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