Squeezing the sponge: the poem

my friend anne told me about her theory of creativity many years ago. she said we are like sponges, absorbing everything life has to offer. then eventually we get full and have a creative outburst where our lives and loves flow back out again.

problem was she never specified who or what squeezes the sponge. but i guess that’s the big question, isn’t it, the one that every artist or writer gets asked. where do you get your ideas? what inspired you? and the question that’s just below the surface but that people never ask, how can i get my own sponge squeezed?

sometimes life squeezes us with a beautiful sunset or a touching melody or a warm kiss or a sad movie. but most of the time we are responsible for our own squeezing. writing is hard work and some discipline is required just as the artist must wash out her brushes and put the caps back on her tubes of paint.

most of the time we don’t squeeze ourselves. occasionally we have a good reason such as undergoing chemotherapy but mostly the problem lies elsewhere. we’re afraid to squeeze our own sponges.

there are a lot of things we’re afraid of. like it won’t be good enough, or it will be too good and we will be expected to continue or to make those difficult sacrifices and compromises that we don’t want to make. we are afraid of what others will think of our squeezings or that they’ll think we’re selfish.

we are afraid that squeezing the sponge will release things that are painful or frightening or unacceptable or disturbing—all qualities of great art.

we want someone else to squeeze our sponges for us. then we can’t be blamed if the results come out in a way we don’t like. also we’re lazy. or we don’t think our hands are strong enough. or we don’t want to be reminded of the billions of bacteria that grow in our everyday kitchen sponges that don’t even die in the microwave and that get smeared over surfaces that touch the food we put into our mouths. so our neuroses get in the way.

and it’s true that what gets squeezed out of the sponge isn’t always clean…but i would argue that it’s always healthy.

the truth is that i can set aside time to squeeze my own sponge any time i want to, i have just convinced myself that i am too busy. well i’m not too busy to breathe or digest, and i need to make this squeezing habit just as natural and transparent. my typewriter’s here because i wanted some mechanical assistance today, just as a new staplegun makes you want to go out and tackle some household project. i’m staring at an unfinished one right now, but there’s a typewriter between me and the shade cloth. so i guess i’ll give this sponge another squeeze.

From The Guest Room of the Heart

Squeezing the sponge: writer’s block

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