Posted by: Mark Nielsen | December 1, 2010

Stuck in the Pipeline

Cover of "Marley & Me: Life and Love with...

Cover via Amazon

Dark days are here. With or without the coming of December, I’m in the midst of cleaning up some dark, cobwebby rooms in my heart lately, which partly explains the lack of posts here at Marking Time. I also had to fix a clogged sump pump and some plumbing problems last weekend, a smelly and unpleasant reminder that life is often about doing what you can, then seeing if there’s anything left in you to be able to do what you want afterward.

Though I have continued to journal privately a bit, I have not technically published/posted anything new since Oct. 21. Not that there’s nothing new to say. I’m just questioning why I feel the need to say it, whether anyone is listening, what is too personal to throw out on the web, and other such tough questions. Throw in a fairly large dose of midlife crisis type hangups, and the recipe for a slowdown of output is complete.

I have at least a half-dozen half-finished columns and rants on various amusing or extraneous subjects, waiting in the outbox for me to polish one up and put it out there. But with the energy drain of going to work each day (which is going fine, nothing to write home about, though), and then the prospect at night of of watching a movie or spending time with the family, followed by the question that nags every melancholic writer on a daily basis (i.e. “What’s the point?”… you know that one, right?), it’s been really hard to “get it up” — to generate written material and maintain a steady stream of blog entries. I don’t even check personal email some days.

But my friend Leslie visited over the Thanksgiving weekend and asked about the state of the blog, and I sheepishly tried to explain all the above, and it sounded flimsy to my own ear. Then I watched the movie “Marley and Me” with Graham, finding to my pleasant surprise that it’s not so much a dopey dog flick for kids as it is an accessible story for grownups (especially men, or writers, or parents) about what it means to grow up, i.e. to believe in oneself, to accept real losses, and yet to go after the good things in life without allowing the genuine work and struggle involved drag you down. So it reminded me, you might say, what “the point” is, at least for me.

Writing –whether for oneself, for a modest little blog, for a newspaper in a dying industry (like John Grogan, the writer of Marley and Me), or for millions of rabid fans greedily awaiting your next book so it can bring a bit of sunshine into THEIR dark day– is an act of faith. Faith in oneself, in one’s goodness, in the authentic and clear voice that you’re trying to discover, to let out, to maybe improve a bit over the sour notes you hit accidentally last week. It’s also an act of faith in God, at least for me. Faith that the “still, small voice” referenced in the scriptures will always be there, and have something new and essential to offer me — and others — if I can muster the courage to keep listening. That when a thundering voice or unexpected grace is needed, it will be there to get me through.

An essay, column or poem can be a prayer, but in some other form than what we usually think of as a prayer. It can also be musical –an “alternative” act of praise– without the assistance of actual tones or instruments. Words can even dance just as gracefully as any ballerina, and with as much gusto as King David danced before the Ark of the Covenant.

Just as importantly, writing can exorcise a demon or two. When I’m feeling stuck in life, it stands to reason that I’d feel stuck in my writing. But telling a version of any story is often the first, last, and/or most important step to changing the ending of that story. It builds community with anyone who has opportunity to hear that story. It confirms deep truths, or sheds the weight of a doubt that has been dragging one down, simply by the act of “confessing” that the doubt is there. Or it sets off b.s. detectors (either my own or someone else’s). It stirs the pot. It keeps the flow of legitimate ideas and feelings underway, and thus keeps me from getting spiritually clogged… or “constipated” (thanks again to Leslie, for that word…)

But then, I knew all this before. So why do I keep forgetting?

Another friend recently quoted to me a principle from a favored woman speaker (sorry, I forgot the name): something to the effect of  “True spirituality is the act of remembering what you really want.”

What I want is to be at peace in my daily work and in the world, to  be comforatble in my own skin, to stop hiding out. I want to be engaged with life and not afraid of being wounded, or admitting that I am already wounded (as Jesus himself modeled for us). Even so, it may be awhile before I can put material on Marking Time at the usual rate, or of the quality that I have striven for over the past five years or so.

Nevertheless, I’m going to keep swinging. I will try to do my job and get the runner home. I will not bail out of the batter’s box when life throws me a curve. I will not get too down on myself if I strike out now and then. I will try to stay in shape and not show up to “spring training” all bloated and useless.

And the sun will be back. What is frozen does not stay frozen forever if one lives in the Light. Each life has its seasons, and winter has its purpose, whether or not I can see it from the small hole I often find myself in when it comes around.


  1. Where do we go from here
    Now that all of our children are growing up
    And how do we spend our time

    I try to think, but all I hear are the songs that have been programmed into my mind.

    In a lucid dream, anything is possible. So, I decided to meet with God one night. I went to sleep, and as soon as I realized I was having a lucid dream, I started flying upward to talk with God to ask what the deal was. Then I started to fall back. I became weightless. I was overwhelmed with a feeling of peace. The message? I just have to let go. Yesssssssssssssssssssssssss.

    There is no spoon.

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