Stuck in a Rut by Jamie L. Rotante

Aug 29, 2019

One Punk’s Look at Social Anxiety, Neuroticism and Other Fun Stuff

Illustration by Laura Collins

Lately, I’ve been feeling very... stuck. I’m blocked creatively, professionally, and personally but there’s no real reason behind it. I can’t even say that there are actual obstacles or people in my way—it’s just a feeling. It’s not that I don’t have ambitions, trust me—if anything I have too many. I write them down and make handy to-do lists to keep track of each one, but I’m lacking the drive to dig my heels into the ground and actually put any of those plans into action.

I go to work. I go home. I cook dinner and work out (or think about working out while my husband cooks dinner), then I think about all the things I want to get started on before settling in on the couch and playing asinine games on my phone until it’s time to go to bed.

My to-read list piles up. My to-write list piles up even further. My box of scrapbooking and collaging materials stare at me with shame in their googly eyes. My yoga mat pleads me to come back to it. They all have the power to make me feel guilty, but not enough to actually kick my ass into full gear. I blame my lack of drive on the heat, or the humidity, or Mercury’s endless romp in retrograde, or anything that’s beyond my control that prevents me from doing the things I want to do that are in MY control.

I’m seeing so many people around me making big changes—starting families, moving, switching career paths—and I don’t necessarily want any of those things, not now at least, yet I feel as though my routine has gotten stale. But how do you clear static when you fear change? Can I just sprinkle a little water on my life and toss it in the microwave for ten seconds to revive it? I try forcing myself to write. I buy a notebook with writing prompts and inspirational quotes from famous authors. I save a million articles of interest to read later. I still find myself glued to that damn couch, serving digital entrees and accumulating star points to become the most popular celebrity in Hollywood.

Here’s the other thing about feeling stuck in a rut—the stagnation of it makes my mind think of another thing… death. It’s that mix of idleness and the realization of how quickly time passes that sends my mind racing. The summer always serves as a reminder of how fast the world turns. Blink and before you know it you’re hanging Christmas lights or baring your face toward a bitter March wind, hoping for summer to come back again. This time of year scares me in that way; time feels especially fleeting and sometimes that in and of itself leads to a lack of productivity. Who wants to stay cooped up inside getting things done when there’s so much to see outside? Summer is a time for friends and sunshine, not deadlines and chores.

Yet when I’m sitting outside, sweating in the sun, racking my brain to take in every moment of summer and trying to harness that warm energy to be creative, all I can think about is death. Wondering how life would be if loved ones were still with me to enjoy this time. Thinking of how fast everything moves and if anyone really has the time to do all the things they want to do in life. Worrying that I’m wasting my time doing nothing while the clock keeps tick, ticking away.

...and that’s how I started writing again.

I’ve started embracing the concept of death—not in a fearless, “bring it on” kind of way, but in the sense that it can be used to create something new. Death is scary and grief is weird, but death’s also a great tool for art. It’s universal and the emotions that come with it vary, so why sit around worrying about it instead of harnessing it and turning it into a beautiful piece of art? Bringing life to it, so to speak. And writing about it led me to stop thinking of how soon summer will be over and to instead start looking forward to what the rest of it will bring, how the beginning of each month serves as a reminder of that newness of life and of how you can always start over.

Summer is still here. I’m still here and life is still all around me. We’re no longer stuck smack dab in the middle of a heatwave, too afraid to move. Cooler air is moving in and the light of day may be getting shorter, but there’s still time. And I can always make the time if I just let myself press the pause button every now and then, and let life guide and lead me to what it is I really want to do next.

So I’ve been writing, I’ve been focusing on my health again, and I’ve started drudging through the doldrums and realizing that maybe I wasn’t really all that stuck—I just needed a break. We all do. Burnout culture is real and taking some time off—whether it be an hour or a whole month—is just as important as the grind, the hustle, or any of that millennial-speak that heavily-sponsored articles vomit up to distract us from how awful capitalist culture really is.

A recent chat with a good friend/coworker got me thinking about how sometimes these ruts and blockages are necessary to bring us into the next phase. He spewed these words of wisdom while drawing a piece of art that I stared at in amazement—he also hadn’t drawn in a while and was getting back into the swing of things. Being creative means dealing with writer’s block or artist’s block or any kind of block. It can help just as much as it can hurt. Sometimes we have to push through the rut, no matter how much it seems like fording a river with weak cattle. Sometimes we have to ride it out and wait for that spark to come back itself.

Sometimes it’s just about believing in the knowledge that the spark will come back, and never giving up on that hope, even when you’re still up at 2:00 AM, forty-levels deep in a match-three game.

Jamie L. Rotante