Three Dark Nights of The Soul

“…people with self-respect have the courage of their mistakes. They know the price of things.” ~Joan Didion “On Self-Respect

I’m traveling to my fifth state in seven days, and I’m currently sitting in an airport waiting for a my second delayed flight. Not my best space for contemplative writing, but I need to publish a blog post so I can hit my (sad) goal of publishing digital words once a month. Thank you in advance if you stuck this one out with me.

Technically it’s a new month, but the last two weeks have felt like one long day so I can do whatever I want. Self, you met your May deadline. Just a day late.

I want to write about creativity in order to share some ideas of what I’ve been reading. In my free time (also known as when I can’t sleep or when I’m trying to avoid people in public places like airports), I’ve been taking an online class on project management. It’s been awhile since I’ve taken an online class, and it’s been even longer since I’ve read up on project management, so I thought I’d log-on to an affordable self-paced OL course. Why not? I got through a few of online modules. Felt like I was accomplishing something. Felt like I was advancing my skills that pay the bills.

Then I got a little bored of the recorded lectures and the readings weren’t that interesting and then I started questioning whether the content truly supported the learning outcomes and then found myself rewriting the verbs in the learning outcomes. Shit was going south with my learning, in other words. My Inner-Perfectionist was like, “You must finish what you started or you’re a failure.” Then my Inner-Spicoli-Like-Brah was like “Fuck that noise, man, I’m out. I’d rather look at bike pics on Insta. Danger is my business.”

I quit the class.

Instead I started reading a book that was recommended reading in the class. See how I’ve grown! I skipped the Required Reading and went straight to what sounded interesting. I checked out the eBook from my public library and I inhaled it during a flight and then wrote a ton of things I’ll never share anywhere. It was magic. That class that I didn’t finish? Totally worth it. Thanks to that book, I’m now behind on every project I’m involved with. Totally worth it.

Here is the best graphic to describe where I am right now with two hobby job projects in my life:

Screen Shot 2019-06-01 at 3.42.28 PM

from Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon

So first of all, I laughed out loud really hard on my flight when I saw this, and I scared some snoring dude awake. Sorry, Stranger! You scored by sitting next to a Cray-zay-Lay-day who laughs into her Kindle. Lucky you!

“The Dark Night of The Soul” is where I tend to live on a daily basis with a lot of creative endeavors, but I put on a happy face for other people in my life. This diagram of a project is everything to me right now. Everything. And let’s face it, it’s really funny, right? It makes me sad that I didn’t think of it. So good.

But you know, given who I am, and how I think, I had to use of the magic of the interwebz to research this phrase a bit. I discovered an attribution to Hazrat Inayat Khan, who said, “There can be no rebirth without a dark night of the soul, a total annihilation of all that you believed in and thought that you were.”

Shit. Way to sum up the last couple of weeks.

And then it all took me down a delightful rabbit hole of reading about spirituality, metaphysics, and all the hot and heavy words about the Meaning of Life from some choice yogis. I’m not going to recap all of that jazz here, but thanks to some algorithm I got a lot of targeted ads for rose quartz crystal lamps and meditation pillows and sexy yoga tops and and matching bedspread sets from big box stores that honor the light in me and my disposable income. Namaste.

Okay, I’m not going to write about the heavy questions of life, I want to talk about creativity. Specifically writing.

I think there are three categories of the Dark Night. For me. As a writer.

The first Dark Night of the Soul occurs when I get myself into something that I know I don’t have the energy for, yet I force myself to do it because I don’t like to let people down that I care about. This is the self-inflicted suffering of overbooking myself or (over)committing to things I know I don’t have time for, and thankfully the older I get, the more I’m okay with saying no. I start a lot of conversations in my volunteer work with “I love that idea and somebody needs to do it; it’s just not something that I can do right now. Can you volunteer the time?”

These kind of dark nights take away time from when I can read and write, and thus I’m not the best person I can be. I know this.

The second Dark Night of the Soul is the result of things I can’t control. Shit just rolls down the pike of life and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it. My reaction to these things, however, makes all the difference. (See, I pay attention in yoga class).

This is also a skill that I learned as a waitress, and one that I’ve carried into my career. Sometimes you have to get through the shift and do the shit that needs to be done. What’s the point of bitching about it?

This Dark Night leaves me with little time and energy to read and write, so I try to wake up early so I can write 500 or so shitty words and read a chapter before the days starts. I set an alarm, lose sleep, and I do it.

Some days I don’t get to work on the things I really want to work on, so I daydream about them every minute I can. I’ll see the words in my mind and sneak away moments to savor whatever it is I’m obsessing about. This Second Dark Night I can’t control and I have to live through it. Sometimes it feels like it will never end.

I just have to be patient. It ends. I know this, but I often forget. I so often forget.

The third Dark Night of the Soul is when I just get stuck. And this is where I’ve been for about the last six months as a writer. Since this is the hardest Night to describe, let me tell you story about riding bikes to try to describe how it feels.

For the past two months, I’ve been trying to ride with flat pedals instead of riding with shoes that connect to my pedals on my mountain bike. You have to use flat pedals if you’re going to coach mountain biking, so I thought I’d take the time to commit.

Quick digression Ferda Bike Nerds: I’m a CrankBrothers Candy Pedal girl. I tried to love SPDs, but I almost broke my ankle on those things. I missed the SPD boat in the 90s so I don’t dig them. Candies are the way. I love how the mud just blows out those egg-beater beauties. And their logo is kinda bitchin’ in my eyes.

Okay, where was I? Oh, learning something new. Right. Pissed me off ten ways to Sunday, those fucking pedals. Oh. My. God. I hate flat pedals. I tried. I truly tried. I got me some cool looking shoes that all the cool kids swear work better for riding in the Northwest. I haven’t been this pissed off on a bike in twenty years. Guess I’m not going to be a coach.

On the one hand, I was like, “Oh, I teach people all the time to do new things. This might teach me empathy for learning something new. It’s sometimes painful to learn new things. Blah blah blah, empathy. Blah, blah, blah, experiencing new things. Blah, blah, blah, this will make me stronger.”

After my 8th ride, I was like, “Fuck this fucking fad. If the fastest mountain bikers on the planet ride clipped in, so will I, dammit. Fuck you, Enduro Bro Culture. You can stuff it in your fanny pack! Give me my Candies back. My time to ride is too precious; I don’t have time to learn anything new. Flat pedals aren’t for me. When I’m good enough with these pedals, why change?”

Second digression Ferda Bike Nerds: My husband had already switched out my pedals the day I worked myself up into lather about My Big Decision To Not Be A Flat Pedal Rider. He had already switched them for me without me knowing, so he didn’t need The Big Speech. So that was like one of the most romantic gestures ever or he had already decided that he was tired AF of hearing me bitch. Either way, style points for days for the zen master that puts up with my shit.

So back to the Dark Night of the Soul. This is the most interesting Night because it takes me bit to see an answer that is already there. Every time. It’s like the blue bright sky that is always above the cloudy storms that delay flights out of fucking Chicago no matter what time of year it is. You know the blue sky is there. The night, though, is really dark.

The Bike Pedal Digression wasn’t really about the Dark Night of the Soul, but it did help me describe how it’s sometimes really painful–literally and figuratively–to move on from that low point. After dealing with bloody scarred legs and stupid crashes, I decided to stay with what I know and feel good about it with my mountain bike riding. I could move on. I could move forward. Finally.

That’s the sunrise after the dark night, so to speak.

This painful low-point is what helps you gain creative momentum again. Happiness.

Here’s The Thing.

I’ve been sitting with an idea that I want to write about for a very long time, and I think I see a path to completing it. Finally. It’s going to be hard, but if I don’t try, I’ll never be able to move on. No other stories can stay alive in my brain until I get this one out and on the page.

I desperately want to get to the upswing of “It’s done and it sucks.”

That’s why I laughed like a madwoman on the flight when I saw this image. I want to be done. I know it might suck. But I need it done. I need to write it.

So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to write This Thing and be part of This Thing I’ll Write About Later.

I honestly need a break from All The Open and The Teacher Things because it’s the jobby job right now, which makes my heart and brain full. I’m lucky in so many ways and I’m so grateful for all of the smart people in my life.

If you’ve found my work because you wanted more of the Open and Teacherly, please click on the Teachery Tags to the right. There’s enough there about those topics for a good six or so months of reading. Or I can recommend a self-paced project management course you get get half way through.

For now, let me return to my epigraph, and what I think Joan is preaching in that essay. She reminds me of what it means to have character. Regret. Intention. To be human. How the shape of an essay can move past my eyes and feel the way my arms do when they cut the water when I swim. The way my feet feel when they’re attached to my pedals. The way the right sentence sits with me all day. The way the right words are what I need to read but didn’t know it until I read the sentence five times. How a sentence can thread the needle of a perfect thought that I wish I wrote.

I need to write the book I need to read. So I’m really going to try.

Anais Nin captures that feeling of the trapped story: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful that the risk it took to blossom.”


About Alyson Indrunas

Always learning about instructional design, educational technology, professional development, adult education, and writing.
This entry was posted in Writing The Thing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Three Dark Nights of The Soul

  1. Andrew Pickell says:

    Dang! That chart is so accurate. Our company just launched new dispatch software on Sunday. I think I’ve got through the first two dots and I’m firmly planted at number three. I guess we gots a long way to go!

    I’ve seen a lot of talk about flat pedals for gravel riding, which somewhat makes sense, but I don’t buy it. Pure crazy talk. As I’ve matured as I cyclist I’ve realized its ok to run what you wanna run. So whatever.

    I’m not sure what I’ve getting at here, but you know, good stuff as always Alyson.

    Blame Canada!


    • You know, I love my flat pedals on my around-town bike because I can wear cute shoes. Forgot to mention that, so I’m not a purist, really.

      Omg–gravel flat pedals seems ridiculous! Why compromise the climbing?! Maybe it’s for roadies who freak out about single track. Saw quite a few of those on the last Grind. Folks were crashing left and right. Most amusing. I’m learning that the word “technical” is purely relative.

      Good luck with that work stuff, and you know, the only place I’d leave Bellingham for is BC;) Thanks for reading, friend.


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