Start with a big fat lump in your throat and run with it

As an angsty teen I read Robert Frost’s The Path Not Taken and would feel all kinds of profoundnesses. I would also read the bible, looking for the same depth.


I’ve liked to think I’ve moved on from such binary thinking. But I recently came across a reference to Frost’s approach to poem creation:

“It begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness.” 

Illustrator Debbie Mailman then references this in her book, Self-Portrait As Your Traitor. She pivots her creative process from this notion: Starting with the big fat lump and then running with it. “Start now, not twenty years from now, not two weeks from now. Now,” she writes.

I totally know the fat lump in the throat, and the ill-at-easeness that Frost refers to. It means fear. It means dread. It means things are bigger than anything our little beings have previously encountered. And we cry out, “This is not right!”. And we become convinced “I’ve got life wrong”. And we feel Suddenly. Incredibly. Alone.

In my creative process, I’ve come to learn that this aloneness is precisely the background feeling I need to take that step out from the ledge (and thus plunge fully into the creative unknown). It’s a melancholy that I can only access when everything feels wrong. And when I get the lump. And, yes, it leaves me soaring in the realms of lovesickness…and solastalgia.

For Frost and Mailman, the lump is their cue to plunge and run with it. For me, it’s the deep, exposed melancholy of my aloneness. In these moments I try to remember to drop things and write or walk and watch it all.


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