Confession time: since I returned from New Orleans, I’ve been suffering from writer’s block.

For those of us who live to write, such an experience is excruciating. It’s like going without salad or fruit for a few days. You sense something beginning to go wrong , but since you don’t feel any rumblings, you carry on and wait. And wait. And wait.

Then you begin to grow nervous because it’s so quiet inside.

Tonight, I questioned why my inspiration has temporarily abandoned me, and I realized that it’s because I’m in a major mode shift—Civita is only two months away, and the time for idle planning is over. My brain is overflowing with action items and deadlines, applications for scholarships and grants, and a growing number of parole italiane. In addition, my day job just ramped up, and I’m trying to plan my estate before I skip town. My head is overstuffed!

A related twist is the confirmation that travel is indeed a major source of inspiration for me. Watching and listening to people interact in a different setting, getting lost on purpose in order to discover a place, eating local food that’s cooked in new ways—these are things that remove me from day-to-day where everything is predictable.

That is why the trip to Civita is necessary to produce my book. Escaping from my daily routine in Seattle, abandoning America entirely, immersing myself in a culture and language that will challenge me to engage in new ways from minute to minute—this experience will allow me to transcend merely lyrical or insightful writing about people, place, food and time.

With writer’s block comes not only an uncomfortable sensation of emptiness, but also a fear that the emptiness will remain. I imagine that artists of any kind experience such fear: what if my last painting-sculpture-concerto-poem is truly my last?

I think we fear losing our inspiration for many reasons: if one truly loses her muse, she is cut off from evolving, from realizing her potential, and she becomes “ordinary.” More than that, I think it is intrinsic to the human experience to know—and to fear—the transitory nature of inspiration itself.

It’s akin to youth. Some people look young until they’re 35, and others appear young until they’re 53. Or 73. We do everything we can to avoid that moment when youth abandons us—plastic surgery, hair color, pills, exercise, and dating hot young things.

It’s the shift—and the loss—of a familiar dream, be it youth or inspiration, that feels achy, even if the ultimate outcome is superior. It’s the fear of change: we know in that moment that we are no longer who we used to be, yet we’ll only be who we are for a while. There’s simply no guarantee who we’ll be tomorrow.

In working with inspiration, whether it’s for an essay, a book, a painting, a song, or a building, we are given the options to quit when it gets hard, to choke it down and control it, or to simply take a pause and let it develop as it may. Each day, we choose whether to hold strong through the waning moments and learn to enjoy the payoff without worrying how long it will last.

Letting inspiration flow freely, believing that there will always be more, and not trying to lock it down is key. Which reminds me, I’m sure it’s time for a glass of wine.