I’m at the end of my tether. It’s so humid here every bit of my furniture is soggy. The boxes I’ve already packed for my move are looking saggy. And the cat is three times his normal size.
I love the Maritimes. I love the smell of the sea, the ships going by, the feel of sand between my toes.
I do not love the 100% humidity.
Seems like this year it’s been hotter and stickier than in past years. Or maybe it’s the additional stress of the pandemic, the madman south of the border, the inability to do anything without gloom hanging over, the impending election season…
So maybe that’s all contributing to the ultimate hair disaster. All I know is that I am now unusually tall (for me) and am having trouble getting through doorways. There’s a wee struggle, and then a “pop” as I squeeze through. It would alarm the cat but he’s stuck behind me.
The thing is, there’s so little I can do anything about. Like the fog that brings the humidity, the news clouds over everything, putting me into a state of suspended animation, visibility reduced, with only the foghorns as guides.
So, fiction. It’s time to put my head into a world I create and play there, where I can control things, where the characters can get the punishment they deserve, where all is controllable.
Back to the computer I go, brain sparking, even if it agitates the head fluff even more…
Pandemic blues. That’s what I put it down to, the lethargy caused by being trapped in place, uncertain of the future, a bit frightened of it, eating way too many carbs all day and they waking at 3 AM vowing to do better, only to rewake at 7 and head directly to the carb cupboard.
Because carbs. Serotonin. That hormone that makes us feel like we are in love, happy, fulfilled.
Truth is, despite some pretty heavy medication (life on pharmaceuticals! Yay!), I haven’t been feeling the joy much. Even watching my lovely tugboats ease up the harbour doesn’t cheer me, nor the cooling sea breeze, nor much of anything, really.
I’ve spent untold hours playing meaningless video games, read a bunch of books without remembering a single one (well, except Philip Roth and his endless focus on the status of women’s nipples -ugh- leading me to toss his books out with extreme violence…), watched way too many series on various streaming services. I’ve mopped my apartment floors countless times, enjoying the physicality of swinging the mop, the swish of the water over the laminate, the shine afterwards- but woman does not live by cleaned floors alone. The cat avoids me as I lunge at him with a hairbrush for the fifth time that day – he’s too hot to play, and spends his time over-grooming which leads to hair balls which leads to the need to mop the floors…
So I’ve decided to use this time to unencumber myself and am sorting through papers and documents and get rid of furniture I don’t like etc etc. In short, preparing myself for a new adventure once the doors finally open and life approximates normal again.
If it ever does. (where are those carbs?)
And suddenly I find my joy, because halloo hallay! I find some of the writing I’ve done in the past and you know what? It isn’t half bad. It’s only half good, true, but it makes me smile as I read it, enjoying my occasional fun description, turn of phrase, dialogue.
Because writing, like art, is a gift from the gods. I love crafting things but there is a special magic in things that come out of my head…without a pattern, with a tilt all my own.
It’s been tantalizing, too, because I am finding bits of paper writings- I know I’ve saved things in the ether, but running across the bits and pieces that are handwritten or printed out makes them seem more real, more immersive. And none of them are complete…leaving me hunting for more chunks here and there and everywhere.
Today I found a bit of a story I was writing about Cuba, one that I was working on when I went to the Humber School of Writers. It made me smile. It heartened me.
Writing begets writing, I’ve always found. And, when I write, I find I see the world more clearly – I am looking for the right word to describe what I see, what I create, what I hear.
It’s time to pull out the writing serotonin again. After all, when writing, I don’t need a mask…
Saw a mini-van today with a partial stick-figure family on the back – just the dad and the son. The mom and another child had obviously been peeled off (in a fit of pique? In sorrow? In rage?). So I wondered. What happened to the other figures (there might even have been a dog there, or a cat)? What happened to the family? Was it a divorce, one kid each arrangement, or was it a terrible tragedy? Did the dad murder the other two and then rip off the stick figures so no one would wonder (ineffectively)? Does the mom have a car with the other two figures stuck on?
So many authors write about their dysfunctional families. It’s tempting. Fits right in with the “write what you know” dictum, especially given that we really have no idea how other families live. I used to try to imagine how my friends lived at home, but unless you were there 24/7, you could never be sure they weren’t putting on an act for you. They always seemed quieter than my family…
As a parent, you are learning all the time. You make mistakes. You try again. You fight with your kids, your partner. You break up. People stop speaking to one another. They start again. I used to think it was all good as long as there were some feelings – when I did home visiting, that saddest children were the ones who were neglected – no one cared about them. At least if their parent was yelling at them, they noticed they were there, I figured.
In my head, I’m the sort of parent who would peel off the stickers on the back of the car in a fit of pique. How I long for the Jewish tradition of rending clothing while shouting “I have no son!” It would be so cathartic, but my Roman Catholic upbringing means I get to sit around instead, feeling awful when my kids ignore me or treat me badly because somewhere in my guilty heart, I know I must have done something, sometime, to deserve such treatment. Or if something bad happens with friends or complete strangers, I know that it must’ve been because of something I did. In a way, it’s nice to always have an explanation.
So I get hurt, and then my brain gets busy. How could I use this pain in a story? How can I take the feelings and put them to good use, as so many other authors have done?
God knows I have enough meat for several novels. The question is, do I make them mysteries and kill off all those I want to hurt back (mwah hah hah), or do I make everything turn out all right in the end? Maybe I should have aliens from another planet intercede. Or maybe something in-between?
All I know is that despite the slings and arrows, I’m grateful. If everyone were sweet as pie, why, I’d have nothing interesting to say.
I’ve struggled with depression for years. It started with my multiple sclerosis and was the first symptom spotted. Coincidentally, I restarted writing.
My family always tells me I’m the creative one, the one who thinks oddly, out of the box (though I would argue my older brother is also gifted in this area – and my kids are wildly so). I know that, during my brief career in management, I was often on a completely different page than many. This led to feelings of failure and isolation and utter hopelessness…
So, now, I’m having a bad bout with the MS – blurred vision, muscle spasms, pain, confusion, the whole package. And depression. And I feel at these times, any challenge is beyond me, AND, at the same time, my life is meaningless if I don’t do something important. It’s a tough place to be stuck. So I decide to quit everything I am doing and try new things in a flurry of trying to succeed at anything, anywhere.
Along comes Maria Popova’s excellent Brain Pickings today: Creativity and Mental illness. Sometimes, at my most paranoid, I think she secretly knows me, her postings are so appropriate for the day…
And suddenly I don’t feel so alone. There are many others here in the murk (with occasional northern lights and lightning) here with me.
Now all I have to do is decide. Do I quit the writing game? Or do I listen to my chafing neurons and continue?
I know I am by no means the first to cheer this wonderful book about writing and life and joy and jealousy and competitiveness and outgrowing that and love and loss. It’s one of the MUST READ books in any writer’s (or person’s) collection.
But I had it out last night for some inspiration and came across the lines below and they made me laugh out loud. She’s commenting about how she takes index cards with her everywhere to note down things since she (like me and many of us) forgets them unless she does. I know I travel with piles of little notebooks to write down little phrases and such. (I hear you can also do it on Evernote but my battery runs down with astonishing regularity and there’s nothing to beat a pencil and paper in the rain.) She’s figured out how to fold the cards and her pencil so she doesn’t look bulky, even.
But here’s what she says about this need to write things down:
I think that if you have the kind of mind that retains important and creative thoughts – that is, if your mind still works – you’re very lucky and you should not be surprised if the rest of us do not want to be around you. I actually have one writer friend – whom I think I will probably be getting rid of soon – who said to me recently that if you don’t remember it when you get home, it probably wasn’t that important. And I felt eight years old again, with something important to say that had suddenly hopped down one of the rabbit holes in my mind…
Emphasis mine. How wonderfully witchy of her!
That’s the thing about writing. Because no one really KNOWS how it’s done, we’re all out here in the wilderness stumbling along, and the slightest little thing can make us feel eight again and hushed up again and told to stop that talking and shouldn’t you be doing something constructive? again.
Reading Anne Lamott brings me back. I may be only eight with little to say, but at least I have a friend here, and perhaps we can play with our word blocks together.
Come join us, if you haven’t already. Anne Lamott also writes great books on faith and life and so forth – depending on your religious stance, these may or may not be for you – but in all things she comes across as a gal I’d love to have a lemonade with and laugh til our stomachs ached.
Don’t you just love it when you open a fresh new book and, especially if you are the very first one to get it from the library and it has that scent of new adventure all over it, and you turn to the first page and realize the author is a friend you just haven’t met yet?
I’m on page EIGHT, for heaven’s sake and already I see the rest of the day before me, curled up with Ms. Lesser and a cup of tea and wallowing in her excellent writing and wisdom.
She starts off addressing the readers of her book, something she says she’s not done before, as usually she writes what she writes and hopes people like it at the end (apparently they do, judging from her publication list). This time is different, she says:
But with this book – perhaps because it so often contemplates the very relationship between writer and reader, speaker and spoken to in the works of literature I have loved – I find myself wondering about who you are? Are you a young person…, or are you an older person…? Do you come from a background similar to mine, or are we completely unlike in all sorts of ways? I would hope that the answer might be “all of the above”, and perhaps it can be, for the written word, at least as embodied in the English language, allows “you” to be both singular and plural. It’s not only the writer who can say, with Walt Whitman, “I am large, I contain multitudes”. That truth applies to readers as well. (p.8)
I think I may just take my multitudes for a gentle stroll through this book for an hour or two before I start my writing day. I can already see tea with Ms. Lesser is going to be interesting, comfortable, and stimulating. How I love meeting a new literary friend!
In “the Secret Life of Adrian Mole aged 13 3/4”, by the hilarious Sue Townsend, Adrian’s class is on a field trip when the bus driver, driven to the ends of his nerves, submits to motorway madness. All of the kids arrive home safely, but shaken, and the bus driver gets a well-deserved rest.
We’ve all been there, right? In the car, with howling kids? My oldest son just about lost his hearing thanks to the endless screaming by the middle one. I’ve felt that madness slip over me. (My sister still tells the story of me putting them out of the car.)
Well, today a different madness came over me. I started submitting things to publishers and journals. All sorts of things. Stories that have lain fallow for months, little ditty poems that struck my fancy, shorter or longer versions of other works in progress (called WIPs by the trendy Humber).
It’s not strictly speaking a sane process. I mean, I could work on these stories longer, could probably edit them for another few years, but there’s something about being in this crazy Humber program that makes me want to take it all seriously, start sending things about. It’s been a while since I was published, except in our local grass-roots poetry journal, OHForgery (which I love).
Oh, I’ve sent things in for competitions, sure. Won a few. Placed in a few others. But going for the publication thing – hesitant. See, in a contest, you can always argue there were so many competitors that you couldn’t possibly be expected to win. So when you don’t, that’s cool. No self-abuse required.
But when a journal writes back, no sorry, this isn’t for us, well, it chews a bit of your soul away. Immediately you start the inner walk of shame.
So today, I’m sending out submissions like I used to send out flirts in online dating. Send out lots, you don’t notice the no replies as much. Someone usually replies pleasantly…
Of course, if I don’t, I’ve got some lovely Writers Tears to drown my sorrows…
I cuddled with a statue of Hemingway when I was in Cuba, and I have a fondness for polydactylic cats, but other than that, I’ve got to say, I get a bit tired of him being held up as all that and a bag of chips every time someone talks writing.
What of the wonderful other writers, those that used long sentences, those that write of non-manly, non-war-related things. Women. You know, them.
Does it ever seem to you that, of the entire panoply of female writers, only Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath get any press time? With maybe the occasional Maya Angelou and Margaret Atwood tossed in “from afar” as my mother in law used to say about currants in unsatisfactory Christmas cakes?
It’s gotta stop. So now and again, I’m going to hunt out famous female writers (some of whom not so famous, cos, as we know, there’s that publication bias out there) and put their writing quotes in this blog. Just for fun.
Here’s the first, from Goodreads! Yay! From one of my favourite writers, too, and so true.
“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”
― Madeleine L’Engle