The void.

A year ago March, I finished the first draft of a memoir I had been working on for two years. I gratefully, wearily stuffed it into a drawer and awoke the next morning quite sure I didn’t want to ever write another word, ever again. It was a weird feeling because all I have wanted to be, all of my life, was a writer.

I spent the year that followed in a funky, weird sort of space that I simply refer to in my mind as “The Void.” It is a space where I didn’t write. I was so certain I never wanted to write again that I closed down my freelance writing and editing business and found a nine-to-five job as a proofreader.

Over the past year or so, I’ve been quietly commuting into my job, marking up documents, and then quietly returning home. Not writing. I’ve engaged in other creative acts during this time, including drawing cartoons, a brief foray into graphic storytelling, painting with watercolors, and taking photographs.

I never, not once, stopped noting the beauty that surrounds us every day. The sort of beauty that many people simply walk past, not noticing. I never stopped noting how quirky and funny and mean and angry and sad and complicated and how vulnerable human beings are and how much capacity we have for love and tenderness. I never stopped noticing moments of grace – when there is so much lovely magic in the air, it practically crackles. And so, even though I refer to the past year as “The Void,” it has been, actually, very full. And, of course, here I am writing again. Writing about not writing, but… writing all the same.

Writing into resistance.

I have been resisting working on my memoir the past two Sundays. I open the file and then I find all kinds of other things to do. This is not like me: I generally am very disciplined about writing and I just go in there and do it. But the past two Sundays: resistance.

Of course, because I am so disciplined, it ruins my whole day. Because I won’t back off once I open the file. There was once – only once – when I was working on the memoir that I knew I wasn’t in a good place to write that day and I took the day off.  But I gave myself permission ahead of time, and I only take those sorts of days off rarely and judiciously. I do so either for the well-being of the text or for my own emotional well-being or for both. But this was not like that – this was pure, flat-out resistance. It was procrastination. It was, ‘I know I should do this, but I don’t want to.’

And so, I spent both this Sunday and last Sunday in that uncomfortable place of backing away from the text to do other things. You know the sort of things we writers do: I made really nice meals. I watered the plants. I re-arranged the items in the freezer. I futzed with the bent slats on the mini-blinds. I spent two very uncomfortable and restless and uneasy Sundays putzing around like this when I could have gone in there right away to get the work done and then headed off to the beach or the park. But, no. I spent the days pacing my apartment like a panther resisting its prey, nervous and twitchy.

And, on both days,  when I finally pounced, there was reward. There was meat to be found in the words. And so then I could close out the file for another week and go my way.

But why the resistance? A wise friend asked me a very wise question this morning when I mentioned it. She said: ‘What are you working on in the memoir?’ Bingo! Thank you. What I am working on in the memoir is the entry point into the hardest and darkest heart of it. I am readying to enter the eye of the storm. And even though I know how the story ends – I know I made it through that eye – I don’t know that in the text of the memoir yet. Me as character in the text does not know how it all turns all, and a reader would have no idea, either, coming upon it cold, at this point. What happens? How does the character resolve this?

In addition, it has pulled me – the ‘character’ I am now (writer, decades later) back to that hard and difficult part of my life. In real life and in real time, I couldn’t hesitate. It was all just happening and it was happening fast and I simply had to act. I had to take action. But now, the writer part of me, decades later – I can hesitate. I can say, ‘Maybe I don’t want to take action.’ ‘Maybe I don’t want to re-enter that dark and intense realm.’ ‘Why can’t I go to the beach, instead?’ And who can blame me? However, I know that I have to do it. In order to bring order to the chaos, I have to gear up and get in there. I have to grab hold of it and wrestle it into form. If I don’t bring some order to the chaos, I will be damned to wander through the remainder of my life restless and uneasy and prickly and twitchy (it’s great fun being a writer, isn’t it?).

The good thing is: I know how it all ends. The bad thing is: I know how it all ends. It doesn’t end happily. But the other good thing is: I’ve made my peace with that, for the most part, over the years, and so I don’t have to do that particular kind of hard work again. No – the work I have to do now is to find the grace in the difficulty, the glimpses of light in the darkness, the small bit of redemption in a moment that seems to be only downward falling. I need to find the ‘lift.’ I need to find the dignity. I need to find the beauty in all of that ugliness. I do know it is there. I just have to find it and arrange it in a way that makes it clearly seen. That is my task.

When I look at it that way, I feel a bit revitalized. Inspired. Ready to take on the work.

I can do this. Next Sunday, I’m going to gear up and get right in there. There’s work to be done. There’s a challenge to be met.  And I’m the only one who can meet this particular challenge: It’s my story. My challenge.

A Hand of God moment.

I live for the sort of moments you can’t simply ‘order up’: the silver of ice on trees sunlit after a storm; the color of the sky at dusk in December; shadows of fast-moving clouds silently thrashing across a field lit by a full moon on a windy night. I live for these sort of moments–they make life larger: capacious and grand.

Recently, such a moment found me. We had a sudden temperature plummet in Boston last week–it went from a mild mid 30ish degrees to 11 degrees in a matter of hours. The water on Jamaica Pond had not yet frozen over, and the winds were high and brisk. During those hours that the temperatures plunged–while I hunkered down in my city apartment braving the drop with blankets and hot tea–the sort of art that only nature can create was forming on the eastern shore of the pond.

I discovered the finished piece the following afternoon, late in the day, when the sun was almost flush with the horizon, casting a brilliant light at an angle across the sculpture that had formed. It arrested me mid-walk.

During those hours the temperatures dropped, strong winds whipped high waves against the shore, and–wave by wave, moment by moment–ice formed in layers: the waves hit the shore, receded, and the water left behind froze instantly. Everything was altered. Pebbles and stones that had been simply ordinary the day before were now recreated into grand orbs, glimmering within sheets of ice. Mundane, everyday sort of twigs had transformed into multilayered spears, shimmering with an opulence of light. A blade of grass? Now round with ice as smooth as Rodin’s Hand of God. Minor shrubs? Ensconced with the same sensual essence. The shore itself appeared frosted with glass icing–a glossed and flawless surface I wanted to touch.

The work of wind and waves and time and temperature had created such brilliance on that small shore, I couldn’t stop looking. It was cold. It was growing dark. But I stood captivated.

The most beautiful thing about it was: I knew it would not last.

Obsessed with manhole covers.

 

image by Edward MacGregor

 

I love it when people are singularly obsessed with something to an extreme. Take these people over at Drainspotting. There are over 3,743 photographs of manhole covers uploaded on the site.

“Drainspotting is all about paying attention to your surroundings….Functional and ornamental, there’s a lot of interesting stuff happening down by your feet.”

I agree. Take a look.