Over the last six months, for the first time I can remember, I didn’t want to write at all anymore. I have never felt less like a writer. I didn’t know what to do next.
2012 was a slow year. I wrote a few stories. The stories are shabby, too - weakly pleading a case for sorrow unearned. Sometimes I felt the happy flip of my stomach when a sentence came out shiny, but shiny sentences and dime-store sentiments are not the thing.
I realized, slogging through the sodden attempts, pages heavy with trial and error that fell to the side of error - what the problem was. I saw myself on a trapeze swinging wildly between caring too much and too little. I cared how I did things more than what I did, and cared how I said things more than what I said.
Whether I like it or not, I’m a solid person happiest in the kitchen with a pot of soup and a radio. The revolutionary inside me lives mainly in my heart, and these last years, like Bukowski’s bluebird, I’ve rarely let him out. It doesn’t help.
I’m not as edgy as I think I am. For example, I like symbolism. To admit this, I feel like writing’s stodgier version of Margaret Thatcher. I want to write about having, and not having - money, love, and hope. But not the way I thought I would. All I know has undergone tremendous schism - my private world warm harbor, life outside it ever more roiling.
The mind gets lost in it. I still find myself wishing for a thing that will not come. I think instead about a wild-eyed woman on her front porch swing holding a bottle of unopened nail polish remover, a dog in front of her, and a flea comb. “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.” Fortitude is a funny thing. Keep your mouth shut and end up shorn. I think of the same woman half a world away with her hands on the plinth of a classical deity's statue, it’s marble mouth poised to swallow the sun. Lamb or lion? I still dream of lions.
I’m freer now. I worry less. This creative thing I do, quite privately now, is a strange business. More than ever, by necessity, it is very solitary. I don’t talk about it anymore with anyone, because I’ve said too much already. I write about it here, but mainly as a record of my own thoughts. A year from now, I won’t feel the same, and with these ramblings I can see what I thought today.
I think about it now, digging into work I never meant to do. Sometimes I feel like the shepherd tending little, lost lambs, and (ever less but still some) I am also a lost lamb looking for a shepherd. That is what the work demands. The work is the work, not my identity or connection to the world around me. This quiet distinction makes the world new again through my fingertips.
There's a writing prompt in there for you somewhere. Are you a lamb or a lion? Sheep or shepherd?
Never let it be said that writing and science don’t mingle.
Here’s a word for you: cryptobiosis.
How does that relate to writing? Keep reading.
Artemia salina is crytobiotic. It has adapted to life in its indigenous Botswana, able to survive the dry season by going dormant, ceasing the metabolic functions of life until conditions are again favorable. How beautiful is that?
If an organism like Artemia salina can do it, so can a writer. In the writing life, conditions often become unfavorable for a writer to produce his or her best work. Stress, illness, overcommitment, outside responsibilities, grief - these things can overwhelm the creative process. Through discipline and consistency, the writer can try to overcome these hurdles. It doesn’t always work. The stereotype of the drunken, depressive writer is well known, and in moments of block, I get it. Anything not to think of the words that will not come.
Writers are hard on themselves. The rejection, the solitary hours, the emotional openness of the process all take a toll as it is, when writing is going well. When it isn’t, channel the lessons of Artemia salina. Go dormant for awhile. It may seem like the rainy season will never refill the lakes where creativity flourishes, but the rain returns. Adapt to survive.
The species Artemia salina is better known by its trademarked name, Sea Monkeys. I got some for Christmas. I’m awfully glad I did.
So for this Monday, think about a lesson you can learn as writer from a product of childhood nostalgia. How is your writing like a Slinky, or a Cabbage Patch Doll? What lesson can you learn from Snoopy? Feel free to comment with a response.
My Sea Monkeys, just under the surface of the water.
Here I am, January. Staring out the window, eight stories up, the copper of waning cypress a still life when reflecting in the lake.
I quit my job.
It was an okay job. I used to simply serve people tea, and talk to them. Plus, I got to drink tea. I got a paycheck. That doesn’t sound so bad.
It went wrong somewhere. I started to do bigger things that veered into the realm of Real Career. Sales, commissions, proposals. I even thought about getting a manicure and fancy purse. I thought about the big girl job all the time. I forgot myself as a writer. I sat down in the early morning and waited for words to come, and it was just noise.
I considered the options. I tried to figure out what to do. I kept sitting down and waiting for my words to return. Noise.
A person should always recognize the thing staring back at them from inside the mirror. If not, make it right.
I quit. Just like that. Here’s your key. Take this job and shove it. I didn’t say that. But I did think it, with this hope that maybe the noise would stop.
January, the quiet month. Winter skies and anemic sunlight. Migrating birds. New starts.
Hope comes back.
I am content with the quiet.