Friday, April 23, 2004

Finding the Words

I haven’t written in a week. And I’ve spent the night trying to find the thread of writing again. Imagine me making my way through a blank-walled maze (twisty little canyons all alike), keeping an eye out for Ariadne’s clue.

The maze in my mind is nothing like the cross-stitched labyrinths I make for those I love. The shifting colors of overdyed silk gleam; this labyrinth is of grayish tile and reminds me of the underground corridors linking the train stations and subways of Philadelphia.

(Am I ever going to stop seeing the world in terms of that city?)

And, like those corridors, this is a transitional space.

I am actually happy, writing these words, facing this struggle. Yes, I would have loved to spend the night pouring forth words, but I am somehow pleased to find that I can stick with it even in a dry spell. That I know how to wait. Not like a bus passenger; more like a hunter.

No. Like a gardener. Doing the work even when the seeds seem dead in the ground. Weeding, hoeing, watering, holding the blissful image of the seed catalog in mind through the weeks of winter.

I did a few exercises -- the kind of descriptive writing that usually urges me toward composition. I listened to music. (The headphones, laptop, and iTunes make it possible for me to listen to whatever I want, whenever I want.) Wandered the Web, looking for inspiration, email, something. Played a lot of solitaire.

Around 2:30 I paused for some supper and reread half of Joan Didion’s Slouching Toward Bethlehem. Her California is weirdly familiar, but not because it resembles the place I live now. No, it is familiar because I grew up in the 1960s, and in Didion’s prose I smell the acrid cigarette smoke and the secret despair of that giddy decade.

One of the things I’m trying to be aware of is why I stopped writing, when I’d been doing a steady 25 pages a week (minimum) for three weeks. I hit a bad patch of insomnia, coupled with life stress, and I stopped being able to think. Or feel, or face things.

(And, on a practical level, I was doing a lot of non-writing work -- going to Redwood City three times in three days, for example; dealing with the EDD; doing a convention program at the last minute. And dealing, all the way through, with the stress and frustration of looking for work.)

Now, I’ve worked out what was causing the insomnia (the usual Allegra buildup), I’ve taken steps to resolve some of the stress, and I’m feeling -- more alive? More courageous.

So. This isn’t fiction. But it’s writing. It is testimony that I stuck it out and did the work.

I am feeling much steadier now. This doesn’t mean it’s all going to be jolly. I don’t expect it to be. But I am feeling a certain pride in enduring, and I want to hold onto that.

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