February 8, 2009
The feeling of Sunday is the same everywhere, heavy, melancholy, standing still.
— Jean Rhys, 1890-1979
Welsh and Dominican novelist
This morning I announced on Facebook I was excited to have already done three pages of fiction moodling (unfocused, meandering prose that primes the pump) that I thought foretold a productive day, possibly even a productive week. Then I went to church, came home and had a terrific and carefully-calibrated salad (vegetables, protein, and healthy oil and still only 5 Weight Watchers points), and went out again, first to the library, and then to one of the city neighborhoods where I often walk and find inspiration.
I came back just as Ron was leaving for Lynn’s indoor field hockey game. We’d both been down to see her yesterday for a basketball game and lunch. I don’t enjoy the winter field hockey games, and my staying home gives the father and daughter some private time and me some time home alone. The energy in the house is different then, and I look forward to a few hours of it every so often. I popped a can of diet Coke with caffeine (brightens up the late afternoon and keeps me from a nap that will just make me sludgy), sat down at my kitchen table, opened my notebook to pick up where I left off with the Stephenson sisters who are not really sisters (a fragment from 2005 that I found myself exploring this morning) . . . and promptly froze.
For much of my adult life I have disliked Sunday. During that long stretch of loneliness and depression in the mid-1970s, Sunday was an empty, hollow time. As I wrote last year of those days,
Sundays were the worst. I would get up, take the paper in, and sit on the floor between my two love seats to read it. If I drank coffee it was Maxim freeze-dried crystals with Coffeemate, the memory of which makes my coffee-snob taste buds shudder now but which I drank then because it’s what we had in Apartment 101 at University Apts and the texture and the odor of it helped bring back at least a faint whiff of the happiness I felt that year. Malls weren’t open on Sundays in those days, so there wasn’t even that distraction, and the day stretched ahead toward Monday morning, when I’d go back to work, delivering the most canned and uninspiring of lessons. (There are no students from those days who keep in touch, who tell me of the positive influence I had on them. To tell you the truth, there are no students from those days whom I remember.)
Even as my life improved through the 1980s, as I came into the woman I am now, Sundays continued to be problematic. I had to pack a lot of household details and family life into the weekend, and by Sunday afternoon, as I sat sorting socks or grocery store coupons, I’d begin to think about the week ahead, a week of lessons that probably needed more careful planning, student papers that would have to be looked at, graduate school papers that needed to be researched and written. Sunday was exactly as Jean Rhys has described it — heavy, melancholy, and standing still. I didn’t dislike my life at work. I just felt a tension, a kind of pressure to perform and to be efficient and clever doing it.
Even after I left the classroom, I had the feeling of living something of a work week, because of Lynn. But it’s been five years since she lived here, since I had the rhythm of her hours at school and then her hours at home to mark a structure. I’m completely at liberty now to set my own schedule, to eat when I’m hungry, work when I’m motivated, rest when I’m tired. I don’t do anything that I don’t want to do. When a friend asked me recently what I had planned for the weekend, I was momentarily puzzled. I thought it through for a moment and then told him that I don’t really have weekends, I just have weeks, and the weeks have days.
And yet here I am on a Sunday, looking at the week ahead, and feeling nervous. It’s three weeks, almost, since I returned from Cape May. I made big plans with the forward-moving energy that seized me there, and I have accomplished some things. But now I’m standing still. I’m afraid to move into a new week, afraid to implement the detailed plans I’ve made. I have a list of scenes to write, a map for getting 2000 new words written each week until I leave for Georgia on my birthday. But I am afraid to start.
The best way out is always through. That’s a thought, sometimes rendered in different form and almost always attributed to Robert Frost, often seen in motivational materials. Not long ago a friend whose unconditional confidence in me has been crucial in some recent successes sent a motivational thought he lives by: Only those who risk going too far can find out how far they can go.
I need to let go of the fear Sunday symbolizes, and move — out, through, far.
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