November 1, 2009
Here we go again,
up the narrow stair
of fall, and I’m full of nerve . . .
the river the very color of cold,
November on her way to winter.
— Deborah Gottlieb Garrison, b. 1965
I returned from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in August, full of nerve, ready to go again from the broad vistas and big skies of summer up the narrow stair into fall. I posted here on August 31, announcing that I’d picked up where I’d left off with my novel in June and written 500 new words toward a goal of 12,000 new words by Thanksgiving. I posted the next day with the story of how I had acquired the use of a fabulous Aerie where I could work in silence and seclusion.
I posted only two more times, on September 26 to observe Lynn’s birthday, and on October 5 with an outline of my reading program. My silence here and my stalled production on my fiction can be attributed to a sudden funk that descended on me around September 13. It started out as a simple case of the blues but built gradually to a full, if mild, depression. A visit from Melanie, the name I give to the embodiment of the mood disorder that besets me from time to time, envisioned as a black Labrador retriever, my Black Bitch.
Melanie stayed for a little more than a month. I did the things that I have learned work to make us both comfortable: I greeted her, asked her what she wanted, and told my friends what was happening. I met only the obligations I absolutely had to and said no to activities and invitations I knew would sap my strength and deepen my discontent. When I spent several days just looking at the color of the leaves and the quality of the light and writing maybe ten words, I knew Melanie had settled in for a while. I took a deep breath, forgave myself for abandoning my work and my commitments, and moved into the next day, determined to keep on keepin’ on and wait her out.
And sometime during the third week of October, as quietly as she had come, Melanie left. My head cleared, my mood brightened, and I became focused and productive again. Just in time to nurse Lynn through a bout with swine flu.
Sometimes, when Melanie comes, she stays much longer and causes much more damage in terms of missed opportunities, unmet obligations, deterioration in relationships. I catalogued the consequences of this recent visit. I gained weight (Melanie eats a lot of cake and cookies) and failed to make much headway on any of the other Six Goals of a Quality Life, especially “6. Declutter the house.” But I read four novels and eight short stories, and though I wrote only 1200 of the 12,000 new words I’d planned for my novel, I did write 5600 words of a short story that brought to fruition material I’d first addressed in 1995 and 1999. And I sent it out!
Writing that story sent me into some choppy waters, and it is possible it is the work Melanie came to prod me to do. It draws on experiences I had around the time my mother died in 1993 and mines incidents that happened more than three decades before that. I realized as I was deep into the third or fourth draft that I was working in view of the building where my mother died, across the water and a little north of where I go now most days to work.
A friend who was an important sounding board during this period of emotional bumpiness was himself working through some of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Hit by a drunk driver in broad daylight in late August, he escaped with very minor injuries and a fixable car. Nevertheless, he found himself emotionally numb and having trouble focusing. But the experience acted as a wake-up call, causing him to look around at his life, take stock of what was important, and re-order his priorities. Maybe there was some kind of cosmic synchronicity to our having bad patches at the same time. Each found in the other’s troubles a way to be just a little less self-absorbed, and found in each other’s reflections a window into our own recovery. “I’m back,” he wrote just about the time my Melanie was going out the door. “Back back.”
And so am I. Back. Back back. Here we go again, again. I used Deborah Gottlieb Garrison’s words to begin NaBloPoMo in 2007. The river is not the color of cold today. It’s high and fast, flowing in a rippling blue that reflects a cerulean sky that found its way into the story I just completed. Updating your blog every day isn’t easy, as I suggested in 2006 it might be. But I have the energy to try, and to make up the 10,800 words I owe my novel not by Thanksgiving, maybe, but by the end of Holidailies for sure.
Thank you for reading, so much, so often.
The NaBlos of the Past:
2008: The Other Side — I don’t see dead people, but I do think about them a lot. I was brought up in a tradition that prayed for the dead. Now I pray to them, in the sense that I call up their images, remember their place in my history, and try to feel the energy they are now.
2007: Here We Go Again — I drove along the river today and it was the color of cold. The summer-like heat we had through hockey season is gone, and the water looked gray and choppy. The wind has picked up as I sit here tonight, full of hope, full of anxiety, full of nerve.
2006: Begin Anywhere — “NaBloPoMo” stands for “National Blog Posting Month.” It is the project of Eden Kennedy of Fussy. She proposed it as an alternative to NaNoWriMo for people who lack the “imagination, stamina, and self-destructive impulses required to write a novel that quickly.” Updating your blog every day for a month seems easy. Many of us are veterans of Holidailies, the December write-fest that, like NaNoWriMo, started as somebody’s personal motivation to write more often and attracted a following.
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