Absent the old writing anchor, I often find myself dallying between being completely charmed by irregular creatures who’ve made the smallest gestures of kindness, and wallowing in a state of misery so profound I can’t think of doing anything other than contending with Netflix. It’s a strange place that sits on the cusp of the part of the year I actually like — the part that involves decaying leaves, crisp morning runs, vats of herbal tea, and my face shoved into a book. Fluffy socks. A bunch of word golems that I can set up around myself like a battalion to escape the world a bit. A to-do list that involves Battlestar Galactica, Arrow, and Hemlock Grove playing in the background.
This is going to be a strange autumn.
Good sense tells me that spending as much quality time with my couch is a sure sign of social seclusion but in part, I am really, really looking forward to hermitting a bit. “Getting back to normal,” after a really intense summer of ups and downs, too much talking and not enough doing, and being negligent about my yoga practice. There’s nothing more discouraging than knowing I was able to hold a solid thirty second tricep hover and I’m going to have to work my way back up to it.
Small price to pay. I should be more worried about my liver.
In the hero’s journey (as its described by Joseph Campbell), the past two months fall someplace in the midst of the crisis moment that forces the protagonist to make a choice:
Follow the white rabbit down the rabbit hole. Take the red pill. Find your family killed off and jump into that hovercraft with Ben Kenobi. Accept a train ticket from a giant and run straight at a wall to get onto Platform 9 and 3/4.
You can choose to linger in the safe confines of the everyday world you’ve known for a while, or you can accept the call to adventure when it starts dinging your doorbell.
Any discussion that revolves around liminality usually addresses a couple of points: it’s a time of uncertainty, it’s dangerous, you’re disarmed, alone, left to defend yourself, blah blah. The example that cropped up often enough in my university classes referred to a couple of unnamed tribes where a shaman would lead a novitiate into the desert in the middle of the night, pump the kid full of hallucinogenic drugs, take away any sort of weapon, and leave him alone to defend himself against the darkness.
If he came back in one piece, he’d have passed the test so to speak. Presumably he’d have learned something about himself, and lived to tell the tale of being harrowed. The kid would return to the tribe changed, with some new knowledge of himself and the world.
In writing, it’s sometimes referred to as the belly of the whale, the crucible, or, described as running your characters up a tree and then throwing rocks at them. Once you’re in, you don’t get out.
What does this have to do with the relationship between me and my couch? It’s where the real work gets done.
It’s an excuse to stay up until two a.m. on a weekday because you’re banging through another chapter and your characters won’t shut up. You show up to work and don’t take your sunglasses off ’til noon because you look like a baby panda that’s been socked in both eyes. You paper the living room floor with scribbled maps of your fictitious universe because you need to track the journey your characters take using visual cues because sleep deprivation has knocked off another few IQ points and you can’t remember the distance between two plot markers. (I really like making maps, but especially; drawing floor plans of very old houses with secret passageways. It gets very House of Leaves when your corridors turn into antechambers and then caverns because you’re off by a few feet. In another life, I was a Dungeon Master. I swear. Let’s not even get started on how I try to regulate my magical systems.)
Every book written means giving up a little bit of who you were to grow into something else.
That’s the point I was trying to make before getting all long-winded. I also like my couch a lot. (That was point two.)
Rites of Passage
Why bother finishing anything? Why bother going through the process time and again when you know that there are going to be points where you hate yourself, points where you totally flout normal human interaction, times where you’ll drift off mid-conversation because something someone said triggered a few mental images that tingle enough that you need to get to your notebook now, and times where you’re hanging around in body but your mind is perpetually elsewhere — or worse — people stop you from daydreaming because they think you’re down.
Why bother finishing anything — That’s like asking why do teenagers experiment with sex and drugs. There’s some lingering thirst that leaves your brain parched for needing to know how things work out — what the world looks like on the other side. What’s it feel like? Will I look any different for the effort?
I get these images stuck in my head sometimes — this one in particular has been eating at me for weeks: wet footprints across a humidity-warped floor. Bits of parchment-thin blistered flesh curled into the hollows. It’s a part of a short story that I haven’t yet been able to finish because the central theme is about the places where the heart sets up residence. Oh, it’s horror — but it’s a love story too. Cute and cuddly horror? (Did you know that when a body is submerged in water long enough and then extracted, this thing happens with the skin as it becomes detached from the muscular tissue. It’s referred to as “gloving.” Slides right off the meat.) Oh, I’m totally into romance. Did I mention that yet? Ha.
Yeah, this stuff totally changes the way you see the world. I meditate on how to get away with arsenic poisoning in water coolers. I contemplate the cost of a life exchanged against pennies in some teenager’s piggy bank. I think about hymns sung by an organ grinder in a passing circus meant to draw away the lost souls from some desert town.
You just need to sit your ass down and do it, and I’m ashamed to say, I’ve been avoiding it. Too busy learning life’s lessons to think about these little character deaths. (Shrug.)
The days are getting shorter and the nights ever more persuasive.
I’m forever hopeful.
I haven’t slept in a month. It’s the cost of too many late nights, the absence of scribbles, and a mind that can’t shut down because it can’t find a way out of that ever-rattling hamster wheel of ideas. Good ones. Bad ones. Too much reality. Too many half-dreams. Too much disappointment. Too much elation. Too much of that stuck feeling that starts fires and lets them burn to cinders.
Creative brains are good and bad places to live. We’re wired weird. I apologize as an afterthought and deal with fallout as it happens, and sometimes I don’t deal at all and I lose more sleep.
The universe serves up a mess of tangled sheets as a reminder, I think. (Not the fun kind of tangled sheets either, mores the pity.)
Somewhere Yoda is hmming, and flippantly reminding us all that, “Do or do not, there is no try.”
Got it, man. I got it.
The Other Side
I’ll tell you what it’s like when I get there. It keeps shifting on me, you see — like a mirage that shimmers for a second when you crest another rise in the terrain and vanishes, only to reappear a little further out of reach.
But enough with this thirty degree heat, sticky-backs-of-thighs on chairs, and freezing in the air conditioning. I’m over it. Summer — we’re done. It’s over. Seriously, just delete my number from your phone so we can all move on. It’s just not working. I need a break from your halcyon days and the three fans I set up as a vortex to keep the air circulating in here. It’s blowing my notes around.
Let’s just be friends.
The point being: my apartment is thirty degrees and the only way over and around writer’s block is to shut up and get back to work, even if that means staring at a blank screen for an hour or errantly typing things and deleting them. I’ll be far happier when it gets colder and I can think without feeling like there’s a wet sponge sitting on my head all the time.
Screw it, I’ll be happier just tying up the few straggling loose ends on this one piece of fiction so I can see what it looks like when its done, but beggars can’t be choosers — I’d write elaborate grocery lists if I meant getting out of this in one piece without the need for a shaman or psychedelic mushrooms.