Letters from the Wasteland, Part I

It is always longer than I intend.

Apology-dragon brings you holly berries.

I have intentions of posting weekly–every week on the same day, at the same time–but something deeply ingrained resists the notion of doing anything at a certain time for the sake of doing it. I don’t know what it is about me–I admire other people’s continuous practices from afar–the people who write a certain number of words or for a certain number of minutes per day, who post a picture every day, who create a drawing or practice a piece of music with any kind of regularity.

I’ve tried to be one of those consistent artists, but it just doesn’t feel right. It feels constricting, and something in me balks at it. I understand the value of a continuous practice–I have watched it work magic in other people’s lives. I’ve made the attempt, but it just feels off. My husband says I am an iconoclast. Maybe I am. I am not so foolish as to believe I can only write when the muse smacks me upside the head–I’m good at applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair when I don’t feel like it, when anything in the world is more appealing than writing. But when I come up against the idea of doing anything daily, I shy and buck like the horse I learned to ride on, the stolid, set-in-his-ways gelding who could not be ruffled unless a semi roared by, and then heaven help anything within a twenty-foot radius.

I am beset by shoulds. I should blog consistently. I should be better at any number of things. More committed. More talented. More hardworking. More compassionate. More something. More everything. Often I just don’t know what to say. Often I don’t know what I’m doing–here, or anywhere.

A few weeks ago I received a tentative diagnosis of Lyme disease. The bloodwork isn’t in yet–and the bloodwork is notoriously inconclusive, anyway. What I do know is that for the past month I’ve been tired, walking around in a haze that feels like a perpetual state of being awake at 2 a.m. And my brain is foggy. Words do not come easily. Normally this would make me anxious, but I’ve been too sleepy to be alarmed. Antibiotics are a good thing. Sleep is better.

Contents of my brain: pretty much dragons and chickens.

It’s been difficult to know what to write from this foggy place. I haven’t been writing much–after finishing up a big novel revision, I’ve been sending out queries. The rejections are trickling in. I’ve garnered a couple of requests to read the full or part of it. As usual, I struggle with the choice I’ve made to work part time while pouring much of my energy into submissions, trying to make a career of writing. There is nothing I’d rather do than write, but at the back of my mind is a constant nagging fear that I’m cheating my husband and children of the best of me, that I could be doing more in every other area of my life, that I’m investing huge amounts of time and energy in an endeavor that may never pay off. That I should get a Normal Job, work full time and earn benefits, be a Normal Mom who goes to work and comes home and lives fully and solidly in this world. I tell myself that I am modeling persistence for my children, that I am showing them what it means to work and hope, to believe in myself (even when I don’t), that I am teaching my boys that women are fully human people with ambitions and aspirations that extend beyond the domestic sphere and out past the far reaches of space and time into worlds only imagined. This all sounds good, but sometimes I’m just weary of striving, of rejection, of the constant sense that I’m not doing what I could be, should be, that I’m not living up to my potential, that maybe I don’t have all that much potential to live up to. (“Don’t end a sentence with a preposition,” every internalized English teacher ever whispers in the back of my mind. There are many such whispers.)

From the fog of Lyme disease, I am not sure how much sense this all makes. I don’t always (often?) know what I’m doing here, in this little tiny corner of the interwebs. I struggle with wondering if I am enough, if what I am offering in any facet of life is what anyone wants or needs. Teaching has been a struggle lately. I worry that I am not reaching my students. Writing is always a struggle. I don’t know if anyone wants the stories I have to tell. For the past two years I’ve been offering a monthly day-long (well, really six hours) creative retreat, but it’s proven very difficult to get people to show up, to the point that every month I wonder if it’s worth it, if anyone wants what I’m offering.

Dragons. I am always offering dragons.

I am in a funk. A dark night of the soul. It will be okay–it’s always okay in the end. What I want, in putting my Lyme-addled insecurities out here, is not to be told that it will be okay, that I am okay, that I am enough. What I want is to be honest. I want to practice the kind of radical, transparent honesty that I long for, the kind that seems increasingly hard to find in a glossy online world of Disney vacation pics and matching beach outfits pics and litanies of achievements and filtered selfies. I want to be the kind of person I want to know, the kind of person who screws up all the time but is trying.

I am writing for you, person who wonders if you are a failure, a chronic screw-up. You are my people. We are a diaspora people in the age of social media. The perfect posts are not enough for us–they leave us hollow and a little sick, a little disoriented, increasingly convinced that we have been born at the wrong point in history, that the time is out of joint.

This much snow in late March may also be contributing to the out-of-jointedness…

My ulterior motive (since I’m being transparent) with the monthly retreat is to gather my people, to find my tribe, to create a community. Increasingly, I find it difficult to find my people outside the digital world. I’m thankful for online friendships and connections, but I need more than this. I need to look people in the eye. I need to see and be seen–in real-time, unfiltered. I would like you to see that I have a cowlick that makes Harry Potter look like a Pantene spokesmodel. I would like you to know that the wallpaper is peeling in the bathroom and that the kitchen floor is only not muddy in the five seconds after my husband mops it. I would like to have tea with you in the muddy kitchen where sometimes I am baking sourdough bread from scratch and sometimes I am letting my children gorge themselves on Lucky Charms. I would like to see unfiltered, and to be seen this way, because I think that honesty can save us.

I want to see people from all angles, not just their best ones. I want to live life with people, to admit that I cannot for the life of me commit to doing anything on a daily basis. Except eating. And usually sleeping. I want to send my stories of messy, flawed, fierce girls out into the world and find the readers who need them. I want my kids to grow up unburdened by a load of shoulds. I want to excise the word “perfect” from the dictionary. I want moms all over the world to stop dressing up for carpool. Unless it genuinely makes their hearts happy to dress up for carpool. Or maybe I want us all to really dress up–Halloween dress-up, with glitter and neon wigs and fairy wings–and show up to pick up kids who will not be embarrassed because they know that their moms are fairy-knights and mermaid-wizards and badass unicorns.

Mermaid-wizard, fairy-octopus, same difference.

I just scrolled back to proofread this post, but I’m not going to. I’m going to leave this here in all its messiness, in all its Lyme-addled possible incoherence, for you–you person who needs this right now. I know you’re there. I know there is at least one of you. (“Then there’s a pair of us–Don’t tell–they’d banish us–you know”). This is for you, person who is sick of appearances, of facades. This is for you, the one who is not sure if she’s making sense, who wonders if she’s doing right by her family and friends; the one who worries that she’s not living up to her potential, that her time is past before it ever began; the one who swings wildly between thinking that she is too old and will never be old enough; the one who needs to know that someone else somewhere is screwing up and living to tell the tale.

Though I don’t get these messy truths out into the world with any regularity, I want you to know that they are true, that I am living them too, that you are not alone.

(This is now officially Long and Rambling. I’m going to quit. Besides, my mind is now dancing between writing a story about a mermaid-wizard and making a sign that says “I am a badass unicorn.”) I leave you with these unfiltered images of Real Life. There is a kid in the dryer. There are a shield and slingshot in the bathroom. A chicken and a cat are the welcoming committee.

Love. Light. Hope.

shantih shantih shantih

12 thoughts on “Letters from the Wasteland, Part I

  1. Creative Sister:
    Lyme?!? Ugh. And I was starting to feel sorry for myself having a sinus infection (on a day that was supposed to be all about singing including a recording session).
    The irony — as I read your post — is that though you are in this “darkness”, you can write with such verve and beauty. I for one always admire someone who can post a blog, an essay, a poem, or a song without editing. As you know, I consider improvisation to be a high art form. And, in my personal judgement, you have done it well here.
    Like you, I am craving the in-the-flesh encounters. May we both continue to find these and find them plentifully.
    Your Brother

    1. Thanks, Brother. I always wanted a big brother! Sorry to hear about the sinus infection. It’s wretched getting laid out by stuff like that, especially when you have creative plans that get totally waylaid. Thanks so much for your kind words and consistent encouragement. You are a Good Egg.

    1. She is HILARIOUS. Her video about querying literary agents is a winner. Of course, she actually ended up getting a literary agent a couple of weeks ago. Maybe I need to start making pterodactyl makeup videos, too….

  2. “Dark night of the soul” was the phrase that occurred to me before I got to where you used it. Your tribe is definitely here with you. I’m deliberately not saying “here for you” (although I’m sure every one of us is here for you as well), but to me, that phrase implies that we’re here to try and fix you when you feel like you need to be fixed by someone else. When I was in the worst depths of my depression, the most helpful thing for me was just being with someone else. No interaction necessary – just knowing that someone else was with me in the room doing their own thing in companionable silence was unspeakably helpful. No “trying to help me feel better,” no being told that “it will all be okay.” Just someone kindly providing their unfiltered presence. Hopefully you’re nowhere near the bottom of the abyss like I was, but it sounds like you have the same instincts I had on what will feed your soul what it needs right now. And I can definitely say that unfiltered time with you and other folks that have come to Make Time has been wonderful for me this past year. I may be one of the few people who gets to regularly say this in person, but thank you for offering your time, your home, and your honesty to the rest of us. 🙂

    1. YES to “with” instead of “for.” That is an excellent distinction. I am very grateful that you are one of my tribe. I’m not sure exactly where I am in relation to the bottom of the abyss (not near it, I think–I’m still seeing the fangly-fishes with the glowy bits). Thanks for showing up. I am coming to realize that the people who actually show up are people to be treasured and cherished and held up as shining examples to the rest of us. Thanks for being present. You matter. ❤

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