I’m in the “writing hell” stage of term, in which I attempt to produce 7000 words in a week and a half. Last week was the “planning hell” stage. All of this means I’m writing a lot less than before, and I hope that’s okay. After forcing myself to write and only succeeding in producing rubbish, I have discovered that it is much better only to write when I feel so inclined, as I do not enjoy producing rubbish.
Last week, over lunch, I asked S. how he manages to stave off despair. […] Since then […] I’ve learnt that my own antidote to despair is a very personal but heartening one. It’s a combination of resistance action and good distraction. The former can include anything from writing blog posts urging people to donate, to going to protests, to informing those willing, but unable, how they can contribute. The latter consists of good, absorbing theatre, specific television and film (as I don’t watch very much as a general rule), and leaving my phone in another room entirely for at least one day a week, probably Sundays. It’s a lot of voices and a lot of information to take in at once, worsened by the fact that you can barely look away for half a minute before something else happens. Living in GMT worsens this, as major things like the ACLU ruling and the firing of the Attorney General happen while it’s night here, and you awaken to chaos and chatter for reasons you don’t yet grasp in your sleepy state. [I have now subscribed to this newsletter, which should help somewhat.]
In any case, whoever it was who said that action is the antidote to despair was spot on. It’s much harder to feel the grim grey shadows of darkness around your throat when you’re doing something, instead of just passively and miserably absorbing the news.
On a more general self-care note, I think that was my third Monday that I’ve spent at home, and I think it could be a really good thing to do on a regular basis. Not only does it ease me into the week and prevent me from spending time on things that are peripheral to my work, it’s also good to practise being and working alone, as I’ll probably be back to doing next year (cry). It was lovely to return to Red Star and especially to Pastiche, my old favourite haunt where the waitress gave a cry of surprise on seeing me, because I simply haven’t been there in so long. I become restless when I am alone for too long, and it’s something I’d like to work on – for my own sake rather than because I necessarily believe solitude possesses any great deal of moral worth. There are enough sanctimonious travel writers talking about that.
The days pass, as so many do, but now they are heightened by delight, by underground works of possibility, shining gilded roads to what we imagine will be success, but also punctuated by mirror-edge breaks, a sharp-voiced reckoning of a symmetry of sorts, while I clutch my mug and the rain spatters the kitchen windows, though we all knew it was due to come.
Writing has been hard and impossible too, at times, like cooking something with only dust in the cupboard and no food. To make myself sit and report the already-reported for the sake of – what? When I already feel the honesty of the pages – the undisclosed and supposedly undisclosable – changing into: what is good? what is worthwhile? what can be edited? It is tiring to write only for others, and making myself write precisely when I am least inclined to do so produces nothing but sawdust.
I wonder whether all writers through time have had this same disinclination; whether everyone – even those who, like me, are not “writers” except in the sense that I write, but in my office at 8.30 on a Friday night, with Loudspeaker indeed on the loudspeaker, no dinner to speak of and my boyfriend safely at home – also has the same absolute insistence on absolutely needing to write now. Is that because they look at their person – perhaps a muse – and decide they need to write now? That person who is poetry when everyone else is prose – perhaps in reality only a very fine page from Wodehouse but to you the best and sweetest lines of verse that ever came into being? — No, that isn’t right. I have had people who prompted me to write before, certainly, and it was verse then, but either childlike attempts that later matured into something far better and more wonderful for the very fact that it exists away from the page and instead constitutes the very fabric of my everyday — or it was pressing dactyls and the tight frustration of that which Petrarch loved best, and then it simply — stopped. No, I am at my best when prose is my friend — and indeed it is my friend — because it requires no sighs nor tears as I try to fit everything that we are into envelope rhyme, only for it to disintegrate months later.
Indeed, prose is a good friend to have — though it isn’t perfect — for its very expansiveness, as it surrounds and persists and continues, whether in bursts at night or during the winter, a winter of uncertainty, punctuated with wry asides and tiny hearts, or on the day-to-day, against the door frame or staring at cracks on the ceiling’s surface, once again symphonies in words of past laughter or seemingly inescapable blackness, of nothing when you reach out for — something, you do not know what —, of the inevitable sacrifice of your own innocence in order to survive. The stories are bright and desolate by turns, but though they may be carefully truncated — as good narratives are — they are by no means artificially rationed into rhyming lines. See, those poems came into being amidst many moments with my head on my desk, despairing at the impossibility of it all, while this lacks that breathless surrender — of course I too love, but now I am compelled to write because I am overtaken by how wonderful the […] histories are, not from the depths of heartbroken impossibility.
So — no, the person does not have to be verse in order for you to write. Prose can gesticulate and articulate with open hands and a raised voice, or it can frown and make slow pronouncements as it sees fit. There is a potential in prose to — go on. And I hope that it does — it is meant to be an intergenerational epic of exactly that beautiful combination, of “forty years hence”, of godparents and yearly Christmas presents, a monument to trust and understanding, to clasped hands and unchecked excitement, certainly not the very occasional missives, hearsay and the envy from afar that accompany what was meant to be and what should have been a wonderful novel and yet ended after the first chapter due to temporal and geographical restrictions. I do not think that would do this story justice, as inadequate and too plain as I feel I am to be the other part of it, the one to tell it.