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On not writing

When I was a little girl I fell down the stairs. What I remember most is not the  eyes-open terror of feeling my awkward, clumsy body suddenly loose and limber in free-fall, an unwilling astronaut launched on a possibly lethal space-walk, but my mother’s story of watching me tumble down the stairs,  unable to stop me or help me, her heart liquid in her mouth.

I have had trouble writing lately and I think it is due to the enormity of global events.  I am stuck in the agonized present, watching the world tumbling ass-over-teakettle, unable to go to that other place writers go, which we describe as all pain and teeth-gnashing and angst but is  for many of us actually a comfort zone where our head snuggles into that third place where we peacefully assemble and re-assemble the jigsaw puzzles of our stories, poems, and essays.

I can’t get to that warm, humming place. I have abandoned all my good writing habits (write first thing in the morning, schedule writing time every week, take an hour or two on a trip just for writing, etc.). I get up early to do personal writing and instead launch into work stuff… or I set aside time to do personal writing on the weekend and then do errands until all the time is exhausted.

Like my mother I feel my chest squeezed with empathetic pain, feel my helplessness and my frustration with my helplessness. I avoid cable news and I turn off even NPR if it gets too bleak, but the demons of truth sneak snippets of reality into everything I view or read, stalking me in the wee hours when I’m vulnerable, shaking me awake at 3 a.m. to tell me that my world will never be safe and comfortable again, that everything I knew was wrong, that we have not even begun to hit bottom.

Again in my childhood, I remember college students chanting, “The whole world is watching.”  We are all watching and in some ways I wish we were not, but it must have felt like this in 1939, that the only thing worse than watching was not watching.

The one true thing is my writing group, where no matter how breathlessly distracted I am, I pull myself into the discipline of reminding everyone when we meet, reading submissions, revising my own submissions (if I can’t create I can always revise existing pieces, and revision is the truly golden art), getting together, laughing and thinking and being serious with our work, then driving home in the aftermath feeling at ease and safe for a sweet  moment, as long as I do not switch on the radio.

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