I finished Blankets
in two hours on Friday and read all of What Happened to Henry
yesterday (reviews this week). Interesting - and unintended - juxtaposition of themes.
I read more during this time of year than any other. There's something about the short days and long shadows that make me want to close myself off in someone else's world, to read passages that make me think and wonder and, most of all, want to write again.
I go through phases with my fiction. I have since I first started writing - mostly ghost stories - at thirteen. I fall in love with my own words, revisit them again later and begin to loathe them. Like most spent love affairs, the looking back always makes you wonder what you saw the first time around.
Until I was nearing thirty, my fiction was of the live of others. I kept my past, present and future off the pages and concentrated on breathing life into an entirely made up persona, so no friends or family could later on (back when I harbored dreams of having my work published) claim that I was writing about them
, or about things that happened while they were there.
Of course, that's what was missing. By keeping my soul out of the stories, I kept the heart out as well. Write what you know, they say. While I don't know anything of murder or suicide or infidelity or any of the other dramatics that grace the piles of loose leaf paper stuffed in boxes in my garage, I do know of failure and broken hearts and black bottomed despair - things many of my characters experience at one point or another, but whose travels through these emotions fell flat on the pages because I tried too hard to keep my own emotions out.
Blogging has been a bit of self-discovery for me. Almost four years of writing nearly every day, several times a day, and the little things, the unnoticed things, seep out every once in a while, forcing me to explore what lies beneath them. It's why so often you'll find the personal posts here, tucked between screeds about war and politics. I alternately puke and weep on these pages so to speak, and then I just leave the mess there for everyone to see.
In between reading books this weekend, I've gone back through my archives and started reading, mostly the very personal entries I've made here.
See, it's November. It's startling what a season or a song can do to you. The smell of burning leaves, the opening strains to a song that played constantly on the radio at a time when you were at your darkest - they can kick you in the gut with nothing more than the force of their memories, sucking all the wind out of your lungs.
Back in November of 1998, I was in a particularly black place. It had been two years since my marriage dissolved. In those two years I had gone from experiencing the joy that freedom from a bleak existence gave me to a deep, dark depression that started in the pit of my stomach and crawled slowly into my heart and mind, eating away at any of the happiness I felt at having escaped what seemed like a death sentence. The depression was a breeding monster inside of me, giving birth to feelings that I had kept at bay my whole life; emptiness, loneliness, fear, failure. I wallowed in all of this because to do anything else, to not accept these feelings, would be to feel nothing. To be hollow. There are few things worse a human being can experience than the feeling of not having any feelings. It's as if a giant, craggy hand has reached inside of you and pulled and pulled until it has ripped from you every ounce of blood, every muscle and bone that existed inside you and replaced it with cold, hard steel. You are no longer human.
So, to feel despair and bitter, intense anger would be a step up from the nothingness - an anti-emotion I once thought existed only within Nine Inch Nails lyrics. I welcomed the pain, the raw hatred, the seething animosity because they made me human, in a way.
Fate called on Thanksgiving evening that November. Just a series of circumstances that led me to be in the right place at the right time, when a soft, gentle hand reached out to me, slapping away the monstrous hand that had been pulling my guts out. For three months after, those hands fought it out for control of my most inner emotions. In early March, the battle was over. I emerged smiling.
And that's how things changed dramatically within such a short time. That's why early November with it's striking colors and crisp wind and bleak, gray rains backed by a NIN soundtrack will make me make me at once morose and bitter, but early December, with its chance of snow and twinkling, colored lights will make me feel more melancholy; a small sadness tinged with creeping optimism. And March, once such a bleak, dreary month, brings on its winds such sweet memories that I can find instant happiness in nothing more than a breeze.
Things change, indeed. What was important just two weeks ago can become boring and trite. What seemed impossible yesterday can, with just a gentle nudge from outside forces, seem real today. What was eating at your insides last month can be nothing more than a minor annoyance now, when looked at in through the lens of a different season or heard through the music of a different song. Maybe a book will come your way that will be all those things - the words within the pages are the wind, the music, the snow that remind you and lift you.
All of that together - all of the reading of the past, the reliving of the emotions, the glimpse into the lives of strangers who let me in with a few pen strokes - make me realize many things, not the least of which is how I've fooled myself into thinking I didn't want to continue writing fiction. I see now that I was afraid to write it, and I used this place to keep that fear's grip on me.
Fear of failure is a powerful thing. But I've realized through all the self introspection that comes with reading nearly four years worth of spilled emotions that not trying not to fail
would be worse in the long run than failure itself.
I keep going back to that night in Thanksgiving 1998, when I weighed the options of taking a chance at another heart break or not taking the chance and continuing to be this blank slate of a person. Life is all about chances, cliched as that may sound. And the early fall despair-by-memory that I feel every year always gives way to March. I couldn't have spring without autumn.
I think I finally found what I've been looking for. It's not success, it's not riches or fame. It's just the road. I don't care where the road ends or if I ever get to the end. I've only been looking for the road itself and I finally uncovered it, beneath a pile of burning leaves and four years worth of words piled upon one another like a jagged mountain.
I've certainly learned a lot about myself here, mostly what I'm capable of. I've also learned, in the past month or so, what I don't want and don't need. You would think a person would figure this all out before they were 42 years old. Perhaps some of us are just slow learners. But it's in the learning that we really live.