by Dulcie Witman
That’s often what it’s like when I sit down to write.
You know the drill – make another cup of coffee, put on the writing shirt, sit down with time stretched out before you and it strikes you that you cannot possibly get comfortable until you’ve checked your email. Email turns into W.E.L.D.E.R. turns into stalking an old girlfriend and before you know it, it’s time to go to work and the only thing that’s been written is an email and a list of what you’re going to do when you have time.
This is not new for me. But it does seem to center around writing as in when I settle in to watch a show I most often see it through (though I did abandon Game of Thrones when I realized that I spent most of the time with my eyes covered) and when I set about mowing the lawn I do not look up a few hours later to find random groomed strips amidst my dandelion fields.
What I’m saying is that writing is hard for me to settle into. It’s like there’s a force field, flotsam and jetsam that surround me – work, chores, family, fun – and if I am able to free myself from their gravitational pull, then I get to hear my own noise. Straight from the factory, custom-made distractions all with one thing in common. They’re noisy.
And they can be deafening.
I used to think this was because I was afraid to write. Then I thought it was because I had nothing to write about. Then I thought it was because I was afraid to write about what I needed to write about. And finally it moved into thinking I was afraid for other people to read what I wrote. And while there may be some truth to all of these, I’ve come to recognize that they are not the biggest reason for the ants in my pants.
It’s how I am. I’ve been working on a book for the past year, a cross between a self-help book and memoir about my life as a therapist. I’ve got a good chunk of it down, 30,000-ish words or so, and then I begin a chapter called Ups and Downs – Successes, Failures and Vacations:
If being a therapist was always as hard as I’ve described here in these pages, then I truly think I would have had to close up shop and take my broken heart and my swirly mind off to a deserted island. On the island of broken hearts I would eat fruit and fish and I would walk around the island asking for forgiveness for all my shortcomings, as a therapist and as a person, as well as those of my friends and my family and my clients. I would walk around and around the island, muttering to myself about pain and suffering, praying for loving kindness until, as Thich Nhat Hanh says, it is so.
Perhaps I would be able to return, renewed, and begin again filled with fresh air and peace, ready to face the new day, accepting success and failure as all part of the job.
And here comes the smoke.
I go back to some of my old files to see if I have anything on failure and I find a short story that I liked that I submitted a few places and it did not get published so maybe I can take a quick look at it and see if I can tune it up a bit and send it out and that would perk up my writing spirit. Old stores, old stories, all I have is old stories, I haven’t written a new short story in quite a while and what is that business going on with my hip, I’ll bet that’s left over from the bike accident, hey maybe I should write a short story about the bike accident:
A near perfect September sun is setting over the Tuscan vineyards that span east and west along the pitted gravel road. The air smells ripe for the picking, bunches of plump green Vernaccias hang like juicy presents from their vines. She’s lying on her side and that is all she can see without moving her head…
I keep going. A young Italian truck driver comes into view:
Paulo is good-looking, deep-set brown black eyes, lashes thick enough to sweep the floor with…
I’m on a roll. I like Paulo. But who are the passengers in the back of the truck? Maybe I can go for a run, stretch that sore hip, come back with a vision. On the run, I am thinking about me and my girlfriend, how we’ve been fighting lately and how I hope we’re getting closer to the bottom of whatever in hell it is that we are actually fighting about. And it hits me.
Put us in the back of the truck.
I run back to my desk. I check my email and there’s a note asking for blog posts about writing.
Knock knock, I write.
It’s a funny thing being a writer and a therapist and a person. And a mother and a girlfriend and a sister and a daughter and a friend. You would think it would make for a fountain of material to write from. And it does. It really does.
But it also makes for a jumble, an ever rising, climate change swollen sea of intertwined this’s and that’s. It makes for people seeking therapy and people going to writing retreats and people writing stories that don’t get published and people fighting with their girlfriends. It makes for a big bountiful life filled with Ups and Downs and Vacations and it also propels me to write about it, to sort it through and try to see what the hell is going on.
The smoke is how I take a breath. Rest up for the next round. I’m not saying that it’s ideal. In fact I’ve actually been smoking cigarettes lately. Now I’m wondering if starting smoking after 25 years off is a way to reconnect to the girl who needed to take a breath but didn’t know how.
I think I’ll write about it.