by Meg Dowell Sometimes, writing less leads to deeper, more creative thinking. Have you ever wondered how some writers manage to write thousands of words every day — while you can barely squeeze out 500 words after an hour of trying (and failing) to focus? How do so many successful writers publish so […]
It’s four am and utterly silent outside while a storm rages within me. The writing job is, like the chair I sat in for over eight hours a day, being pulled out from under me. I rail and pace and study my half-toned abs, awake too early, sipping red wine in my plan to go back to bed, after I find the thing to kick, punch or scream at. Four am is dark, still and warm for February, an intimate pocket of reflection between night and morning.
Four am is the time when the meat of sleep is over and, should you be so inclined, you can rest a little longer in that next stage, which I suppose could be the side dish. I don’t want to sleep and I do. I don’t want that job and I do. I am not angry and I am. It is pitch black dark, no sound of a car engine can be heard and there are shimmering pools of streetlights far below my window. Both things-light and dark are here, as are bad and good news.
I’m exhausted, fried to a crisp. I need a week or two off from the job of writing (that I am so grateful for!). I could get on top of the feeling that I’m sliding into a pit of feeling hard done by. I need to just write my guts out and let this shit go. I’ll be a writer even after this—I write every day at that wretched post, so writing is like breathing, now. That’s the bigger reality. From afar, if I could lift myself up a few miles and look down, would I see that this is all rather benign and wasn’t it always a risky proposition, this concept of a work visa that has to be renewed annually?
It is becoming obvious that there are-in every moment-two contradictory truths. This thing that is happening at me: job insecurity, employers who aren’t sure if they can keep me and have asked me to stay and then asked me to wait for a few weeks to make sure they can offer me a job-that is all the noise, the distracting chatter, the background static still echoing in my head.
What is at the center, past this distracting crisis, is me putting my fingers onto a keyboard and producing my own song. Looking at my core muscles is important, since that is me, not the job. I am steeling myself, training to shatter the stuckness, the inertia, the weight of the world sticking to my ribs. My own foibles, folly and frailty. The place where I am trapped and waiting for a break just now is not unfamiliar. I have had this mosquito buzzing at my ear before, but I am aware this time around. Sort of. It’s all still a jumble I haven’t worked through. Writing about the Non-Farm Payrolls, about US job growth and wages rising, about unemployment of 4.1%. From an island that feels like kin to Greece, I write that 20% is a low estimate of that nation’s unemployment. I type away, badly, on a keyboard about these things, knowing I must empty my desk drawer in a week. It is…hard. And the joy rising in me is as beautiful as feeling really alive again is.
I haven’t lost my job. It’s right down there, I can see the lights from here. I know where it is- it’s 40 minutes’ drive every day into an office that is clinical, devoid of soul; an IKEA desk and chair and a computer that I switch on, plug into and produce work from. Fear of losing my pay check, losing my ability to pay rent, losing my home, has kept me bound to the pages I produce. In my uneasy sleep, I dream in the sections of the deadline I dread, and greet, again, every day. I don’t even like weekends, like this, since there’s never enough time to recharge, what with ironing my business attire and preparing lunches for the week ahead.
The massive blue, blood red super moon hidden behind the clouds is a herald of changes. The new year is still so fresh that my fearful thoughts of leaving my home and moving in with a friend seem dramatically unwarranted. I’m grateful for the options the company is holding out towards me—working freelance for them—that keep the pennies and pounds from heaven coming around the next bend. I’m also glad for my sister’s wisdom, learned as a perennial government contract worker, that a job ending isn’t something to take personally. No one says I can’t write, they are just sacking all of their writers, but they hope to keep me. That’s nice…ish. But still, I scan the horizon for what next?
My worst-case scenario is that I lose this job, that the option of staying on as a freelancer doesn’t materialize. That fills me with more excitement than fear. I get time to do the work I would rather do! I can finish my neglected memoir Token Yank! I am freed from the penance of hauling my dressed-up, mascara-ed ass in there and that squandered time is mine! I get to write about what I decide to write about at four am or 4 pm.
Write, move your body, write!
I can work out in between assignments; I can clock out, clear my mind and come back when I am biologically freshened. It is so hard to sit and churn it out for nine hours, five days a week… Each session is survival, then weeks pass, you stop being alive to yourself or anyone else. You are deeply tired, then exhausted. I limped in with a broken foot and never sought medical care that was within walking distance. I was afraid I’d loss my place if I took an hour off to see a doctor. Wow. That was what I was willing to sacrifice, what I’m letting go of.
I can make this work for me. Hell, now that I don’t have a broken foot, I can learn to type properly. That would be fun. It really is fun to begin shaking this job off, and I can get paid to write about more than job growth and unemployment rates. Well, either I can, or I can’t, and I’d get to find out what I can do, if I let go of this white knuckled desperation.
It’s five o’clock. The roosters are persistently crowing, as if urging the sun into the inky sky. All is well and so utterly screwed up. A pair of truths, one in each hand, exist in tandem. My eyelids heavy, it’s quieter inside of me than it was, now before the dawn of another Sunday.
It’s hard to know in your bones that you’re going to lose a job that’s paid you decently to write for two years. I got what I needed out of the bargain, and now, fearful or free, my apprenticeship concludes, my work to write better continues.
I wonder how much faster I can learn to type once I quit looking at the keyboard, unsure of myself and the truths I hold in my two hands?
It’s still not raining this spring after hardly any rain all winter, so I thought it best I give my bone dry garden a decent soak. I noticed the new neighbor, a blue bowl in his hand, lavishing soapy water on his car.The sky cloudy, we both heard the distant thunder, both dismissed rain as a possibility. Menacing thunder echoed again, the air tense, hot and dry –I’ve never heard thunder in a dust storm, I realized. When the heavy drops fell, his effort to shine his car had only make the damp dust stand out more. A moment after it passed, I’d noticed the brown drops weren’t wet anymore. They laid gritty on the tables and crunchy under foot. It’s not just dry because it hasn’t rained, but doubly dry because this dust coats the new leaves of the trees and spring flowers, wicking the moisture away.
Headlines featuring the NASA study of the Levant drought are as conspicuous as Cyprus’ increasing dust storms. Warnings in the papers and on the radio for people who have breathing difficulties, the young and elderly to stay indoors aren’t necessary because it’s obvious we’re under a fog of dust. My headache and my neighbor’s sneezing, the absence of the sounds of children playing-and our itching red eyes are all unavoidable indicators that fine particles of hazardous dust are upon us, yet again. Flights were delayed last week when a soupy thick dust fog swept in from the Sahara reducing visibility. The sea is simply cloaked;a fine sheen in the atmosphere softens views of the nearby mountains. The results of NASA’s study of the last drought, the one lasting from 1998 till 2012 are just being analyzed. As we take this in, a new drought seems to begin.
Using data from tree rings, NASA had been able to trace back 900 years, explaining that from 1100 until 21012 the Eastern Mediterranean was 50% drier than it’d been at its driest periods. I know, from reading Cypriot history that there were periods of three years, two hundred or so years ago, when it didn’t rain at all for over a year, here, so I’m amazed to hear that-when we are at least getting some winter precipitation, on average, it’s drier.
Prince Charles pointed out last November that the drought in Syria helped contribute to the war, there. When the land dried and crops failed, over a million Syrians left their farms and crowed cities already flooded with refugees from the Iraq invasion. The circular effect of war and water shortage rotates out to the edges of the region where oil fields dry the lands they pump from. Fresh water wells are increasingly valued higher than oil wells in the Middle East. Water for the fields all across the region is being pumped up from deeper below ground, so early this year, I note. Weeds are already brown just a few weeks into spring, and it’s warmer very early, we all agree, noting how we seem to have skipped winter this year. There’s a daily mention of the drying trend, or a discussion about the dust. A man in his late 60’s commented this morning that he doesn’t recall dust storms like this from his childhood in the northern Karpasia mountain range. I recall visiting the place he lived as particularly beautiful with green fields against azure sea- recalling when I was a child, how the views to Turkey were sharpest there. It seemed as if the Mediterranean were a vast lake, that you could nearly swim across. We who have such memories of clearer air agree that the once crystalline visibility hasn’t been seen for decades.
Somewhere beyond the sea, near the Sahara, lands never used before are being turned by tractors, kicking up clouds of dust that spiral high above and move out over the Mediterranean Sea, in Syria bombs send particles into the atmosphere that combine with the dust and all over the Eastern Mediterranean, air currents shift, bringing less water, more arid wind. I caught as much of the last winter rain in a water barrel as I could and I’ll haul buckets of it into my parched garden today, doling it out cautiously. It’s ironic, the sound of tourists splashing in the swimming pool of the holiday home nearby.
I’m in need of a writer-to-writer pep talk today, so I’ve decided to give myself one. This isn’t going to be easy. I’m realizing, to my chagrin, that being optimistic and upbeat comes much more naturally when things are going well. Who’d have thought? Maintaining a good attitude is a bit more challenging when you’re […]
Holy cow, they expect me to write content that’s-what? Based on metrics? And delve into financially dulled data emerging with some fascinating insights that that 6 minutes to read? Ok, sure it’s SEO friendly, that isn’t too hard to figure out, but as the last reflections of sunlight drain from the sky, I blink toward the dark unknown fearing the challenges that must certainly be ahead.
This is the reward of getting a paid writing job! The certainty that uncertainty is around the corner. It liberates the critical broken record that plays in my head- that voice seeking safety at all costs has woken up to demand center stage. Images of my future self’s failure to learn something are flickering on my mental screen now,before I’ve even made my first day’s appearance. Okay, you’re a familiar lie, I nod, playing the kinder mentor to myself.
The thing I know for sure is that writing is what I’m doing now, to deal with feeling nervous about writing.And I’ll write about learning new techniques, too. I’ll find writing tedious and no doubt write that I’m sick of writing. And then edit that and whine about being sick of editing. Writing is what helps me learn and so what better than a chance to learn more about writing? I can’t know more than I know today, although writing has helped me imagine what a year from today may be. I wrote about getting through a first year at the job and it worked like a lasso to pull my imagination into visualizing success.
If I didn’t write, I can’t imagine who I’d be. I can imagine both trial and triumph, success and setbacks in the new job ahead. In crafting sentences that readers can well imagine, I’ll be extending this habit that sustains me. My neighbor told me that the job was meant just for me- a kindness meant to reassure me as I explained how in shock I was. It is, however a possibility. It’s an open door in a mansion full of words I’ve yet to shape into form.
This morning found me taking time to free write using a prompt sent my way by a Jane Brunette’s website called Writing From the Soul. Free writing turned out to be a good jumping off point, a brainstorming session which I combined with another device:dangerous writing. Portland’s writer’s guru, Tom Spanbaner insists we focus on the very things we’d rather avoid, suggesting that what we need to get closer to discussing are the things that embarrass and scare us. So, I took the prompt ‘The unknown self’ and went after…gulp…loneliness. I sure don’t want to whine about isolation- how ludicrously embarrassing, and scary to talk about, right? But helpful to both loosening up the writing and releasing the sticky stuckness.
And then…I followed up with Jane Brunette’s meditative writing exercise- whoa, Nelly! New structure came through as if I were channeling a much freer writer! Result: An interview with my Unknown Self (aka US) that flowed in the 10 minute writing session.
Unknown self: Hi, I’m busy now.
Me: Doing what?
Us: Looking for a way to escape. You’re trying to get rid of me. I’m not comfortable being put on the page.
Me: Are you a sprite? Something naughty?
Us: I’m also your guide and your intuition. Like now, I formed this as an interview when you wouldn’t have thought of it. Also I’m helping you be safe doing unfamiliar things. I operate close to spirit, and close to the ground, too.
Me: Are you mine alone or do you drift like pollen?
Us: You’re not that separate from it all. Nor am I.
Me; Are you trying to keep me away from people?
Us: A little, but I can loosen up on that, if you like. Just don’t throw your whole soul into some dickhead to escape from being cowardly. We’re all alone. And lonely happens to be a resting state for us. You’ve made it into a pity party. By calling it a wound, you knife yourself. Call it another day of being free, call it the joy of getting to meet people on-line. Just don’t hurt yourself about it. Let it be enough to be you just now, right now.
Which of these resonates with you?
These are valuable tips indeed. Jeff Gardiner, editor and master of several genres, is well qualified to write a continuation to my “Author Countdown” which started by accident a couple of weeks ago, when my blog “TEN THINGS…” broke hit records last month. We’ve shared a successful library talk, and a book signing. A quiet, self-effacing man with a lovely family, and we have Africa in common. Welcome back, Jeff.
1. Cope with rejection. This one is important. You can’t afford to be overly sensitive or sentimental about your creativity. Very few writers get their stories or novels accepted immediately (follow this link to make yourself feel better – http://www.literaryrejections.com/best-sellers-initially-rejected/). Rejection is part of the process. As one of my friends likes to say, “Cry me a river, build a bridge and get over it!” Have faith in yourself and your book and send off some more submissions…
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