Sunday, 24 May 2015

Wherever and whenever you stop digging

"220. Imagine someone saying, "Our fundamental situation is joyful." Now imagine believing it. 

221. Or forget belief: imagine feeling, even if for a moment, that it were true.


235. ... Perhaps it would help to be told that there is no bottom, save, as they say, wherever and whenever you stop digging. You have to stand there, spade in hand, cold whiskey sweat beaded on your brow, eyes misshapen and wild, some sorry-ass gravedigger grown bone-tired of the trade. You have to stand there in the dirty rut you dug, alone in the darkness, in all its pulsing quiet, surrounded by the scandal of corpses."

-- Maggie Nelson, Bluets

I am trying so hard to be grateful for this jewel of a life and I am, I am, I am. In a few weeks I fly to New Jersey to see my dearest friend in all the world and we will go to NYC and stay in a hotel and drink cocktails named for books, and I will be grateful and happy and everything will be perfect, even if only for three days. But that is not the problem. The problem is that this used to be enough to make me happy, to make me grateful--this little yellow apartment with its rooftop deck and quirky ceilings and this job that (once upon a time) was enough to pay the bills and give me time for writing and now pays the bills and then some but doesn't give much time for writing anymore, and now it is easier to wake up and think why don't you just go back to bed, there's not much else to do and sometimes I do just that, sometimes I just close my eyes and sleep again and it is great, it is everything I want at that moment in time.

And then there are moments when it all comes off, like a skin shucked onto the ground, and I blink and I find myself saying, faintly, maybe there's a story in there, somewhere. And for a moment I feel like my old self, like that's a possibility, somehow. Something I could get back to, something I haven't forgotten.

I have never in all my life before minded time spent by myself, and for the past few months I have minded it so much I've felt myself becoming an entirely different person. This sadness that pulses so deep it feels alive.

A friend of mine is both convinced of and perplexed by what he sees as the "confessional" age of the times. People have this great need to purge everything, he says. Publicly. It's all about the reveal, how raw you are, how bare you can make yourself in front of others. 

I have been feeling, myself, as though it's not so much a revealing as a confession. Confessing myself to the world, or wanting to, and expecting--what? I don't know.  

This too shall pass, they all say. But when? How do I get there? How do you pull yourself back out of the hole when you stop digging, grind your muscles over the great walls of dirt and sprawl once more beneath the stars?

One handful at a time, I suppose. One breath, and then another. 

Saturday, 25 April 2015


A week ago I hosted a Steel City Stories evening. It was a great deal of fun. At one point, one of the storytellers mentioned how she'd once had a conversation with me where I said something along the lines of loneliness is part of the writing life, and hearing it from her--as in, my words spoken back to me from someone else's mouth--made me feel odd. Almost terrible. Like being flashed in terrible, if only for a moment. Sometimes I forget how glib one can be with true things.

Had a Skype conversation with my dearest friend in all the world a few nights ago. We have decided that I need something to look forward to. Is that so terrible, this plotting and scheming so that one might have things to work towards? For the past few years I've felt so guilty about how I squandered my twenties. It doesn't feel like squandering on the one hand--how much I learned about myself during those twenties, how much I hurt and loved and felt and read and was--but when you're up against the reality of trying to regain financial stability and paying down debt and staying in a job you do not love because it probably pays more than you will ever make doing the thing that you do love--well, it feels like squandering now.

And so I find myself feeling guilty about AWP, despite how much I loved it, guilty about wanting to book another trip now, and soon, guilty about wanting to pick up and start a new life somewhere else because who has money for all of this? Certainly not me.

You had more experience in your twenties than a lot of people have in their lifetimes, another friend said to me a while ago. Now you get to pay for that. Consider yourself lucky to have had that at all.

I am paying, I understand that. The cup cannot runneth over forever. But meanwhile I am not writing, I am not playing, I am not dreaming the way that I used to, the way that used to say this will be hard, but you can do it. Now I look at things and I think: it isn't worth it, anymore.

I am so terrified of a life that just shrinks away under the guise of responsibility. Paying debt and working hard and sleeping because you have no energy for anything else and your world keeps getting smaller, smaller, smaller until it just isn't there anymore.

So. I need something else to look forward to.

Universe, please pry me open, is what I am saying.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

The echoes of a person you once knew

So I went to AWP last week, and it was lovely. Magical. So much fun. Book fairs and cupcakes and dinners and readings and long talks with friends new and old. One of the nicest hotel rooms I've ever stayed in. Long bubble baths at night, reading the haul that I brought back from the book fair.

Did I mention that there were cupcakes?

 I felt like my old self again. My pre-2014 self, alive and excited. 

Monday, 6 April 2015

Flying away

I'm heading to Toronto tonight, ahead of our flight tomorrow morning to Minneapolis and the excitement that will be Little Fiction | Big Truths at AWP. I am excited, not-excited, nervous. This happens every single time I travel somewhere--choking anxiety followed by the push on through, the resolution, the one step in front of another and eventually you'll get there.

Matthew Kabik, who is a pretty smart dude and all kinds of wonderful besides, has written an open letter to the writing life that pretty much sums up my current frame of mind, irony of being on the edge of attending a writing conference notwithstanding. I am sad reading it, and also so relieved. Yes, yes, yes someone else feels the same way. Yes. 

Somewhere in the past ten years I started believing that writing could do something for me that it can't. What that something is, I still don't know. Or maybe it's just that I thought writing would solve a problem, and it is, it does, but the nature of this problem is that it never goes away, no matter how many times you solve it, or think you solve it, or come close to understanding. There is always another thing to uncover.

Last week I went to Toronto and had lunch with the spectacular woman behind KissCut Design and we talked art and work and life and hard times and I felt, walking through the Toronto sunshine later that day, a little like my old self. Excited like my old self. Hopeful like my old self. I am hoping that this feeling will come back to me at the conference. That I will search and see it and pin it to the ground and wrestle it and myself back to some kind of truth, together.

There has to be another way, I tell myself, even as I dream about flying away altogether and starting a new life somewhere else. Something more than feeling stuck where you are, grateful and also guilty because you don't love your job, because it drains you even as it's easy, because you feel buried under how grateful you are for the money and how tired you are from working all the time and then coming home and trying to work all the time when you're there. The words feel so much smaller than they used to, so paltry, so unimportant.

There has to be another way. There has to be another life.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Dealing only in truth

A couple of weeks ago, Penguin Random House (love them forever) sent me a copy of this book to review:
They also sent me a copy of THE BURIED GIANT, which is wildly (ha) different from the book above and which--embarrassed face--I'm still trying to get through. I don't know why I'm having such a hard time with it, except to say that I used to inhale books back in the day and now I find it all so much more difficult. Harder to devote my attention, harder to really get swept away by a narrative. I don't know what that means.

Am I still even a book lover? Has that changed too, along with so many other things?

Or maybe I'm just a slower reader, now, than I used to be. Maybe I'm making a big deal out of things that just have tiny, simple, almost-invisible answers. I don't know.


Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Thoughts and things

I haven't written in here in what feels like forever.

It has not been forever. It has only been one month, a little over.

I am so tired of the cold. Even though the snow is gone (hopefully for a long time) there's still a chill. Two weeks ago we had a Sunday where the temperature zoomed up into spring and you could see the difference in the people walking by you on the street. People were smiling. They looked looser, more excited, happy.

So many times I want to open my mouth and say things, these days, and I always end up thinking what's the point. 

I mean, not in the sense that I question whether there's a point to having your voice heard, putting what's turning over and over in your head actually out into the world. I know there's value in that. Something special about it, something that matters.

I just -- I don't know. I'm working so much now and making actual money -- money that isn't instantly gone to pay loans and debt and food and rent and all of those other things, although I'm still paying those things too, it's just that now there is more room -- and all of this is great, it is wonderful, and I am so grateful, I truly am, but I have no time to myself now where I'm not exhausted, and so I think: why bother with anything else? Why bother working so hard on things that might not see the world when you can just dig into your comfortable job--your unexpectedly interesting job that has put you in the path of so many fascinating people--and buy bookshelves for your house instead?

Why work hard for a chance at something when you can work hard for a definite something? Doesn't that make more sense? Doesn't that add up?

And I know, I know. You build a career, one story at a time. One word at a time. No one said this would be easy. (In fact, most people say it sucks.) You do it because you love it. Etc. etc. Or, you do it because it's so much a part of you now that you can't see any other way.

A few weeks ago one of the nurses at my work said that her greatest fear in life is for her daughter to grow up and decide she wants to be an artist.

I laughed. And then I went into the bathroom and cried a little, because she is right, because I'd have argued against her for so many years and now I just don't have the energy.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Feeding oneself

I'm going through the submissions to the Big Truths anthology and my heart is breaking, bit by bit. How lovely all of these stories are, and also how sad. How hungry they make me. They're all about food and they're also, every one of them, not about food at all so much as they are about love and sadness and sex and hurt and fear and longing and grief, so much grief, so much memory in the way that a wafer can taste when it dissolves on your tongue.

I feel humbled and so lucky to read them.

All of this reading about food has made me think about recipes--the food kind, yes, but also the mental kind, the things that you cobble together when you want to build a life. What do you carry with you? What do you hold close and then eventually let go? What mixes with this and that to make you who you are?

I joined a gym earlier in January. I'm not terribly out of shape but there is a certain pair of favourite pants that somehow, over the course of the past year, stopped fitting. I would like to wear them again. I would like to run regularly again and feel better, have more energy, be able to do more. Fit into my favourite summer dresses. Look into the mirror and think, maybe, maybe, maybe it's not so bad. Maybe you can build a life for yourself, with your running and your writing and your trips and your music and your pictures and it will all be okay. Books or not. Writing or not. Maybe this is a recipe, too, for how to be.

I'm up north for three days as of tomorrow. Lots of snowshoeing over a frozen lake and drinking tea and watching the wind blow through the trees. There may or may not also be guacamole involved. And dogs. There will be dogs.

(To cuddle with, obviously. One can be fed in all manner of ways.)

Sometimes the urge to say something and the simultaneous inability to find anything to say is so strong I almost can't stand it. I want...I don't know.

I want, I guess. I want to be fed.

Maybe that's all it is.