I Can’t Sleep

 

 

 

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When I close my eyes I see the caisson carrying John Fitzgerald Kennedy.  I see his brother Bobby lying in a pool of blood on the kitchen floor.  I see Martin Luther King crumble on the balcony.  When I close my eyes I see another Black man shot in the back.  I see the twin towers come down.  I see the dead bodies on the fields in Viet Nam.  I see the maimed come home from Iraq and Afghanistan.  When I close my eyes I see the homeless family huddled over the grate for warmth.  I see the twelve-year-old girl sitting alone on a bench, waiting to have someone take the baby out of her that her daddy put there.  When I close my eyes I see the woman in the wheelchair being harrassed by a group of bored teenage boys.  I see the President-elect mimicking the disabled reporter.  When I close my eyes I see a lovely woman walking down a street in front of a construction sight where  men had paused from their work to whistle and call out what they would like to do her, and I hear our President-elect brag that women let him grab their pussies.  When I cose my eyes I see the child’s father carry bottled water up the stairs to his Flint home for his family but it’s too late for his child.  When I close my eyes I see people stranded on their roof tops in New Orleans and a body floating face down in flood water.  When I close my eyes I see the angry face of the President-elect.  I see his crowd raise their fists in the air shouting, “Lock her up!”  I see the the President-elect receiving too warm a welcome from the President.  When I close my eyes I see the caisson carrying John Fitzgerald Kennedy.  Weeks away the President-elect becomes President and the towers fall and the dead bodies come home and the family huddles at the grate for warmth and the caisson rolls down Pennsylvania Avenue.

In sorrow and fear

 

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I, like half the country, woke yesterday feeling deep sorrow, feeling as I did the day John Kennedy was assassinated.  Frightened by the intensity of my sorrow, I reached for my bottle of xanax, a drug I take when needed to control one of the effects of MS: an exaggerated response to sound, movement, and stress.

And then I picked up the play I am working on and got to work. In my worst times, sick with MS and sick with the loss of my life partner, the only thing that steadied me was writng, letting loose my grip on myself to join the world and characters of a story I was writing, exchanging ego consciousness for character consciousness.  But I was editing the play inside the house and although the TV screen was dark, it had brought me the bad news.  I picked up my laptop and went outside to write.  At the same time, yesterday I was doing laundry and from time to time I had to go back in the house to transfer clothes from the washer to the drier.  The inside was not sunny like the outside,  not warm.  I stepped into shadows and the coolness of airconditioning and the sadness returned.  I worked quickly in the laundry room and ran out to the sun’s warmth and the heat rising from the deck around the small pool.

Today I woke well before dawn from a pleasant dream into a frightening reality.  Today I am thinking less about Hillary and more about Trump and I am scared.  I traded deep sadness for high anxiety.  Words and phrases flashed, like emergency lights on the road where a terrible car accident has occurred and in an instant changes the life of someone forever.  Today, again I took a xanax pill and have written emails to friends and am now here, sending words out into the ethers to anyone who might find friendship with what I say.

Why have I continued to write all these years when five books have had only modest success, not earning enough to support me?  It is because writing takes me out of time and myself to a world and people I have created from my imagination where some of us find peace of mind.  It is for me the quiet place where whispering voices or shouts of joy from others catch my attention and for a while I forget myself, my sorrows and my fears.

Perspective

 

c-lying-with-c

 

I have been painting again.  In the painting the subject’s hand in the foreground is large and her hand in the background is small.  This is a clue to the perspective of the painter.  She is low and close to her subject.

The very large hand reminds me of something Stella Adler used to impress upon us, her drama students, that in order to tell a story in two hours the characters on stage must be larger than life. Stella was not instructing us to exaggerate, to make the hand larger as in the painting.  She was challenging us to reveal more, to be naked on the stage, and give “it” all away, saving nothing for the self.  By “it” she meant the gift the actor presents to the audience through character.  It could be said that an actor releases a character to the audience completely, holding back nothing.  It can’t be done playing it safe.

The same must be done in writing.  The writer must draw her characters larger than life, holding back nothing.  In life too often our presentation is small.  We tend to be stingy, protecting ourselves from being known truly, completely.  This doesn’t work in a book or on stage.  The audience and readers don’t have a lifetime to get to know the characters.  In life we can slowly, very gradually reveal ourselves.  In art we run out of time or space, doing that.

Stella’s acting lessons were my writing lessons.  At the time that I was learning how to create character I had no idea I would one day apply those lessons to stories I would write.

Yesterday I completed a second revision of my play, After the Dance.  I will return to it in another day or two to see what is there and what is not and look to see if it is big enough, important.  It is not enough to tell a story that is engaging.  It must also be important.  It must say something that needs to be said, that increases awareness or understanding, and challenges the reader.  At the same time my story needs to show a character and circumstances that are unique, it must tell a universal truth.  And it must tell it in a new way.  That is art.

Time on my hands

Lil Me in the poolA few weeks back the pool thermometer broke and I found a replacement at the pool store that had a green rubber frog attached to the top.  The frog floated above the surface of the water as the thermometer circled the pool on the current created by the jets of water.
I watched the frog swing around the pool over and over again while I floated on my raft in the middle of the pool. During the day when I passed the French door to the poolI I looked out to see where the frog was and when I couldn’t find it I ran out to discover it in the far corner of the pool almost invisible in the shadow of the wall.  Gradually the frog and I became friends and It was time to give froggy a name.  I marveled at the frog’s sweet expression, nearly a smile, that remained constant despite a fate to travel the same water over and over again and almost always alone.  I developed a softness for the frog and on her next pass, I stopped her progress to look closely at the spots on her back and her chubby legs and round belly, and I was tickled, especially by her attitude, and I named her Lil Me.  She is a bit like me or I might be a bit like her when I am my best.  At any rate I identified with Lil Me and for a moment we were one and I had the purest feeling that I’ve had once or twice before, that I am one with everything in the world.  A moment when I can feel the heart beat of everything and we are singing the same song.  Those are the happiest moments of my life.
It is raining now, but an hour ago I was in the shallow pool standing on the bottom, my head well above the water and the sun pouring down on me and Lil Me.  I looked down through the water to the black bottom and saw a silhouette of my body.  I wiggled my arms and legs and made shadow figures like we did many decades ago to amuse ourselves.
I’ve been in that pool at least 600 times and never before saw the shadow figure of me.  And I couldn’t help but wonder what if all we are seeing on this physical plane is like the shadow figure and when we pass into the spirit world we see things in technicolor and three dimensions, not black and white and two dimensional.  It is a thought that flew from the bamboo tree overhead down to my shoulder and knocked on my skull.  It came to me because I don’t have a husband or wife or children or an in-law to take care of or a job or land to farm.  I have time on my hands to observe what is always present but I don’t always see and find meaning in the image and an application to my life.

What next when the book is done?

Linda's Room

It is always with mixed feelings I finish a book I have been working on for years.  Although the entire time I am writing I am eager to finish, when I do I feel nearly bereft.  I wander around my rooms for days and mope in the yard.  I miss the world I have inhabited for a long stretch of time and I miss the friends my characters have become.  And while I am not happy with time on my hands, I am reluctant to begin writing a new story.  And yet I miss not just the storyline and the characters but the WORK.

A few days ago when I announced Her Widow finished, I got out my paints and I fell in love again creating perspective on a flat surface and breathing in the smell of oil paint.  My rooms now smell like an artist’s studio and on my desktop in place of a stack of white sheets of paper is a 12″ X 9″ gesso board.

My Writing Life: Why I Write

 

 

 

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I have not written here lately.  I suppose because I have been depressed and unaware of that until yesterday.  I have been preoccupied with thoughts about my health and in particular my MS symptoms that have worsened recently.  I’ve been bogged down with calls to doctors and appointments and procedures.  And I have had difficulty sleeping, waking every hour and exhausted throughout the day.  One morning recently, sitting up in bed with a first cup of coffee of the day, I nodded off and fell out of bed crash landing on the small chest of drawers beside my bed.

Depression.  Clinical depression is not feeling down in the dumps or sad about something.  Depression is not feeling.  It is being detached to the extent that nothing moves us to do anything.

The question I wanted to answer when I wrote After the Dance, a novel that has become a play, was why some with chronic, progressive diseases pull their legs over to the edge of their beds and get up in the morning, and others do not.  Why don’t some, who know life is not going to improve, but become more difficult, why don’t they give up?

The answer that came to me and I believe is true for all of us is DESIRE. Desire keeps us going, desire  as simple as  a tunafish sandwich for lunch keeps us alive for lunch.

When I don’t write for days on end though writing is the one thing I can do when I can do nothing else, I have to ask myself why. Here from my memoir Her Widow, letters I wrote to Catherine, my partner, the year following her death, here is an early letter in which I say what writing means to me.

Dear Catherine, I was crying when I lay beside you in bed a week ago, imagining my first hour without you, the days that would follow that and the weeks and months and years.  I was 51 years old.  I might live thirty more years without you.  Twenty was certainly a possibility.  

You said something I thought was strange.  You asked me, “Why do you write?”  I didn’t want to talk about writing.  I needed words of comfort from you. “I don’t want to talk about that,” I said. 

Today, a week later, I  understand why you asked that question.  I write to feel connected to something, to be in the good company of my imaginary friends and someone or something I can’t name or explain who whispers  words to me now and again or shows me an image.  Whatever or whoever is guiding me in those times is also good company.  And I write when I don’t know what else to do, when I’m unable to read, watch television, or listen to music.  When I can’t fall asleep.  Writing is the one thing I can do when I can do nothing else. 

Standing in the pool dumbfounded yesterday feeling no desire for anything, not even to lay out on the water and float, I searched my mind for one small thing I desired. I want to finish a play I have been working on for some time. I need an obstruction for my character to overcome or not.  The drama needs a conflict.

I got out of the pool and went into the house to write.  And today I am able to add something to this blog.

My Writing Life: Rewriting

summer bathing

 

I have been away from my blog, working on my memoir, Her Widow.  A limited memoir, I call it, because rather than tell my life story, it tells what happen one year in my life.  One more pass, I tell myself each time I start another draft or rewrite of Her Widow.  Just one more pass, when I know very well after 35 years of wriing that it will be at least ten more drafts.   Every writer, student or professional, knows writing is rewriting.  If you don’t enjoy rewriting you aren’t a writer for long.

I am working on a full length play as well as my memoir.  Fifteen years ago After the Dance was a novel.  Ten years ago a play.  Last year a novel again.  And this year I am transforming it back into a play.  I have probably written six drafts of each transformation.

A piece of writing, be it nonfiction or fiction, story or play, can be looked at from two aspects:  from its Structure and from its Style.  Structure is everything having to do with plot and character development  Style is everything to do with language: syntax and diction, which might incorporate both exposition and dialog.  There are a million ways to say anything.  The English language in particular is designed for variety of word choice as well as phrase, clause, and sentence structure and order, and all that in service of the story.

There are many ways to structure a plot and develop a character also, which is to say there are a million ways to tell a story and draw a character and whenever there are a million ways to write something there is rewriting.  Choice leads to change and change is rewriting.

The First rule in creative writing is Show, don’t Tell.  The Second rule is anything that doesn’t serve the plot development or character development must come out.  Everything that lands in your story that perhaps is interesting or witty but does not move the plot along or does not show something about your character MUST be tossed.  You only have so many words and pages in which to tell your story.  Don’t clog it up with the unnecessary no matter how lovely the unnecessary seems.  Useful is the test.  Another way of putting that is Does it Work?  Don’t ever ask yourself if it is Good.  Good can’t be judged impartially.  Does it Work? can.

All right that is enough from me tonight.  I have put in a little time on my blog and now must hurry/speed up/ rush/run/ hasten/ press on over to Her Widow.  I am only on page 25 and have “miles to go before I sleep.”

 

My Writing Life: MeeeeeOwwwwww!

 waking up 2
Days ago, I lost the file of Her Widow that I was editing. l highlighted the file and dragged it to the back-up on my desktop, but instead of the file being saved, it was converted back to an earlier version and all the changes I had made were lost—gone into the ethers.
Apple could not find the file that was lost.  After an extensive, three hour search for it on my hard drive and in my back-up files, Apple pronounced it gone forever, permanently lost.  Nor could the computer geek I enlisted restore my work.  No one can explain why my MacBook Air, on command to save, erased the file and all previous versions, saving only an old version that did not have 40 hours of rewriting in it.  I’m not the first to lose an important file and feel sick.
I have started over, knowing a brush stroke can’t be duplicated any more than a batter can strike the ball again, exactly as he did when he hit the homer.  No moment in life with all its magic can be repeated.  It is disastrous to try to perform the ballet as danced when everything seemed to come together.  No concert is the same the second time around.  I mourn the loss but I must move on with confidence that I have the stuff to find new language, and, of course, I have learned the lesson.  I am printing out my corrections each day, not just saving the file and backing it up.

My Writing Life: Choices

 

 

blanket

No life has all the lovely things.  Each choice we make moves us toward one thing and away from another.  I chose to spend my time fully writing stories and walked away from a career that could have brought me riches.  I chose to write about the love of two women and left others to woo the larger market.  I chose to live out as a lesbian and  associations and opportunities were lost. I have never wanted a different life although from time to time not having this and that has brought tears to my eyes on a quiet night.  No life has all the lovely things.

 

 

My Writing Life: Writing It Down

river

 

I had a near melt-down the other night and wrote an angry letter to my deceased mother and father in my journal. I have spent a lifetime trying to heal my anger toward them.

Spiritual work and psychotherapy have helped but haven’t been the miracle I probably need.  Most days I feel I have rooted out my anger and forgiven Mother’s insistence that I be other than I am and Dad’s cowardliness, letting her speak for him.  But too many days, I get lost in the pain of the past and return to the darkness of the victim.  I marvel at the people who have suffered far greater than I and seem to be living without bitterness, with light hearts.

When I am drawn back into the drama of the past that apparently I have not finished arguing over, I use my wild energy to do something productive, outdoor work, back-braking work, pulling weeds from the white shell that surrounds the house where I live.  Or I release my anger in my journal, or through a character in a story, or in a letter to a friend,

It is a rare occasion when I am able to sit or stand in the anger and let it, like a river, run through me.

I am sure I became a writer to save my soul, declaring who I am, what I feel, and how I see things on a sheet of paper.

I wonder will I ever be able to transcend, rise above, center myself so that nothing at all is needed from me, for me?

In the meantime I write it down and writing it down becomes the river to the sea.