Miles To Go Before I Sleep

•May 28, 2020 • Leave a Comment

Lately, I’ve been having trouble getting to bed at a decent hour. In an effort to figure out why, I began keeping track of all the tasks I do between finishing dinner and actually getting in bed. The journey goes something like this:Finish dinner and evening television entertainment.

Kiss Curmudgeonly Lion goodnight.

“Don’t stay up too late.” He says.

“I’ll be quick.” I reply.

Take dishes into kitchen.

Put away leftovers.

Do dishes (by hand- no dishwasher).

Disinfect countertops, microwave, doorknob and cabinet pulls.

Sweep kitchen floor.

Clean and set up coffee maker to auto-brew coffee in the morning.

Discover there’s not enough water in the Brita to fill the coffeemaker.

Wait for Brita to filter.

Fill coffeemaker.

Refill Brita.

Lure cat out of hiding with treats.

Give cat pill.

Give cat treats.

Give cat food.

Take out trash/recycling/compost (as necessary).

Debate if it’s worth folding that load of laundry in the dryer.

Write in journal.

Close up studio.

Turn out main house lights.

Check that doors are locked.

Brush teeth. Floss teeth. Mouthwash.

Look longingly at library book. Actually scan Facebook instead.

Moisturize.

Get in bed, take out contacts, turn out lights.

I have good intentions: I always intend to get to bed at a decent hour, but there always seems to be just one more thing that needs to be done before I can quit for the day. And it’s all stuff that needs doing: there’s no real leisure or recreation in it. I’ve pretty much come to terms with the fact that if I want to get any creative work done I either have to do it before dinner or else plan on staying up into the darkest part of the night to do it.

It’s not a routine that I love, but I’m not sure how to go about changing it.

Out of Step

•May 26, 2020 • 2 Comments
Who is that behind the mask?

In spite of my best efforts, I seem to have gotten out of step with myself. I had one goal for the holiday weekend: to get out my hammock and to spend some quality time in it. But I didn’t do it. And that’s fine: I did a bunch of other things: puttered around in the yard, cleaned house, took naps, acquired a couple new shelving units from the roadside market, donated blood, etc.

But some of my more basic goals went undone: I haven’t felt motivated to go running in several days- today included. I don’t really mind in terms of exercise: I’ve been plenty active as a result of the yard work I’ve been doing- which has also gotten me outside for fresh air (the second reason why I am usually so insistent on going running) but I still feel curiously unmoored without it.

I’m trying to teach myself that it’s okay for me to not adhere to a strict routine: that the measure of my worth is not tied to my productivity, but it is stressing me out something fierce. I keep catching myself clenching my jaw. I keep having to remind myself to stay present in what I’m doing instead of spinning out about all the things I feel like I ought to be doing.

I was learning about the notion of self-abandonment as the result of last week’s therapy session: the idea that one can reflexively make choices that go against their instincts as a way of complying to the demands or expectations of others. A part of this involves a conflict between the image we project of ourselves in our mind and the image that others project of us competing for validation. In true Highlander fashion, there can be only one. And when we choose the image as dictated by others it dismisses our projection of self.

I’m discovering that I’ve done this a LOT in my life- much of it without a second thought: whenever I’m in conflict with someone I’m very quick to question my own instincts. So, I’m working on listening to my actual impulses (do I actually feel the impulse to run? No. And that’s okay.) and trying to name my actual feelings in the moment (I feel frustrated, anxious, defensive, disoriented) in the hopes of teasing out what I actually want, versus what I’ve trained myself to respond to.

Why does this have to be so fucking hard?

Labyrinth

•May 22, 2020 • 2 Comments

Lately, in my journey towards the center of my Self, I’ve become preoccupied with the Labyrinth at Chartres cathedral. It’s a pattern inlaid on the floor; and the idea is that pilgrims visiting the cathedral could walk along the lines as a form of meditation and prayer.

I’ve always liked the notion of a labyrinth: a single path which, although it might twist and wind, leads inevitably to a center- and then leads back out to the entrance. It’s not a maze: there are no dead ends or false paths: all you have to do is trust the journey and it will get you where you need to go and then get you home again.

So I’ve been thinking a lot about labyrinths lately. I printed out a copy of the Chartres labyrinth to copy into my journal. As I did, it occurred to me that there are a number of lessons to be learned from a labyrinth. In the beginning, the path seems to be quite direct: you head straight towards the center in a straight line until suddenly getting diverted by the first turn. But it is a short detour, and you quickly return to that straight and focused path to the center. But just before you reach it, the path diverts again. And then it backtracks. And suddenly you’re moving away from your goal.

For a while you weave back and forth as the path folds on itself leading you away from the center before sending you off in an unanticipated direction. Okay: so you find yourself in unfamiliar territory, but you try to work your way back to the center. This time you don’t get quite as close before being diverted again to still newer territory- where you are once again able to get ever-so-close to your goal before everything unravels. And then you wander in the wilderness for forty years until suddenly, without apparent logic or effort, you end up exactly where you wanted to be.

Much like life.

I hope.

I think one of the things that appeals to me so much about labyrinths is that notion that you don’t need to control the path for it to take you where you want to go. But as a fairly direct person, it is also immensely frustrating to have to trust a long and winding road to travel a short distance. But, of course, the point of a labyrinth is not to reach the center as quickly as possible, the point is to make the journey and to experience the twists and turns.

Much like life.

So I’m trying to learn to enjoy the twists and turns more and to trust that although I often feel like I’m wandering aimlessly and pointed in the wrong direction that the path will lead me where I want to go. And that once I reach my goal, the path will be there to guide me home again.

Fin

•May 21, 2020 • 3 Comments
Woman In The Dunes, Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1963

Okay, so Life in Quarantine has taught me a few things about my writing habits: I recently completed a draft of a screenplay that I started back in March. At the time I’d been feeling optimistic: I needed a new project to occupy my writer-brain while I let it cool down from the the most recent re-write of my novel manuscript.

I’d been ruminating on how to get back into screenwriting when a friend introduced me to a friend who was looking for a writing partner and who had done a first pass on a script about a boys beauty pageant and was looking for someone to collaborate with on a re-write. This sounded perfectly up my alley, so I jumped on board.

At the time, I figured I’d be done in a month- six weeks tops, you know, with revisions and all. Eight weeks later, here I am just finishing the first complete pass. Le sigh. I suppose this is to be expected: even for someone like me for whom quarantine is just about a perfect storm of ideal living conditions (work from home, ample time to exercise and get fresh air, freedom to set my own schedule, no pressure to socialize, nothing to miss out on) I’m still carrying a heavier allostatic load than usual. (“Wear and tear on the body which accumulates when an individual is exposed to repeated or chronic stress). For me, this results in variable energy levels from day to day, difficulty concentrating, headaches, and low motivation/concentration.

So, really it’s no surprise it took me so long to finish, and I feel really proud of myself just for getting it done. The draft is… not perfect. It’s not bad, but it still needs a lot of work and I’m already giving some thought to how I want to go about reworking it. But for today, I’m giving myself a break and just enjoying the fact I got it done.

Tacit Pass

•May 14, 2020 • Leave a Comment

You know what’s worse than hearing “no”?

Not hearing “no”.

I’ve gotten away from the habit of querying the manuscript for my novel of late: partly because I got distracted by Life In These Times (haven’t we all) and partly because I just didn’t have a very good sense of whether I was going about it in the right way. My list of submissions was modest: I’ve heard of other writers talking about sending five or ten queries in a day, while I was averaging two or three a month.

I kept reminding myself to be patient: that agents and publishers receive a lot of material and it just takes time to get through it all. I kept telling myself it was appropriate to wait for weeks for a response. I kept telling myself it was appropriate to wait months for a response.

I don’t know if I was telling myself the truth.

Some of the individuals that I queried were clear that “No response after [x] weeks means a “pass”- a disappointing way to get an answer, but at least an answer. I just went through  my list to cross off all these tacit passes and realized how many queries there were still out there in limbo. Some of them I’d submitted last year. I mean, I realize that the world is in chaos right now, but eight months is enough time to gestate a human being: it seems like it ought to be enough time to get an answer.

So, I went down my list and sent out a handful of follow ups, but I don’t really have much hope of hearing back by now. Mostly, I just wanted to be able to close the loop: it’s not pleasant to get a  rejection, but at least it’s quick and finite. The very epitome of ripping off the Band-Aid.

Anyway, I’m a bit frustrated with it all right now, but at least now I feel like I can move forward with a reasonably clean start. Assuming anybody is accepting submissions right now. Who knows, maybe reading submissions is a welcome escape from quarantine.

One can hope.

Thorn Fire

•May 7, 2020 • 5 Comments

It was the end of a long day. I’d spent most of my day at my desk pushing forward various projects on various fronts and even though I’d made good progress I needed a break.

I went outside without any real plan: just to putter in the garden for a while and get some fresh air. Water the plants. Arrange some rocks. Pull some weeds. It occurred to me that there was a heap of yard trimmings that needed to be dealt with: branches and twigs that were too woody for the compost pile and too bulky to fit easily into the green bin for yard waste.

This was not a new pile: it has been there for more than a year. My attention was drawn to it a day or two ago when I trimmed back the lemon tree and found myself piling new branches on a pile that had not meaningfully deteriorated in all the months that it had been braving the elements. I decided the simplest thing to do would be to burn it, bit-by-bit in the metal fire pit we bought for social occasions.

I lit a small fire with a knob of pine resin that I’d collected from along my running path. The twigs were very dry and burned easily in a narrow, upright column of flame rising smokelessly from the middle of the metal pit. The day had been hot, but the twilight was cooling and it was pleasant to walk around the fire-pit in endless circles as I broke and tossed branches into the flames, contemplating life, the universe, and everything.

The biggest branch that I needed to deal with was roughly the thickness of my wrist. It had been pruned off a neighboring orange tree and was covered- covered in businesslike thorns- some of which were as long as my fingers. Once I’d broken off all the smaller twigs, I was left with a mighty club of thorns.

It occurred to me that I, much like the tree from which this branch had come, had built up a system of my own thorns over the past few years as defenses against my depression. In an ironic twist, the current state of quarantine- a time in which the world has actually become a dangerous and high-risk place has made me feel relaxed for the first time in years. The rigorous confinement of quarantine has actually been supremely freeing.

I found myself wishing that I render my own thorns unto the fire as easily as I was burning away an old, dead branch that I didn’t need anymore. What, truly, does it take to let go of one’s old, outgrown defenses? I don’t have the answers, yet, but I hope to find out.

Little Boxes

•May 6, 2020 • Leave a Comment

“Think big!” Everybody says, but lately I’ve been thinking small; miniature in fact.In my free time between work-from-home and the business of living life in quarantine I’ve been working on a diorama that I hope to build out of a guitar case-shaped lunch box. It’s been a casual side project since January.And when I say “casual side project” I really mean it has “mostly been gathering dust” since January.For several months, I just kinda stared wistfully at all my supplies while I tried to think of how I wanted to get started. It was going to require me to build out the lunch box with false walls and a floor and, because I was feeling ambitious, I was going to have to figure out how to run wiring for lighting, which really meant I was going to have to get the Curmudgeonly Lion to figure out wiring for lighting… so for a long time I just procrastinated.The Safer At Home order actually turned out to be a blessing. I set up my work-from-home arrangement on my drawing board, which means I spend my day staring at all my art supplies and now, in the quiet moments, I can do a bit of doodling here and there: you know, little things like cutting out miniature labels to go on teeny-tiny little bottles or printing out miniature pages for minute magazines, etc. Just little fiddly projects to keep my hands busy.Today’s project was making a box. A tiny, little cardboard box. I had some thin corrugated cardboard sitting around and thought I’d see how hard it would be to cut out a box. It took several tries: for some reason I really struggled with the concept that boxes needed to have FOUR sides. (For three of my attempts, I was pretty sure three would do.) Finally, I put together a mock-up that I’m pretty proud of. The only reason I’m considering it a “mock up” is because I want to make a second version and use the right side of the cardboard for the outside. This version is *fine*, but there is an imprint of a full-sized corrugation that looks out of scale.Anyway, so this is what I’ve been occupying my mind with lately.

 
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