Getting on with it

These days, if you see me and ask how I am, I’ll say that I’m fine. And I’m lying. I’m lying through my teeth. But what is the alternative? When is it ever a good time to tell the truth about how you’re feeling, when you happen to be lost, in the darkest depths of depression? How do you tell the truth, when you can’t find the words to tell the story of yourself, to yourself? The truth is, depression has made me reclusive. And I’m so very lonely. Solitude I can deal with. Solitude I can enjoy. But not loneliness. That’s the real kicker, the real killer, when you long to hear a friendly voice, but cannot ask, dare not ask, for anything. I’m isolated. Desolate. Broken. Being with other people is physically and psychologically exhausting. But I have to get on with it: I have responsibilities. So when I must, I put on the mask, the polish that makes me look like…me. And I get on with it. Thank god for lipstick.

But there are the days when I am not obliged to put on the mask, or at least, not straight away. These are the days when I pay for the expenditure of positive energy; when I absolutely cannot move from my bed. I cry, and cry, until exhausted enough to doze a while, and then I wake and cry again. And then I get up, and transform into me – with a great deal of effort, rather than the ting! of a fairy godmother’s wand – and go out to collect my daughter from school. Thank god for lipstick.

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By the time you read this…

By the time you read this, I will have decided absolutely, categorically, whether or not I will be doing NaNoWriMo this year. I’ve been umming and ahhing for the last three weeks, veering crazily between bring it on, and hell no.

The last time I did it was November 2011, an important transitional month, in which I turned 40, went to Paris in the middle, and fell down the rabbit hole of depression. Turning 40 was actually pretty good, and I fell in love with Paris. But I’m still somewhere down that rabbit hole. And a lot has changed very recently, that means LIFE is just too big and complicated, and important to put to one side right now, in favour of churning out 50000 words. Besides, I still haven’t got to where I want to be with the stories – and the WIP – that I already have in progress. (And the same can be said of Life, right now, too.)

But, on the other hand, there is something rather seductive about the madness that can set in, with that need to find at least 1667 words each day. Some days the words will come, will flow, will flood, a racing spate of inspiration. And some days the words will hide, just out of view, out of reach, and the overload of caffeine does nothing more than jangle the nerves, makes me hideously irritable, and sets tremors in my hands.

12.04 a.m. What will it be? Yes? Or no?

 

Eeny meeny miney mo…

Falling, not flying.

It feels as if it has been a very long time since I could say that living – let alone writing – felt like flying. Lately my days have grown ever darker. This is without doubt the worst I have ever felt, and I fear there is worse still to come. Depression is binding me in, leaving me lonely, and isolated. In the end it comes down to what a person will, or will not do, rather than what they think they can, or can’t; something I should have realised a long time ago. The price for misplaced trust. I’m paying for it now.

It is a constant struggle to maintain the appearance of things-as-normal, when I am out among people. Endlessly fending off the enquiries as to why I’ve lost so much weight – how does she do it?! doesn’t she look well?! – when the truth is that ‘well’ is the last thing I’m feeling. It is hard, horribly hard, to remember how it felt to take pleasure in anything. Writing is almost impossible. All I want to do, is hide. Vanish.

There may be some of you, reading this, who will think that I haven’t said enough. Others, that I have said too much. But I will not tell the why of my darkness, so do not ask. Yet I feel that I have to tell the fact of it, or implode. I am my darkness, and my darkness is me, and I do not know how I will get through this.

Keeping quiet

Things are very strange, at the moment. I’m in the state of mind that doesn’t want to leave the house, or speak to people, or do anything. Only of course, I have to do all of these things. I have responsibilities. People rely on me. And there’s my family. I can’t retreat from the world.

But I am writing. Short stories are pouring from my psyche, from my ink-stained fingers. I’m at the centre of a vortex of words. And although some of these stories are painful to write, at the same time it is most exhilarating to be their prisoner. Never before has the compulsion to write been so strong. Whatever has shifted, in my head, in my heart, and whatever may come next, at least I have these words, these peculiar little stories to show for it.

Short Fiction

March has been an unsettling month. It began with the incredible high of having my first short story published. It ends in confusion, and uncertainty, and doubt. But not, strangely enough, concerning my writing. This is not to say that I have become recklessly overconfident (or even confident), but I am beginning to have better faith in my ability to string sentences together in a meaningful way. Which is quite a leap when you consider that not so long ago I was seriously considering giving up writing short fiction altogether.

Consequently, in light of having been published (published!) and the supposed renaissance that the form is currently enjoying, I have become obsessed with all things short fiction, to the detriment of both my reading pile and the WIP. The reading pile has doubled in height with a selection of short story collections, and the WIP has ground to a halt somewhere in the middle of chapter six. On the other hand I am currently working on two (TWO!) new short stories, which may, possibly, have some potential. Or not. We shall see…

One of the collections I finished reading recently (devoured, in fact), is Etgar Keret’s Suddenly, A Knock At The DoorApart from wondering how it is that I’d not come across him before, his stories have made me think, and think hard, about writing. I won’t bore you with my inchoate philosophical ramblings on the matter; they’re too tangled up with everything else in my head. But, his stories make you think, and make you think about how you feel. And he is not afraid to break your heart a little. Or a lot. One story in particular has stayed with me; What Do We Have In Our Pockets? is a little heartbreak of hopefulness that packs an emotional punch disproportionate to its size. And that is a part of the beauty of good short fiction.

Why I write.

There’s an abyss opening beneath my feet. This time however I’m prepared. I may be about to go down the rabbit hole of depression, but I’m taking a lamp, and a good strong rope with me. This time I’ll not be left lightless at the bottom. Third time’s the charm…

The darkness and doubt that depression entails cause me to question everything I think, and feel, and do. It’s exhausting, but I know that given time, I will return to the light, and to myself.

It occurred to me then that I’ve never really quantified why I write, even to myself. And I’ve thought about it, long and hard, when sleep has refused to be my friend. So. Why do I write?

For the longest time, when I was a lot younger, I had a feeling that I would do it, one day. There was of course, the obligatory bad teenage poetry, and a few short stories. I did not show them to anyone. Later, I burned them. They were a false start, I thought then.

By my mid-twenties, when I began to be happier, after my first – and worst – encounter with the abyss – I began to feel as if I was marking time, waiting for something else to happen first. I got the idea – I’ve no idea from where – that perhaps, after I’d had a child, I might begin to feel free to write. I mentioned this to several of my friends at the time; they urged me not to waste time, that having a child was only ever a complication for creativity. I did not believe them. I still don’t. Perhaps I only ever needed to give myself permission to write, but I honestly think that I simply was not ready, then.

When my daughter was two years old, I began to write. I was in the middle of studying for my degree, and the Open University was running a new course, a creative writing course. I did it, of course. And I found within me the fire of writing. Nothing compares to it. (Well, maybe one or two other things compare, but we won’t go into that here…)

Now I have to write. Have to. If I’m not writing, I’m thinking about writing, no matter what else I may appear to be doing. (Again, there are one or two exceptions, but… you get the point. I don’t need to draw diagrams, or to spell it out.) Being in a position to write, and yet being unable to do so, is absolute hell. It’s like being stifled, unable to breathe.

Does that make any kind of real sense? It doesn’t feel rational, but it does feel vital, necessary. Writing, like love, is a form of divine madness. Not writing, is… unthinkable. Writing, like love, is an obsession. And when it goes well, it’s the best kind of fun, flying, not falling.

There are plenty of blogs out there, by better writers than me, on the connections between creativity, depression and madness. This one, for example.  And I am tremendously lucky in the friends I have, fellow travellers on the  writer’s road. We keep each other company, cheer each other on, commiserate, empathise, understand. If you want, you can visit some of their blogs – just scroll through the blogroll here. You will be amply rewarded.  So I’ll leave it there, I think, before I start spiralling.

Taking Stock, Part II

2010 is almost done with. 2011 almost ready to begin. And what have I done with the time that has been given to me? I’ve been angry, a lot. I’ve been ridden by the black hag-bitch Depression. I’ve had rotten miserable damned inconvenient back pain. I drove a petrol car for the first – and so far only – time – my husband was terribly brave – it was our first ever brand new car! (Yes, it’s still in one piece.) I had a wonderful time at a friend’s party, drinking Cosmopolitans, and owned up to the vodka hangover the next day. (Note to self, vodka hangovers are vile horrible things, even though Cosmos are delicious.)

What else? I’ve written a lot, I’ve been rejected – and not just by editors – a lot, and I’m gearing up to go through most of all that again. I’ve watched my daughter begin to blossom from a little girl to a more sophisticated, complicated little girl, and am much amused by her frequent exasperation with me ; ‘mu-um’ is becoming a normal noise in this house. We have a lovely time together, mostly being silly, giggling a lot. I love giggling with my daughter – there will definitely be a lot more of that in 2011.

I’ve enjoyed glorious weather in Devon, and in Bulgaria. I’ve listened to music and let it take me to new places in my head. I’ve started this blog; that was pretty momentous, wondering if anyone would ever read it, and you are, and I thank you. It’s nice to know I’m not just shouting into the void. Again, I thank you.

The snow happened – I’ve had my first ever white christmas – so what if snow was not actually falling from the sky in this neck of the Cotswolds? It was still beautiful, and as long as I wear my red wellies, I don’t fall over. Perhaps they are imbued with some sort of super-power…? (Sadly the thaw has set in, and all is now sadly dank and muddy where once it was crisply gleaming white.)

I made sloe gin for the first time, and I’m drinking some now – it is truly delicious and  without the vicious nastiness of a hangover next morning. I have learned that not all friendships are equal, that not all friends are worth the wait when they say one thing and do another, make promises and consistently fail to keep them. I’m better off without them. That lesson has cost me a lot in terms of hours and days of despair; time that I’ll never get back, and can bill no one for. That makes me angry, but que sera, progress is progress, and perhaps one day I’ll achieve some sort of equanimity.

So what’s coming in 2011? Lychees. Every year begins with lychees. Otherwise the only thing I can say with any certainty is that I’ll be turning 40.

Apart from that? Who knows? Bring it on.