Friday, May 13, 2016

The Block of the Writer

I have started to write something here approximately a dozen times in the last two weeks, and then stopped. Maybe it’s because of exhaustion, or parenting, I don’t know, but my mind has felt slow and my words have felt chunky every time I put them down. What do I have to say?

I wish I could tell you everything, but I stumble over the way to even say that.

Times like this make me doubt that I am actually a writer. Do I have the ability to finish anything? And what do I even write, besides this blog, that people will want to read? 

I was recently asked what I write.

“Nonfiction,” I said.

“Oh I love nonfiction, what kind?” he asked.

I squinched up my face and replied, “Memoir.”

“You’re not selling it very well!” He laughed.

I usually call it “personal non-fiction” because I so hate the sound of the word “Memoir”. To me a memoir implies that some harrowing event has occurred in your life and you cannot move forward unless you’ve shared that event with the world. I love memoirs, actually. I love reading about people’s survival and growth. I like to read about people who have lived through wars, or married poets, or traveled the world. What have I done that is worthy of the word “memoir”?

So I don’t call it that because it feels disingenuous. I am not a remarkable person. However, for years there has been a story inside me and anytime I sit down to write it what comes out is “personal nonfiction”. I’ve tried writing fiction but I’m daunted by the task of building a world and characters that are believable. I wonder – am I just lazy?

It seems, though, that I have little nice to say about myself as a writer. I suppose that’s something I should work on in therapy. Why don’t I believe in any of my talents? Is it because my mother told me that writers and artists don’t really make money, so don’t be one? Or is it because there is always going to be someone out there who’s better at it than me (so why should that stop me?) Obviously I have issues, but mainly I don’t feel legitimate.

“I write. I am playing with watercolors,” I say. But never, “I am a writer. I am an artist.”

The only career I feel legitimate calling my own is event planning, but some days even that doesn’t feel true. What do I need to finally let myself feel good enough? I wonder.

So what makes a writer or an artist legitimate? What makes any craft legitimate? Why does it even matter?

I know I am because I don’t feel right when I don’t do it. I know I am, because I always have been. I know I am because other people tell me so. Maybe in my five year plan a book will happen. Maybe no one will ever read it. Maybe it will be the first of many. Either way, I’m going to keep doing it.

Besides, it looks like I’m not all that blocked up, after all.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

As It Turns Out

I am not doing alright with the whole "divorce thing".

Well, strike that, reverse it. I'm doing okay with the "divorce thing". When my ex and I separated it was because both of us had given up on the relationship in some regard. In the year that has passed we've dealt with a lot of that and, in many ways, are better friends now than ever before. (And in many ways we still can't stand each other, so no going back!)

What I'm not doing well with is all of the stuff that I haven't been dealing with because I was going through a fucking divorce, and that is enough emotional trauma for one person thank-you-very-much. There were things that I have been decidedly ignoring so that I could focus on not losing my shit over losing my marriage, and now that the divorce is final with a capital "F" I have no choice but to deal with these other things.

Now, though, they are HERE, sitting on my head like giant, blinking neon signs waiting to be addressed.

"Juliet!" They tap me on the shoulder, "Don't you want to think about your soul-crushing debt today?"

"Juliet! Juliet! Why are you so angry at your sick friend? How did you let that happen? Don't you think she needs you now?"

"Hey! Juliet! Your uncle is super sick. Maybe you should call him? How is avoiding that proactive? You're going to regret that."

"Hey! Hey, bitch," Because they've started to get nasty, "Where is all your support system? Why did you put all of you eggs in one basket? You need people right now, but you don't even know where to look, do you? You're an idiot."

Honestly, my issues are real dicks.

I am falling apart, it seems. Strangely, I thought that this year would be the year I'd be all put together again, ready to be the NEW ME, all sparkly and fresh. But as it turns out I am much more like Humpty Dumpty, laying next to the wall helplessly expecting the King's knights to put me back together. Spoiler alert, Mr. Dumpty: they can't.

I just don't know what I believe to be true anymore. For some time now I have been fighting for my idea of a village to replace what I once considered a stable life. I don't have a marriage anymore, but couldn't I have a few people who really get me to reach out to whenever I needed them? Couldn't I have them on speed-dial for those days when I'm falling apart so they could be here to distract my son or make me a goddamn cup of tea? We would all live within spitting distance of each other and we would all give and take when needed. It would be symbiotic, and supportive, and nurturing.

People have been saying to me, though, "We can only count on ourselves, really. There is no one else who will always be there to take care of you."

I don't want to believe that. I don't want to believe that we are born alone and we will die alone because in my mind neither of those things are true. We are born into the caring arms of our mother and will die surrounded by our loved ones. So shouldn't our lives be filled with the same? Isn't that how it used to be? We would raise our children, they would take care of us, we would care for their children? Humans are social animals, who have always lived in packs. That is normal. That is right.

Except we don't anymore, not since a long time. We all grow up and move away and our immediate family is often just that - no aunts or uncles or cousins in the same state, no grandmas and grandpas in the same country. Staying connected means emails and phone calls (if you're lucky) and Skype dates (if you make the time). Good friends are transient, even if they are forever. Neighbors are just proximal, not the proverbial kind who will lend a hand.

So, really and truly, when I look around for a helping hand to put my broken shell back together, there is no one around. And even if they were, everyone has their own shit to deal with. Mine seems heavy but that says nothing to the person whose young child has cancer or to the person who is going through a horrible custody battle, or who has just lost their job, or whose father is dying. Everyone has something.

Which makes me stop and wonder if all those people I don't want to believe are actually right - the only one I can count on is myself? Because we all have baggage that weighs more than the sum of our lives. This world is heavy.

I wonder also, if I am thinking about it wrongly. Maybe what our village looks like now isn't organic and natural, but rather tied together by texts and phone calls and emails. Maybe we our village is spider webbed across the globe and includes Instagram followers and blog readers and people we may never actually meet. Maybe... maybe our village is bigger than ever?

Despite spending the entire day in bed yesterday, I will try again today. I want to because my issues - dicks though they be - aren't going to go away just because I stay hiding under the covers. I will try again because right now I am a mess but only I can really know where all the pieces fit, and because maybe I'm not really alone after all?

It's a thought that is worth getting out of bed for.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

On Heartbreak and Healing

On Wednesday, I filed the final papers in my divorce. Almost one year exactly from separating from my husband, I expected to be filled with relief and even joy. That means that I was surprised when I was hit by a wave of depression after I left the courthouse.

For an hour, I sat drinking a cold coffee in the shade of Philadelphia's City Hall. I took pictures and posted them to Instagram. I feigned interest in some Game of Thrones promo that was drawing a crowd. I moved from one chilly location to another, finding the last sliver of sun had already slipped behind the skyscrapers of downtown. I wasn't really cold though; I was numb.

"I need to leave here, but I can't move," I texted to a friend.

"I suddenly feel more alone than ever," I texted my ex.

"I know, me too," he replied. "Do you want to come over?"

His sentiment was sweet, and though I know he needed someone too, I couldn't bring myself to mourn my divorce with my ex husband. Two sad people in a room together sounded like a good ol' fashioned cry fest waiting to happen.

That made it worse, somehow - knowing that we both still care about each other enough to not want to see the other hurting, It is very unlike so many of the divorces that I've seen in the past year, fret with anger and maliciousness and fights over money and, sadly, the children. We agree on the most important things - my ex and I - how to raise our son and that we need to try our best to be friends, for him. It winds up looking very unconventional, but we know it is what is right for our disjointed family.

We also agree that we can never live together under the same roof, again . Despite our best efforts we can each make the other person totally lose their shit and what is civil suddenly becomes toxic. In January, during the snowmageddon, we tested the theory on my bright idea that neither of us would want to be trapped, away from our son for longer than 48 hours. By the time the last flake had fallen we were at each other's throats, critical and criticizing each other's every action.

It is the right thing, the divorce. And yet...

Now I am a officially a single mother and a divorcee. Now any lingering hope of reconciliation I may have had in the depths of my mind are gone. Now I am really alone.

The last glued together piece of my mangled heart broke off and fell to the floor, shattering in a million pieces. The flood of tears and heartache burst open. I found myself on the floor of my kitchen, weeping, my heart physically aching in my chest. This time though, there was nobody there to pick me up.

My friend - the one I was supposed to move in with and couldn't - is still gone. It was she who had come to my side the night my marriage dissolved in a cloud of orange curtains and broken doors. She couldn't come now.

There was no one to hold my hand and put me in bed and tell me things would be different in the morning.

With some courage I reached out to an old friend in Colorado. He listened to me cry while his two little girls played in the background. I sobbed indistinguishable sentences into the phone until I didn't have anything left but tears. He made a promise to come visit.

I have been doing all this alone for a year now, but just like I felt distinctively different the day after I was married, this felt different too. It was really over. Something had shifted inside, like the breaking of a bone. Something I couldn't see but knew was fractured.

This bone will heal, eventually. With any luck it may grow back together with the same strength it had originally, but there is always a risk that it won't set correctly creating a malformation where something clean and straight once was. And there will always be a scar, nearly invisible to the naked eye but in the right light will remind me that I was once deeply wounded.

I know that, in the grand scheme of my life, this may not be the worst event I ever live through. I know that, compared to others, I am blessed with a comfortable life and an amicable separation. For these things I am grateful. I am grateful for my family, for my far off friends just a phone call away, and I'm grateful for my son. I have a job that I enjoy and a bright future. Someday, maybe, if I am lucky, I will even be loved again.

For now, though, I am tender. I am tired and I am sad. I am lonely. I am grieving.

It is the first day of spring and a light snow has begun to fall. It stops and starts, unsure of how to continue. By morning it will have crowned the crocus' with a halo of white, threatening to freeze off the buds on the trees and covering the newly greened grass.

Just behind the clouds there is sun. The longer day will be enough to melt off the cold and thaw the branches. With any luck no harm will be done to the fruit trees or the flowers. With any luck all that is delicate and poised to bloom will live on.

After all, it is the end of winter.