Friday, September 8, 2017

Super Fuzzy Things

The blog took the month of August off.  Like a European worker, or an American college professor or judge. 

Meanwhile, I enjoyed the busy end to a fun summer with the kids, read some excellent books, and worked on my lawsuit against Ogden Murphy, Seattle’s sleaziest bottom-feeding law firm®.”  Eventually I started making progress with my other writing projects again.  I already have a stack of draft blog posts ready to publish in the coming days.

But for the last couple of weeks I’ve been on hold – busy with work and family, productively writing other things, and ending the summer with The Best Labour Day Weekend Ever.  (Condolences to 1998 about losing the top spot after all these years.)  

Because Canadians use the metric system, Labour Day Weekend extended until our first Wednesday night Vancouver Men’s Chorus rehearsal.  The 2017-18 chorus season includes some fabulous concerts, as well as invitations to choral festivals in Calgary and Newfoundland.  Together with the kids’ return to school, the familiar routine of a fall chorus calendar gives my life a comforting structure to hang everything else on.  (One of the things you wouldn’t believe if they told you before you became a parent:  how much you look forward to the end of so-called summer “vacation.”)

The preceding paragraph should provide a sufficiently persuasive rationale for firing up the blog again today after last month’s hopefully-not-too-ominous silence.  But as a person living with mental illness, I wanted to be candid about the other reason for my disappearance in August.  Something happened one day in August and I didn’t feel like writing any more.  Fortunately, I didn’t freak out, or leap to the conclusion an inaudible chime had doomed me to another thirty years of writer’s block.  I’m proud of the progress I’ve made this year.

Instead, I turned to numerous neglected tasks, and sorta patiently waited for the muse to respond to my numerous unanswered texts and embarrassing voice messages.  (I generally overreact when I don't hear back from someone. Have I mentioned I'm codependent?)  Sadly, like so many allegedly mature gay men of all ages, the muse has adopted the inconsiderate communication style of a flakey millennial.    

I thought the writing process worked more like farming.  But a very specific kind of farming, one you might see on a small nineteenth-century family farm.  Something you could imagine hearing about on Prairie Home Company – but only if Garrison Keillor was raised Mormon and/or Scottish.  Funny, pale-skinned, but much bleaker. 

After encountering Mormon missionaries in Scotland, my forebears walked across the prairie to Zion.  (Unlike Midwest Lutherans, my people kept walking until they climbed over a real mountain.  Just sayin.)  During the 1850s, Brigham Young sent Clan Leishman to settle remote Cache Valley, Utah.  My dad grew up on the family farm.

My all-time favorite author, Jane Duncan, was born in 1910, three years after my grandfather Ernest Leishman.  She grew up on her grandparents’ croft in Scotland, near Inverness.  Recently widowed,  when she was about my age she returned home to the Highlands after a long exile living abroad.  Like me, her family had lost her beloved home, so she moved into a cottage where her elderly batchelor farmer uncle still maintained a large garden.

For the first time in her life, Jane Duncan was in a place where she openly wrote.  She could sit at her desk in the middle of the kitchen and write all day long.  Meanwhile, her uncle puttered around, tending the garden and doing most of the household chores.  In the novel about this period of the author’s life, she describes an encounter between the novel's surrogates for her uncle and herself.  The narrator stops writing for a few days, and starts doing chores like peeling potatoes and darning socks: 
Like most writers, I am subject to “off” spells when I cannot find the right words for what I want to say and I have learned that at times the only thing to do is to have patience, put down the pen, do something else, and wait for the words to come.  The first time this happened at the cottage and I did not pick up my pen for three days, George said:  “Shouldn’t you be at the writing instead of of darning socks?”
“The way I write,” I explained, “is a bit like growing a turnip crop.  You sow the seed and you have to wait for the plants to be big enough to hoe.  I get started on a bit of writing but sometimes I have to wait for the next bit to show itself.”
Maybe Victorian agricultural metaphors have become outdated, like colonialism and sonnets.  As those crackpot scientists warned us, global climate change destabilizes all kinds of formerly reliable cycles.  Patterns become less predictable and more varied.  

Years ago, they finally started using male names in each year's alphabetic sequence of names for hurricanes and tropical storms.  At the time, I assumed the change was a long overdue blow against sexism.  However, having named at least five kids myself since then, I suspect the National Weather Service had merely wearied of their tattered book of female baby names.  

This week, in a unprecedented double-whammy, the hurricane name sequence went straight from H to I without wasting any letters on smaller storms.  Today, Irma is the largest Atlantic hurricane ever.   

Although I seem to have absorbed most of Jane Duncan’s other writing habits, it may be time to suspend belief in any muse whose inspiration cycle relies on the old Farmer’s Almanac.  In any event, I’m confident I will be blogging with more of my thoughts about the writing process soon.

As I mentioned earlier in this essay, returning to the familiar rhythms of chorus and school is a huge relief.  The rest of my internal calendar has disappeared, other than those big holidays you can’t delete even if you wanted to. 

Instead, I am struggling to plot the course of multiple new cycles that came into my life all at once.  For example, I have two daughters in middle school.  (As they warned me before I had kids, boys are easier.)  I’m learning to write better in each phase of the creative process.  Even my legal writing.  While I search for new employment in Bellingham, I'm busy representing myself in court for the first time, in litigation against various villains.  And I’m charting the cycles involved with particular mental illnesses.

Lots of ovals, waves, and gyrations for me to observe right now, and to write about here.  I feel like the cluster of astronomers who came along right after Galileo and his telescope -- racing to map a sky newly filled with orbiting planets, comets, and stars.

One of my PTSD symptoms is trichotillomania, i.e., compulsive hair-pulling.  To mitigate its effect, I fiddle with fuzzy over-sized pipe cleaners to distract my hands.  At the end of Vancouver Men’s Chorus’ concert run this June, I reach a point where I didn’t need my green fuzzy things as much.  Then in August, my symptoms suddenly increased dramatically.  All day long, I shredded green fuzzies into prickly mini-fuzzies.  Every night my scalp throbbed from the increased hair pulling, and my fingers throbbed from the metal pipe cleaner jabs.

Meanwhile, my discouragement turned into depression as I waited for the muse to respond to my texts.  Mood disorders are less predictable than anxiety.  Fortunately, this was a mild episode.  It would have ended earlier, but disappointments with lawyers, the gays, and life meant for an extra week I kept falling back into bed instead.

On my most recent visit to our local Michael’s craft store, I found the shelf bare.  Someone had exhausted their inventory of green fuzzy things.  [Ed. note:  Hmm.]  On patrol for alternatives, I discovered a shelf displaying reinforced supersized fuzzy things.

Now that fall has arrived, I am armed for battle and glory.  Unfortunately, Super Fuzzy Things only come in black.

Other essays from "Roger On Writing":

"Watch for Quiet Explosions"  (10/15/19)
Blaming the Children”  (9/21/18)
Lilies That Fester”  (3/25/18)
Steam Heat”  (3/19/18)
Letting off Steam”   (12/21/17)
Dear Reader”   (7/22/17)

No comments:

Post a Comment