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Why Am I Not Writing?

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I’m not a big believer in writer’s block, despite the fact that I’ve had it for over a year. I’m supposed to be writing a memoir about an intriguing woman’s various addictions, her career in environmental politics on Capitol Hill, and her ongoing search for God. I haven’t written a chapter in — I don’t even know. Last fall, maybe? 

Writing group deadlines are the only thing that keep me writing at all. Recently I’ve been dashing off essays on random topics like food justice and grieving after COVID (if we ever actually get to AFTER). I revised these essays based on the group’s feedback, submitted them to one publication each, was rejected, and went back to writing grocery lists on sticky notes. 

I thought this solitary pandemic time would result in multiple completed manuscripts and possibly a book contract or two. In reality, I’ve barely produced a blog. 

The Poetry of Avoidance 

I’ve come to realize that taking classes is one of my favorite ways to avoid actually writing a book. I’ve taken at least six classes in the past year, for which I write short, one-off pieces connected to nothing meaningful. Little challenge, little reward. 

I got a few poems published, which was nice. At one point, though, a memoir teacher asserted that when writing a memoir, one shouldn’t distract oneself by doing things such as signing up for poetry classes. This is just a way to avoid commitment, she said. I don’t know if she could see me blushing on Zoom: I had already registered for her poetry class the following week. Regardless, none of the classes resulted in a new paragraph appearing in my memoir.

COVID Sucks

Maybe it’s too convenient, but I do blame COVID. I have lost three friends to the virus so far, including my very close friend Bill, whom I’ve been grieving deeply since March. Watching his wife Shobha — just as dear a friend — bear her grief, and not being able to carry it for her is excruciating.

Bill & Shobha: where my heart is

Bill was one of my blog’s biggest fans. Like me, he immersed himself in politics, environmental policy, and spiritual transformation. He read every blog I wrote, and often sent me encouraging notes or commented on my posts in our conversations. So writing a blog without the promise of his appreciative reception is a challenge. In fact, I haven’t written a blog since Bill left us. It feels more than ever like sending out words into an empty universe. 

But I guess I can’t blame my lack of words entirely on Bill’s passing. It’s been going on the whole bloody pandemic. I mean, I’ve nearly stopped reading actual books, as I have zero attention span for anything. (Thank God for audiobooks.) Anxiety looms, moving from the background to the foreground, depending on the news or who is sick and how sick they are. Or whether a crazed mob has tried to take over the Capitol.

After getting vaccinated this spring, I began to entertain the idea of an end to isolation and anxiety, but then WHAM! — three friends of mine (one family) got COVID despite being fully vaccinated. And I had just spent an entire day with one of them unmasked, riding in a car, and sharing meals! Needless to say, I am masked up again.

Piecing It All Together

As I did last summer, I have hauled dozens of old journals up here to my New Hampshire “writing” retreat, as fodder for my memoir. I also brought along a jigsaw puzzle I was simply unable to focus on last year. Seems silly, but this really bothered me, because jigsaw puzzles are one of my favorite ways to relax; to declare, “this is truly leisure time.” And COVID took even that simple pleasure away from me.

I’ve had some luck with the puzzle recently — at least I have the border together.

Life is a Puzzle

Maybe that’s a sign. Perhaps I’m ready to take another shot at piecing together various scenes from my life into a meaningful whole. One memory, one word, one prayer at a time. And perhaps it will all come together into a story Bill would have loved. 

Coping with COVID, Cocaine, and a Cat

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COVID is Happening

I’m having a hard time right now. But who isn’t, right? I mean Donald Trump is president, so there’s that. And there’s the escalating pandemic that he has bungled so badly, there’s no relief in sight, short of escaping to another country — if any of them will have us.

I’ve already lost one friend to the virus, and another is intubated in an ICU in Baltimore, waiting for test results. So much grief and sadness in the world. The care-free summer months I always spend here at my family home in New Hampshire are hardly care-free this year. Nevertheless, I’m glad to be here where COVID cases are 1/1000 instead of 1/45, as they are in my Maryland county. But most of my friends are still there!

Still, there is so much beauty and quiet here. My grandmother named our place Quiet Hills, and except for the fact that one of my neighbors is a gun nut and was firing his rifle all morning, it’s mostly the chittering of birds and the breeze in the trees. At night, the racket of bugs munching on leaves is tremendous. I’m not kidding.

Cocaine Happened

I’m struggling with my memoir, but in a good way. Having a writer’s group gives me deadlines, so I’ve been cranking this week, writing up to two thousand words a day. The struggle comes with the memories, trying to remember what withdrawal was like when I quit cocaine, what it felt like to find my drug dealer in my bathtub with a loaded rifle. Trying to remember a night I’ve tried very hard to forget, when one (ex) friend got so ripped he raped another friend, after which the guy’s girlfriend beat the poor woman up. And of course being afraid to write all of that because certain people will be mighty ticked off if they ever read it. Memoir is really, really hard.

A Cat Happened By

My biggest news is that I’ve been adopted by a feline. Hooray and haroo! It’s been two long years (heck, the past four months alone have lasted at least a year) since my two elderly kitties went to the catnip farm in the sky, so I was beyond ready. But I never took the initiative to find a new kitten because they always seem to find me. I knew destiny had mine picked out, preferably two sisters, one calico and one black & white. I’m not particular.

But no, destiny chose a grown tabby, and if I had my doubts when she showed up at the door the first night I arrived, she did not. She was quite certain she belonged inside with me.

 

And she felt the same way the next morning.

I’m still here!

 

I told her that she was not the one I had ordered, being neither calico nor black & white. But persistence paid off, and she’s settling in.

Home

So life is doing what life does. It’s passing. Sometimes in trauma and sometimes in beauty, but always with love beneath it all.

Writing of Racism and Pandemics

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Everybody says I must write. It’s what writers do. Words help us make sense of the world. Words can comfort and calm or inspire and challenge, all of which are sorely needed in this moment.

It’s just that I’m having trouble writing. I write in my journal most days, as I have for fifty years (??!!) but I mean writing for consumption by others. I had written a nice, hopeful blog back in May, before all hell broke lose in the white world — because of course “all hell” has been lose in the black world for a long, long time. The blog was about how COVID-19 is teaching us to appreciate the simple things and to live in the present moment. It started out thusly:

“‘Plan Ahead with Confidence!’ shouts the red banner ad splashed across my screen. I laugh out loud. I remember planning. I have years of journals filled with various versions of it: What, when, how, with whom? Nowadays the only thing I’m able to plan is my grocery list, which feels outlandishly vital. I know exactly what I’m going to get (if the shelves aren’t bare) and it’s all written in aisle-order so that I don’t waste any time wandering around with all those scary masked vectors who used to be my innocuous neighbors.

My grocery list gives me a sense of control in this time when so little is in my control, least of all, the future. Of course, the future never was in my control, but somehow planning gave me the illusion of control. In reality, all we ever have is this present moment, but these COVID days have made us more aware of this truth.”

. . . And then I prattled on about the present moment, how lovely it is to bake bread, how walking is sweet therapy, how my neighbors probably started their new gardens out of a survival instinct, but are learning to love digging in the dirt and watching seedlings sprout. Etc. It was a “nice” blog, which now reeks of white privilege to me.

Things Aren’t Nice Anymore

Since the week of May 25th, when George Floyd was slowly, tortuously murdered by a policeman in front of the whole world and we witnessed intentional, vicious white privilege in the form of a safe, professional white-lady-dog-walker, things aren’t so nice. The thin veneer of niceness that separated white reality from black reality has, at long last, been splintered into sharp shards. The President of the United States is using those shards to slash whatever vestige of American unity might have remained.

Local artist’s portrayal of George Floyd

Sitting in my living room tapping on my laptop keys seems pointless.

Instead, I’ve been on Zoom calls about systemic racism and white privilege, I’ve ordered books and more books, I’ve joined Facebook groups that help white people understand that their reality is not the only reality. I’ve had honest and uncomfortable conversations with my black friends. I’ve attended four socially distanced, masked protest vigils in my community and at my church, not wanting to risk COVID at the protests in D.C. 

Writing a New Story

 

I’m taking an online class called The New Story Community, about imagining a new human story based not on power and domination, but on community and cooperation. A speaker named Melvin Bray really resonated with me (if you click on that link, begin at 10:05). Melvin teaches that simply trying to change minds and hearts won’t dismantle racism. By the time you get to the emotional stage, it’s too late. Because racism started for reasons of gain and profit, not hatred or fear. Once you’ve enslaved a bunch of people and committed genocide against some others, you have to backfill with a rationale for your actions. So you conclude that those people are “less than . . . sub-human . . . beasts . . . need to be civilized,” or better yet, “saved” by your religion. From that rationale is created your society’s myth, the story that dictates how you live, and your emotions and beliefs. Hence, if you start with emotions and beliefs like white hatred and fear, you’re way too late. You have to start with action —  a “doing” — because that’s what started the cycle of racism.

 

These are not times for inaction or silence, and I feel restless and impatient. I pray and I meditate and I implore the cosmos, “What’s my part, what’s my role, what am I to DO?” And two words keep coming back to me: truth and write.

Writing Truth

Truth is a hard one, especially when we are experiencing a pandemic of lying, concealment, and “alternative facts.” Real truth, though, is an inner thing. It only comes when you still yourself, open your grasping hands, and sit with the grief and pain of losing whatever myths you believed about yourself and/or the world. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” I believe this, and I also believe that when anyone escapes their fearful, ego-centered thinking and opens their heart to true oneness and compassion, they are connecting with the same spirit I find in Jesus, no matter what they label it. 

So getting to truth is complicated, and confused with “reality” and “right and wrong” and “proof” and all the rest. 

But writing? Writing I can do. It’s what I’m called to do. I pray that my words and the spirit behind them will add mercy and kindness and truth to the world. I also pray that grief, confusion, cynicism, fear, outrage, guilt, and despair do not keep me from being who I’m meant to be and doing what I’m meant to do. Amen.

Amen

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