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The Progress

Image from a dream

Image from a dream

Last night I swam for the first time in months. The renovations that closed the pool since Thanksgiving are complete. The dark hole with rusted pumps and moldy ceilings is half-fixed–it’s not a rich suburb, and they did only the most urgent work–but is bright and clean. The old 1973 mural and the drippy paint lines have do-it-yourself appeal. The water is invisibly clean, the bottom powder blue.

Afterwards I am stiff and exhausted. Kids spray each other in the showers and a guy older than me is not me. He has stretchmarks, deep skin folds over his chest and abdomen that buckle like syrup over pancakes in an IHOP commercial. I leave in a haze. I am going to bed.

I write instead. Chapter One is taking too long, half of my goal of two chapters for February. I had momentum, then lost it with a story’s rejection two weeks ago. I made a deal with myself: write four days a week. I agree. So far I have written every day.

Last night’s writing was strained. It’s getting too long, taking too long, not going anywhere. I want to finish this week and two characters are just talking, talking. It felt like it was going somewhere before. But, mark one in the butt-in-seat column.

I slept, at last. Kicking Ambien is on the list. I wake early in the dark, as usual, but slept better, remembering dreams. The dangerous process of unconscious thinking begins automatically. How long have you been working on this? Two months to finish a chapter–and it’s not very good. You’re supposed to trust and not think about good or bad. Yeah, well, there it is. Then guilt about the divorce. Then the crushing weightless air of being alone.

Six-thirty alarm. The cat walks on my face, then snuggles and purrs. I skirt a rich vein of sleep. I think about the stupid, stupid book, with me all these years, me never good enough for it.

I don’t know where the ideas come from, so quickly and completely formed. You are worried about establishing the main character’s world: he is in a New York hotel. Put him back in Seattle, make him ride a bus across the country. Why a bus? No planes, trains still broken from the war. More, more: robots won’t help him–he dreams at one like at the job he lost, finds the secret door, gets it to spit out the ticket he needs. Soldiers inspect his papers. They see themselves headed for where he is: another jobless veteran with nowhere to go. You get us what we owed, sir. And he is on the bus–always a rich place for character–and he has the waking dream the book stumbles open with, never sleeping, waking up where you want. 

I think this takes five minutes while I wash my face. I feel tired in a good way. I am happy to give the cat breakfast. I am skipping mine now when I should have already been out the door.

A sign on my wall says to trust, not worry if it’s any good, be dissatisfied. One says work requires a leap into the dark. Don’t worry–you won’t fall far.

Swimming has upsides and downsides.


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