I haven’t written since September. I had just started a new job back at the old place then. I was panicked by dental bills and a sense of summer ending: a beautiful summer, exhausting with class and naps to recover from class and another round of Flagyl and keeping the writing going. But the job kept at bay that fear all middle class people have of ending up like the guy above, that guy we are all programmed to think we are one screwup away from. And we are, if powers so decide. And big dental bills make uncomfortably close.
WordPress keeps a Drafts folder, and in mine are a half-dozen starts with notes and ideas. They are all different from the stark raving navel-staring this blog has mostly been about. One could become a wonky treatise on nuclear waste: why not store it in the center of town, where it can be looked after, and provide eternal hot water? (It’s so safe and all.) Another began as lashing out against some nerd fantasist I heard on the radio, waxing poetic on how “intelligent” machines will finally, at last, for real this time, solve all our problems. Having seen how software is made, I would find the supposed incipient release of self-driving cars the amusing grist of a Laurel and Hardy movie, except I doubt it will be funny when real people suffer. That one is mostly about how technology is another tool used by elites for their purposes, a theme familiar to anyone who’s read exactly one serious (or even not so serious) science fiction book. If nothing else, nerd fantasists do not seem to read these books. That post is titled The Rape Machines. A happier one is mystic, star-staring, diving down into deep past and out into the deep future. It’s inspired by the Kepler spacecraft, now broken, that’s found all those exoplanets. That one is titled Kepler’s Planets. One my girlfriend suggested, about the old guy who shows up at the house across the street Saturday mornings in an aging sedan. The house is maintained at the margins, its vacancy obvious to any practiced burglar: the leaking gutters and collapsing garage door aside, the house exudes emptiness. Standing on the street, you can feel the Sears chain-link gates never open, the mail is forwarded. The old man takes five minutes to walk the thirty feet from parked car up the steps to the front door. He carries plastic grocery bags weighted with something. Maybe there’s somebody tied up in the basement, my girlfriend muses. I don’t have a title for that one.
Instead, I have focused on a novel. It has been with me so long I’m not sure it’s now something I want to do so much as at last get out. Sometimes I feel enthused and get caught up in it. Confidence increases as much as it abandons me to the old tapes: who cares about this, this isn’t any better or different than what anybody else has done, it’s old now. But every day I put in a half hour, an hour, and hour and a half. It’s slow but it’s steady and I listen to the good voices, like I’m at a party tuning out the noise.
Autumn’s dazzling clear gave way to deeper autumn’s murk. Heavy air that had been in Hawaii only ten hours before made the green land feel like a sweaty sock as it rained and rained. This gave way to cold breaks where the sky reached up to space, everything crystalline and blue.
I went for walks; I rode the bus. I splurged more often and drove to work by myself, exchanging gas and road time for free time and a free ride. Every day I worked on the book, a day off here or there.
November brought a sense of good. Describing this is hard: it’s ineffable, always there the way anxiety or depression is always there, but instead of lurking this new thing soars, gently, its tether to the sky just off the ground, where I can take hold. There is something about the light in the November trees, the leaves on the ground, the crunching. It comes out of the trees and the sky, the black background of the command windows I stare into at work. They’re like the whole screen was when I got my first computer, running MS-DOS 3.2, in 1986. Out walking around or at my now desk, I can feel the excitement of that time like cool water on a hot day. I don’t know what it is or where it comes from. Here’s a picture of it:
Do you see it? I’d point, if I knew where.
A month later, I examine with care a supplement my doctor has suggested. Lithium orotate is a major ingredient. Months prior to this, the New York Times ran an opinion piece suggesting we all take a little lithium. Is this it? I’m not asking questions. It only took me months to figure it out.
Thanksgiving brings the end of my three-month quickie job. The Man is pleased and reeks of desperation, so I make a deal to continue another three months, but at 20 hours a week. The project is nearing an end and they are short-handed as ever, and the compromise makes everyone happy. It feels like the third way. Thanksgiving feels like middle school, with turkey and friends and cartoons.
In the long slide to Christmas, I keep writing everywhere but here.
My girlfriend and I put up the lights and a fiber-optic glowing tree she has given me. We’ve been together over a year, through challenges on both ends, everything getting better. It feels brisk and clean and open, the sky nothing to hide from.
Mid-December I use up my allotted hours and my time is my own. My noble ideas to get up early and write on the book are kept in spirit, if not in all-out attack: I have trouble getting up before nine and don’t write much more than when I was at work. But I am cutting down the klonopin, and the adjustment dents my sleep. I can handle it now, and I’d rather give up something I don’t need. Anxiety isn’t sniffing around, and while it motivated me to write this blog in addition to everything else, I’m okay with the trade. I don’t fear your judgment.
I am accepted to a film directing intensive. Lugging a cold, I meet with the theatre director and an assistant director to be interviewed. All the young adult noise of doubt and self-defeat and terror is on another channel as we talk about directing Chekhov and trading off photography duties with other directors. They seem more excited than me. Afterwards I take the picture above, amazed at how grown-up I feel. They say they will make decisions in the next week. I get a thumbs-up email the next day.
I take a break from the novel and finish a short story, I’ll Be There All Night Tonight. It came to me all at once in a dream. I wish I could write them down all at once like that.
And now I am here. The sun is out again, crisp, dew points dropping into the teens. Behind me, the cat enjoys the heater after annual shots-at-the-vet trauma. And I am writing this because I feel this needs attention. I want it to stay alive.
Lights are still up. I like lights. They engender a feeling of childhood wonder–all its freedom and amazement, none of its powerlessness and fear–that feeling of lying under the Christmas tree and looking up into it, where the magic lived. That is the promise of Christmas lights: that feeling is available any time I want.
Things are going as they should. I apologize for my absence, but good work is happening, for you and me both. The streetsweeper does its pass late Saturday night like always. Stephen Colbert is off the air, but new things are coming. The future is coming. It is the only place we can go.
New Year’s is coming, but not the dread after it. Fear feels optional now. It feels like everybody else figured this out ages ago, but it’s a new ride to me.