There’s a handout from one of my college writing classes that has hung on my office bulletin board for years. It’s an excerpt from a poem by Denise Levertov entitled “Writing In The Dark”:
as flowers of a tree that blooms
only once in a lifetime:
words that may have the power
to make the sun rise again.
I have a lot of weird-ass things on my bulletin board, including an illustration of Charles Dickens and a photograph of the inside of my colon. But this poem is the thing my eye has been searching out lately, when I need to connect to something familiar while trying to work.
I wouldn’t say things are dark right now, but they are a bit stormy. We’re packing to move for the second time in less than a year, from our rented house to one we recently bought, thus completing the painfully drawn out process of trading a life in Los Angeles for one in the Hudson Valley. (Of course, this is a good stormy, but it’s still a damn-I-am-overwhelmed-with-stupid-tiny-tasks stormy.) My 2-year-old daughter Clea has just been diagnosed with a couple of chronic conditions (hello medication, bye bye gluten). Another close family member is losing a battle with cancer (to which I just say, eff you, cancer). And then, for some twisted reason, I picked this time to stop eating sugar.
I’ve been hit with enough of these lifestorms to know, you do get through them. What other options are there? But this is when writing goes from being a part of my physiology, a thing I need and love to do, to just another obligation I have to shove into my day and, quite frankly, resent a little. It feels like hot annoying breath in my ear, or an achy weight on my shoulder. How can I write when my head is tangled up in knots? How can I even think about a character’s life when my own is so much louder and whinier?
Well of course, this is exactly when I should be writing. It’s when writing and life can strike a great deal, if you can swing the negotiation. Your writing helps you cope with the flurry of crap, and the crap-flurry draws something raw and authentic into your work. There’s also the familiar “Once I’m over this hump, I’ll really be able to dive into the book.” I say that to myself all the while knowing that there is no Perfect Time. I could be alone in a bungalow on a beach on Kauai, sitting in a custom-made ergonomic chair, getting 10 hours of sleep a night and all my meals cooked for me, and it would not be the perfect time. Okay, that’s a bad example, because why the hell would I be stuck inside on a computer? I’m kid-free in Hawaii, dammit! But my point is that often, the perfect time to be creative is actually when you think it’s the worst possible time.
So I will write. It may just be a journal entry or some character background notes or…hey, I’m writing a blog post! Simply this act of writing about “writing in the dark” is, in fact, writing in the dark. I’m gonna go ahead and say that counts. Somehow, there will be a record of the night, and you never know when — and how — words will pull you from depths of unknowing.