The above quote comes from the marvellous Deadwood, out of the mouth of the marvellous Calamity Jane.
And I’m really feeling it right now.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted much of anything. Life is like that. Peaks and valleys. Hills and troughs. I feel like this is a lesson I’ve figured out before. Subsequently forgotten. And then had to learn all over again.
I was remembering how elated I was a year ago, nine months ago, six months ago. I was in a huge writing groove. I was feeling especially prolific. I thought I’d finally figured it out.
I’ve been writing. A lot.
That’s one of the reasons I’ve neglected this blog… and a variety of other social (media) endeavours. I thought I’d finally learned the way around the block. I’d finally mastered the steps and now I was ready to dance (a cliched, but apt metaphor).
I worked. I worked and worked. I worked really hard.
But it didn’t work. And I didn’t realize it until I thought it was done and I took a look at the first page and went nope. I just knew it wasn’t right.
And then I felt like bashing my head against a wall because I knew something was wrong with it, but I had absolutely no idea what. I’d done everything right, I told myself. I learned my lessons. I figured out what I had to do and I did it. And I worked really fucking hard at it.
But it still wasn’t right.
This made no sense to me. How was I still failing at this novel that I have been turning over and over for five years now? I’d written other things that came out perfect the moment I vomited them onto the page.
Why was this one not working?!
Maybe it was fundamentally flawed somehow. Maybe it was the great impossible thing. Maybe I should just abandon it completely.
I thought of this as well, and it just as easily could have been the title of this post instead: “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose.” (ST: TNG)
But I couldn’t drop this project. Other projects I’ve abandoned, yes, but this one is like a child. I would be like Dumbledore dropping baby Harry off at the Dursleys… but only after realizing he’s a squib and deciding that it’s probably best to sever all ties completely.
Anyway. This all caught me at a rough time.
Januarys are usually brutal, to be sure, but it’s been especially so as of late. I’ve been down a rabbit hole.
A rabbit hole is how I come to think of my mental isolation, the feeling of being more or less trapped in my own mind, like an invisible barrier keeps me alone with my own thoughts and other human beings are difficult to connect with.
A rabbit hole… a euphemistic trick perhaps, allowing me to frame in a palatable way what is probably some form of depression, anxiety, seasonal affectiveness disorder, some combination of the above, or something else altogether.
A rabbit hole can also happen when I am very deeply entrenched in writing something. The two very often coincide, but they are markedly different. The former is characterized by negativity and the latter by positivity.
The two coincide, but writing does not make me depressed. Rather, writing is often an outlet helping me cope. Writing is how I climb out of the rabbit hole. It is how I work through things.
I’ve found that something pushes me down a rabbit hole, but, like Alice, everything I encounter down there is some surreal version of things that have subconsciously been plaguing me for ages. Weeks, months, years, my whole life even.
Writing turns these surreal things over and lets me examine them. Sometimes it doesn’t help, but sometimes I can exorcise old ghosts. So, in a way, even though these rabbit holes are dark and difficult, I need them. They are a valuable part of who I am. They let me focus. They push me to work my way out.
But this recent rabbit hole – and I say this having just clawed my way out – was a doozy. Something pushed me down a rabbit hole in October (nothing too severe, but work stress and uncertainty, which always brings up a lot of anxiety), and there I lingered through the Christmas season, forcing myself through. It was okay; I was writing a lot. I could still see the thin circle of sky above.
And then, thinking I had just clawed my way out, I read that first page of a finished draft and thought nope.
And then Grandma died.
That almost sounds like a punchline. And perhaps I need it to be.
My grandmother had been dying of Alzheimer’s for over ten years. Alzheimer’s is strange because it does funny things to the grieving process. It takes someone aways from you long before they are physically gone. You can hear their voice and look in their eyes, but they don’t look back and see you.
I don’t want to go into details about my grandma yet, at least not now. I already spoke about her at the funeral, and that was the closest I could come with words for a while. I’m not good at putting frustrations and grief into literal words. I need to put it into a story. That’s what stories are for, after all. Grief and everything grief can represent.
Stress about work and money is one thing. Fear for the future is rational.
But grief is something entirely different. Grief is fear for the past. And that is irrational. It’s already over, isn’t it? We can’t change it.
But we can change it. And we do. We change it everything a memory slips or shifts. Every time a photograph passes into new hands. Every time a story gets another layer of embellishment.
We don’t just grieve for those dead, we grieve for the past we shared with them. We grieve for the time we can’t revisit. What does it feel like to know that your childhood is gone forever? How immense is that weight?
Grief is different every time. There’s no pattern we can fall back on. We figure it out all over again every time we go through it.
That was what I clawed my way out of this rabbit hole learning: if I want to grieve, if I want to write, I have to figure it out all over again every time. There’s no one learning process to this. There’s no end date or final exam. It all shifts beneath us. What works one day won’t work the next.
Every day takes figuring out all over again how to fucking live.