Thursday, July 30, 2015

Magical waterfalls, hazy brains and Paul Rudd

Rainbow Falls on Gorge Trail, Watkins Glen.
So I've been in kind of a contemplative mode lately ("But, Sue," you say, "you're kind of always in a contemplative mode ... remember that time you contemplated the layers of filth on your kitchen floor? Or that other time you contemplated your olfactory senses after your dog ate and threw up two sticks of unsalted butter?" Point taken). 

Anyway, after That Column I wrote a couple weeks ago, I got to thinking about where life has taken me more recently. And that made me think about last year. Remember then? That magical time when I was nearly finished with the first draft of my first novel ever (four years in the making!) and preparing to do my first reading ever

I had a lot of momentum back then, it seemed. A lot of giddiness and excitement and optimism about being a writer. Strike that. A Writer. 

Even though I'd yet to actually complete the first draft of my first novel ever, I'd already begun to entertain the impossible possibility that I could actually make a living (well, OK, supplement a living) writing fiction. (I know. The fantastical places a third-place win for a big-town/small city literary competition takes you.)

But a year went by. I revised the draft. I shined it up. And I started querying agents. I wrote a few short stories and submitted them to some literary competitions. And then all the "thanks, but no thanks" started rolling in and my confidence and ambition started rolling out. (I know, I know. I need to quit whining like Lily when she's just "so, so hungry" that she "can't wait much longer" for the chicken and broccoli I'm serving for dinner and has to have some fruit snacks "right now.") 

This is life. And this is definitely the life everyone who's ever written anything has warned everyone who wants to write anything, about. It's not magical. It's grueling. And often disappointing. Though sometimes sprinkled with third-place wins. 

Just keep writing my writing friends say.

But my writing brain feels like it's mired in this deep fog. 

It was at least a billion degrees today and so humid the air hung on me like a still wet-sweatshirt straight out of the dryer. I decided the girls and I should take the dog for a walk around the neighborhood, because it had been forever. Lily, who'd dressed herself in her new, oversized Dale Earnhardt Jr. shirt and a pair of leggings, refused to change out of her "cozy pants" into shorts. "I'll be fine mom!" she told me.

But sure enough, part way through the walk she was wilting. Overheated and limp. And I knew exactly how she felt. Because that's exactly how my writing brain feels. Like taking a walk in cozy pants on a scorching, dank day in late July. 

And it's not like I haven't had time to write.

Work's been slow – affording me vast swaths of time (well, vast by my definition) to write and write and write about what I want to write. Instead, I've been ignoring writing's incessant tapping on my shoulder.

I'm taking the low road: Apathy.

While re-watching "Wet Hot American Summer" Saturday night (a really great way to avoid eye contact with writing) I discovered the personification of my attitude toward this ridiculous self-ascribed calling: Paul Rudd. 

In this scenario writing is the chair, the tray and the fork; Janeane Garofalo is the logical part of my brain and Brad and all my other wise-and-encouraging friends; and I am Paul Rudd.

And then there's this scenario where my role is again played by Paul Rudd and the role of writing is his doting girlfriend, Katie (Marguerite Moreau).

I covet that pole dancing bird flip move (perfecting it might be the only reason I'd venture into another pole dancing scenario). 

It's pretty much been my exact sentiment about pursuing fiction right now. 

A big 'ol sassy fuck you.

Our family vacation afforded me an excellent opportunity to pretend I wasn't a writer anymore. While I brought my laptop with me (we're a bit codependent, me and my laptop) I didn't turn it on for nine glorious days. Didn't even really think of turning it on for nine glorious days. 

Did I mention it was glorious?

Instead, I was the fun mom who hiked up magical waterfall trails and romped in mountains of foam and jumped on giant bouncy pillows and played mini golf and drove on racetracks and swam in lakes and didn't enforce bedtime or vegetables and allowed my amazing aunties to spoil her children with pre-dinner slushies and post-pizza froyo and trips to the zoo and the science museum.

OK, so in reviewing my vacation photos, there's no real visual record in my involvement in any of this. Actually, the whole trip was Brad's idea. You'll just have to trust that I was along for the fun.

Lily's tired legs on Jacob's Ladder.
We visited Watkins Glen and took the girls up the famous gorge there, a one and a half mile hike up, up and up – not terribly hard for 33-year-old legs but intimidating for 3- and 4-year-old little legs. Lily led the way for most of the hike, enchanted by the waterfalls and the creek and the massive rock walls. But by the time we reached Jacob's Ladder, the final 180 steps up to where the shuttle would pick us up and take us back to our car, she was done. 

"My legs are tired. I can't walk anymore," she told me flopping on the bottom steps.

"You can do it!" I told her. "Just one step at a time."

And she did it. (I helped her a little along the way, but who doesn't need help along the way?) We made it to the shuttle (probably her favorite part of the whole day. The girl loves a good bus ride).

I'm reading "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed (you should go read it right now) and I thought about this moment today. How you have to keep walking and walking and walking to get to where you're going and that you can't worry about where you've been and where you're going. Here's Strayed:
“The thing about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, the thing that was so profound to me that summer—and yet also, like most things, so very simple—was how few choices I had and how often I had to do the thing I least wanted to do. How there was no escape or denial. No numbing it down with a martini or covering it up with a roll in the hay. As I clung to the chaparral that day, attempting to patch up my bleeding finger, terrified by every sound that the bull was coming back, I considered my options. There were only two and they were essentially the same. I could go back in the direction I had come from, or I could go forward in the direction I intended to go.” 
Lily's plight on those steps and my plight with the writing obviously aren't as dire as Strayed's journey on the Pacific Crest Trail and the demons she was hoping to exorcise. Probably, most things in life aren't. But it doesn't matter anyway. We're all on navigating our own trails. And their as steep or level as we make them out to be.

Recently, as I was bemoaning the idea of starting a new novel to my friend Kristen she said something equally as profound. That it didn't have to be the same experience I had last time I wrote a novel. I couldn't compare the two. 

I hadn't considered that. Not even for a second. In order to protect myself from high expectations I've been lowering them to a point of stalling out. 

And Brad chimed in, too (after I whined ... err ... vented to him):
"With your writing, I know it's frustrating that you aren't at the same point as other people, but you are on the path. And you are WAY further down the path than a lot of other people who want to be where you are .... You just aren't as far down as you want to be. But it's your path, and you're not racing against anyone else. You'll get there if you keep writing."
So fine. You win bossy friends and husband. The only way to dig my way out of my Paul Rudd Rut (allow me: groooooooaaaaaan) is to keep writing. 

I know, I'm as disappointed as you are. 

So here goes nothing (uh-gain). 

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