Writing is such a strange and introverted pursuit, you might be surprised at how much I think about what I produce before I produce it. It’s like the wordy equivalent of massaging kale before putting it in a complex salad, which let’s face it, is quite pretentious in design. Who wants kale in a salad? Suffice to say there is mulling over and considering what I might write about, and then when the instinct takes me, it spills out. All this whilst I am meant to be finishing a book which feels to me like a polemic. I never intended to write a polemic, and am dubious about that.
I was advised early on, when I started writing seriously, that spending anything more than a year on a first book was a mistake. Get it done and then move on. Any writer will plunder their own experience (those who say they don’t are lying) and so spending years sloshing around in the waters of your own life will not be years well spent. Better to take only what you need from it and get out. I remind myself of this often, and yet continue to paddle, such is the root of my intrigue about my own circumstances and past.
However, as things stand my circumstances have a unique set of nuances that only apply to me, and so sharing that can feel jarring and indelicate. I think a lot about processing thoughts and feelings and work hard to distill any view I have down to something palatable for others. What I have learned is that even when you think something is processed, distilled, considered, measured, it probably isn’t. Not until time has passed and taken off the edges, like a riverbed pebble made smooth by friction. There is always an analogy in nature which will illuminate my point. Nature and the seasons, and the weather.
Each morning at daybreak I scan the sky for clouds, check the forecast for rain, adjust my choice of coat according to the temperature. I intimately know the growth status of the wisteria outside my bedroom window, of which I have written many times. Local friends whose houses are on the water – a bearing which is the epitome of privilege in Sussex life – know the weather, and they know the tides. Both are relevant when the paint on your back door risks peeling from salt spray. I like to keep the tides a surprise; I like to arrive at the waterside and be struck with the beauty of a high tide, to feel it is a sign, a circumstance relevant to my mood. High tide means full up, maximum, a swollen version of itself, compared to the lacklustre opposite of low tide. Who wants low tide? Same as kale in salad.
Each time I write, I comment on the season, this interminable winter which wears on and on and on. No need to wash the car (it’s still winter), no need to wear silk (it’s still winter), no need to plan for anything other than the cold and mud (it’s still winter). But I know it will end, one day. It is – and I am – seasonally, in between.
There is no rushing loss, there is no way to get through it, to understand its impact other than to live it. I read about bereavement and grief, and compare and contrast. I feel the clutch of panic in my chest when it revisits, months after the initial truth became clear. It’s nearly been a year. How long will this take? If there was a guide, that is what I would ask.Of course there is progress, and things which were unimaginable then are commonplace now, but still, but still…
It’s still winter.
They say (and I pay attention to these platitudes, as discussed), that change comes in the alteration of small habits. It’s not the big things, but the small. This provides comfort as I find myself in a daily routine which I would not have recognised as my own had someone given me to glimpse a year ago. Within the chrysalis of change, there are new routines, new people, a new normal. It was suggested to me that I should not become too attached to new habits, as they too will change, and my reliance upon them could become a hindrance. Isn’t that how I got myself into this mess in the first place? Too reliant on a status quo? I now spend my time observing others who think their status quo will stay, and I catch myself feeling a sickening sympathy for them which I try hard to banish. Who am I? It’s not as if I have the monopoly on the topic.
In the mornings, in the coffee shop I visit, I find myself eavesdropping on a couple whom I can only assume are an ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’ sponsor and charge. They discuss temptation and being able to see it clearly; triggers and sensibilities. When they are talking one confesses to the other that she misplaced her thread, that her mind wandered, and whilst I am sitting with my back to them, I imagine her eyes rolling back and her companion noticing that she has lost her way. I wonder whether I do that when I am being told what to do by friends, family and well-wishers who want to talk about my progress. Never before has the question ‘how are you?’ been accompanied with such weightiness. The AA couple get back on track and drain their coffees, that froth at the bottom which is nauseatingly chill, but they drink anyway. I don’t feel too bad for listening in, as I am fairly certain that in my own endeavours to describe my predicament, coffee shop strangers have gleaned salacious detail about me. Tit for tat.
But the small habits are the glue. The coffees, the cooking; chopping and seasoning, the pensive nightly baths, the lyrics, the turn of the tides. Some days melancholy, but to be honest many are not, and the sense that when dwelling in this in between space, there is respite. I am learning not to trust the respite, it doesn’t mean it’s over, it just means that my mind can only do so much thinking, and then there must be time spent swaddled in unreality. This is the same as the summer’s day, when early on in this, my friend told me I needed to be sure to wear a scarf, so that my amygdala, at the back of my neck was comforted. I had to google what my amygdala was, and what it did (it processes emotion). And she was right.
The in between won’t last forever.