It’s turned cold. The pond has become frozen in time, transformed by a clear sheet of ice. It’s as if I’m looking at a photograph of it, even when I stand on the deck, feeling the chill wind that should be rippling its surface.
It is a visual metaphor for the last twelve days of my life.
I’ve been absent from blog, but you already knew that. After posting daily for all of October, I needed a break. I think I intended to take a couple of days off, but that stretched into twelve.
I gave the first five days of my blog vacation to just being with my family, while my daughter was still in town. On November 4th, we rented a game called Beyond Two Souls and the kids played it through, while Ogre and I watched. It was a good distraction for those last 24 hours before Pooka had to catch her flight.
She left on the afternoon of November 5th. It’s ok that she’s gone home – I know she missed her Beau, and her cat, and her own computer, and her own life. Facebook, and the internet in general, make being separated from a family member much more bearable than it used to be. Interacting online is our normal, and always has been. (When Pooka was a kid, it wasn’t unusual for us to communicate via instant messages. When she was home for her extended visit, we continued to send memes and reminders to each other through various social media channels.)
So that’s all right then. I suppose I mention it because I’m feeling disconnected, but it’s not the 1,300 miles between my daughter and me causing the problem.
Despite my good intentions, I pretty much lost the six days between her departure and today as well. I’m not entirely clear on what I’ve been doing. I guess I’ve been reading, cooking, cleaning – all the normal stuff. I’ve watched most of three seasons of The 4400. I spent one day sorting through my knitting books, yarns and needles and making swatches. I even went to the gym once. Beyond that, it’s pretty fuzzy.
This happens every year at about this time. November through January are tough months for me. First there’s the loss of light and the advent of the bitter cold that makes being outside, even in the few available daylight hours, painful. Soon there will be icy roads to enforce my isolation and trigger my vicious winter-driving anxieties – for myself and for everyone else I love. Next there will be Christmas – a season that makes me feel poor. I become sensitized to finances, of course, (and this year the finances are especially bad … again) but it’s more than that. I become increasingly aware of how tattered my once-large tapestry of extended family and friends has become over the years.
And then there’s the thoughts of my dad – who inadvertently carved my hatred of winter into me – rising closer to the surface of my mind every night as I lie awake, wishing for a way to get warm for more than a few minutes at a time. Experience has taught me that such thoughts come with the cold and become more frequent as we draw closer to January 29th, the anniversary of his death.
I hardly knew him, really. My parents had divorced when I was two, because my father was physically abusive to my mother and drank too much. In the years between the divorce and his death, our relationship was confined to infrequent, usually supervised, visits. I think I last saw him in 1976.
In 1977, he froze to death in a field alongside a deserted road, on the coldest night of the year. I was nine years old.
Of him, I have only the stories told to me as I grew up, a few distinct memories, and a handful of photographs – including thirteen – taken by a cop or coroner – of the “accident scene”.
The photographs are in a pink and white envelope, emblazoned with the words: photos, share your happy times, order reprints and enlargements.
Right now, I’m supposed to be writing about him. Well, not about the truth of him, but rather about the stories I’ve woven about him. Back in early October, I decided this would be the year I would tackle my feelings about what happened in my fiction. NaNoWriMo seemed like a great time to just let everything go onto the page.
But, aside from some pre-writing and outlining, I’ve not started.
Writing anything about him is hard. Even here and now I feel guilty about bringing this up. I just ran a search on the blog, to make sure that I haven’t already written about all this. I usually want to, but it seems I’ve not allowed it to bleed into this blog since I started it.
I guess, some part of me recoils from the drama of it all. This is not my first slow-motion melt-down about my daddy issues. I assume folks around me are sick of it. I’m pretty sure that, as an adult, I ought to be able to put this to rest. But not talking about it, or writing about it, has not made anything easier, so I’m going to go ahead with it. (and wordcounts and deadlines be damned.)
Tomorrow, you’ll be returned to your regularly scheduled programming here at the blog. (I’ve already written Wednesday’s post, a fangirl squee about Tom Hiddleston.) I’m betting, however, that this won’t be the last you hear of my father this winter.
Tonight’s post is just my way of breaking the ice.
When I was a kid – maybe 10 or 12 – I wrote the first sentence of a novel in a green, college-ruled note-book: “We are descended from witches and weres and vampires.”
I imagined the line – and its ensuing conversation – taking place in a homey, kitchen, redolent with the smell of melted paraffin, hot sugar, and chokecherry juice. I imagined the speaker was a pink-cheeked, soft-skinned, elderly woman with a sweat-damp Scandinavian braid wrapped around her head, and that she was speaking to her sturdy, plain-faced, middle-aged daughter, who was concerned about an uncharacteristic and terrible act committed by her own wild, wayward grandchild.
I still have that notebook (even though I’ve otherwise conquered my heritage of hoardishness.) And I’m still writing that novel.
Well, kinda. Not one of my manuscripts contain that specific line, but all of them are meditations on that basic concept – the idea that normal life (that which is familiar) is a matter of situation, circumstance and perception. Embedded in that line – at least for me – is the realization that life itself is magical and mysterious and that we spend far too much time – as individuals, as families, as communities, as a society – pretending that it isn’t. My writing has always been about asserting that “normal” life is an unhealthy, cult-ish state of being, and that pursuing the norm – or more accurately, denying the magical – is like drinking poisoned Kool-Aid.
You’d think, then, that I’d be able to bring that conviction into the real world, but I am as vulnerable as everyone else to getting sucked in to mundane. Lately life has thrown a lot of its most distracting normal-world challenges at me: financial stress, work-schedule conflicts, eldercare needs, and parenting decisions that will affect THE REST OF MY SON’S LIFE. The weather hasn’t been helping. I can’t remember when Minnesota has had a longer, colder, wetter, drearier winter and spring. Consequently, I’ve been too tired (wound up, stressed out, bone-chilled, etc.) to taste the contents of the cup I’ve been drinking from.
Who’d-a-thunk that an emergency visit to the dentist would be my antidote?
First you must know that I have a full-blown dental phobia. I don’t know (remember) why. It’s not like there have been a ton of opportunities for this phobia to take root and grow. I’ve been mostly lucky. In an effort to avoid ever visiting the dentist, I am religious about dental hygiene, and have developed a high pain tolerance. But one can only do so much. When my entire face recently swelled up and I could no longer eat, I made an appointment.
The first visit was quick. An x-ray revealed that my eyetooth was the problem and would require a root canal. I left the dentist’s office with a prescription for antibiotics to bring the swelling down, and a future appointment on the books.
Something else you should know is that I weep when I go to the dentist. I don’t mean that I sob, or thrash about, or make a scene – I just … leak tears. I can have a full and lucid conversation about the required treatment, and I can quietly submit to whatever needs to be done, but I cannot stop leaking. This is disconcerting to dentists. In fact, this makes them very solicitous. When I tell a dentist that I will require nitrous oxide no matter what the cost, they are eager to give me as much as I want. And they are confident that I will want A LOT.
When the day came to perform the root canal, my new dentist was ready with plenty of laughing gas. As I settled in under the mask it occurred to me to ask if one could overdose on nitrous oxide. He laughed and said no. I relaxed as much as I could, closed my eyes, and started to do the same kind of deep breathing that helped me get through two drug-free births and every crisis I’ve had in the past 27 years.
I was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t feel much pain when he injected me with the first of several shots of Novocaine. I remember him telling me that after he finished the series of shots, he would wait for a while before starting the root canal, so that the numbing agent could take full effect. Then I drifted.
I have a recurring dream in which I first run, then bound through a meadow. In the beginning, it’s a lovely dream but then I realize that it’s like I have springs in my feet, and that each time I return to the ground, my rebound is more powerful – and I can’t stop going higher and higher. It becomes dizzying, then terrifying, as I plunge from the sky toward the ground.
(Yes, I know that I have control issues.)
While breathing my nitrous, I was reminded of that dream and I tensed up … repeatedly. Knowing that I didn’t want to actually feel what the dentist was doing, and confident that he was a professional who would eventually and appropriately stop the flow of the blessed gas, I resisted the urge to struggle back to a more conscious state. I became aware of a sound, like that of music being played on crystal glasses. I concentrated on that sound for a while, until I realized it was probably the noise of the drill as the dentist worked, then I tried to ignore it. Even so, I was aware when the pitch of the sound climbed higher, then higher again. Each time the pitch shifted I felt my breathing speed up and become more shallow. It was too much. I pushed hard toward the surface of my mind.
When I opened my eyes, both the dentist and his assistant were bent over me, their masked faces inches above mine. The assistant was repeating my name and saying, “it’s okay, you’re fine.”
The dentist was wiping tears from the corner of my eye with a gloved finger. He said, “There you are!” I could see relief in his eyes as he straightened up.
“I’m sorry,” I said. I took in the situation, then asked, “I hyperventilated, didn’t I?”
“Yes. Yes you did.”
“How far are we?” I asked. “How much is done?”
The two of them exchanged looks. There was a pause. Then the dentist finally said, “Nothing. We’ve done nothing except give you the Novocaine.”
“But I heard the drill …”
“No. There was no drill.”
We determined together that I probably didn’t need quite so much nitrous oxide. I decided to keep my eyes open for the remainder of the procedure, so that I wouldn’t sink so far into my own mind. Before I gave myself over to the gas, I heard the dentist reassuring his assistant that such bad reactions were rare, but normal.
Once the gas was restarted, I realized that I could breath deeply until I felt my fingers tingling, but then I needed to take a break. Eventually I figured out how to take in just enough gas (how to hypnotize myself just enough) to stay somehow above what was going on in my mouth. I maintained a nice semi-conscious state, but I had no idea how much time was passing until my cell phone’s alarm chimed. (I have reminder alarms set for various tasks through my day.) When the alarm sounded, I was relieved to know that I’d been at the office for more than an hour – at least this time, I thought, they are making progress.
We got through it.
Except we didn’t, really. Toward the end of the procedure, I realized they were taking an awful lot of x-rays. Though they reassured me there was nothing wrong, I knew something wasn’t right.
It turns out that the root of my eyetooth was too deep for the dentist’s tools to reach. Apparently my “fang” is half-again as long as an average eyetooth, and no tool in the dentist’s arsenal could get to the bottom of it. (We are descended from witches and weres and vampires.) He ended up putting in a temporary filling and referring me to an endodontist – a specialist in root canals.
So it all happened again a week later. In that visit, I knew how to self-regulate my nitrous so I didn’t hyperventilate (nor terrify a young dental assistant), and my mind converted the pain I felt into an overpowering taste of copper pennies dissolving in my mouth – rather than the sound of crystal glasses singing.
Now that my fang is fine, I’m grateful for the experience. I needed to have my consciousness altered a little. Going to the dentist broke the spell “normal life” had on me. Since then, I’ve finished the Lizzy novel. (I’m editing and revising now.) Pretty soon I will be seeking first-readers/critics, then picking up on the hotel novel that I started for NaNoWriMo.
Apparently, I needed to be reminded that the mind can translate its experiences into something strange and interesting, yet still reflective of reality. I also needed to be reminded that time is subjective. The first two-thirds of Lizzy’s novel was written over more than a decade, but was finished in a matter of weeks. The hotel novel took shape in 30 days.
I’m curious to see what happens next.
A couple of weeks ago, I signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo in April. I didn’t even know there was such a thing, until I got an email invitation to participate. The atmosphere for camp events appears more relaxed than November’s nano. You can set your own word count goals.You can continue an existing manuscript. You can revise and/or edit, as long as you can come up with a fair equation for comparing such work to raw prose generation.
At the time, I was thinking, “Hey. My work schedule has mostly settled down to 3 nights a week. The boy seems to have a handle on school. Ogre likes his new job. The days are getting longer … yep, it’s time to settle down and do this.” I carefully examined my available time and set an ambitious but manageable goal: to spend the month of April editing the complete Lizzy novel. I figured the pass I intended to make would require between 80 – 90 hours. (This goal, btw, required me to actually finish writing the ending to Lizzy’s novel in March.) I set to work with a will.
In the last year, I’ve been counting on one of the two effective strategies for generating content: slow, steady, consistant work. I managed to get 50,000 words down in Novemeber 2012 by carving slots of time from my schedule so that I could put my butt in the chair every day for a set period of time. I planned to schedule my way through editing the Lizzy novel too.
Then my boss called to tell me he’s going out of town … three times in March and April. Consequently, I will be back to working more than full-time for three of the next six weeks. And a lot of it is bad: Seven days in a row. Nine days in a row. Working until midnight, then back at the desk by 9:00a the next day. My available time was obliterated.
Then I had a melt down, which I didn’t post.
Then I made a decision to suck it up, which I did post.
Then – the good news – my daughter (of recent button-making fame) called to tell me she is coming home from North Carolina for her friend’s wedding. And she’ll be staying with us for 16 days. I was ecstatic until I remembered the insanity of my work schedule in April. I checked the calendar and discovered that most of her visit does not overlap with my boss’s trips.
Then I called my boss. I explained the situation and told him I would abide by the schedule he’d made for the weeks he was going to be gone, BUT that I wanted a total of four days off on the other weeks. He balked at first, but I held my ground. It’s complicated, but I will only have to work five of the sixteen days she’ll be here. (He’s still pestering me about one Saturday, but I will not yield. What’s he gonna do? Fire me?)
Then I sat down with the calendar again, and recalculated the month. This time, instead of looking for available writing slots, I assessed the big picture.
Spring is coming. My family will be together. My mood is likely to be positive. I figure, maybe it’s time to return to my old ways … to the OTHER effective strategy for making prose happen … getting caught up in the story and succumbing to the muse. (Am I the only one who thinks “the muse” is just a romantic way to describe the hypomanic state?) In my schedule, I blocked out additional space for sunshine, exercise, flirtations, adventures, nutritious and delectable foods, and copious amounts of caffeine, chocolate and liquor.
So now, I have decided not to drop out of Camp NaNoWriMo, but I have revised my goal so I won’t go insane. I will not likely finish a complete editing pass in April, but I can make a big dent.
I’m heading out for the gym. Then I’m going to have a date with my husband. Then I’m going to stay up late and write.
Let’s see if this works.