The Bearable(?) Loneliness of Writing

I’m sitting in Panera, having finally decided to force myself to sit down and write. It’s busy here–college students studying, friends chattering, nurses and medical professionals from the nearby hospital enjoying a lunch break. The busyness seems to complement the t-shirt I threw on after last night’s shift, a black background with white outlines of Castiel and Dean from Supernatural and the phrase “you are not alone.” The shirt supported a mental health charity, not that I need a reason to support Supernatural actors of course, but I love knowing that I can give to others while spoiling myself. I love that little piece of connection.

But in the midst of all the bustle, I realized something. I miss connection. I am lonely. It feels weird to say so, because I am never really alone. I don’t mean that in a metaphorical sense but a literal one. Other than a few spare hours here and there, I spend nearly all of my time away from work with my husband. Often, that time is shared with some of our six American nieces and nephews, a rough-and-tumble bunch that I love more than life itself, or spent skyping with my sister and four (five any day now) Irish nephews. It is a busy, hectic, full existence, and I love it.

However, I find myself missing my writing tribe more and more. I had a near-perfect undergraduate experience at Indiana University Southeast, then went straight into Spalding’s MFA in Writing program. I didn’t realize how much I counted on deadlines and assignments and fellow writers until I graduated and had to try to strike out on my own. And I have to realize now that I am just not as good on my own.

But I am learning. And finding my way into staying a tribe member without the attachments of coursework. I had lunch with a local writing friend a couple weeks ago, and am meeting another later today. I have an ongoing group chat with a group of fellow writers and amazing women, and they sustain me.

The biggest lesson in all of this is, as important as my tribe is, I have to learn to strike out on my own, too. I have to somehow hold myself accountable, and somehow keep writing and submitting and revising even though no one is holding me to a due date. And, I have to let go of my perfectionism and celebrate even small steps. Like writing a blog post, or drafting a chapter, or sending someone feedback. Or even just reading.

One step at a time.

In which I meet one of my literary heroes

I worry a lot that I am becoming jaded with the writing process. Since graduating from my MFA program, writing feels like a chore. Part of that is because Spalding is full of magic, part is because of all the stuff going on in the world, and a big part is because I am off my medication for ADD. All this means that sitting down and trying to concentrate is like herding cats, only herding cats sounds like a lot more fun.

This all changed a couple weeks ago, when a friend and I made the three hour trek to Purdue University in Indiana to hear Margaret Atwood speak. I have loved her writing ever since first reading The Handmaid’s Tale in high school, and each subsequent book has made me even more in awe of her gift. Of course, most of her books are hard to read right now (The Handmaid’s Tale and the MaddAddam trilogy don’t seem as much like fantasy now that women’s bodies, the environment, and freedom from corporate control seem in more danger every time I turn on the news), but I still love them.

matwood

I admit to some nervousness, not just because I would be breathing the same oxygen as MARGARET ATWOOD, but out of fear that she would be different than I had imagined. Writers are human, of course, and have their flaws (I have countless!), but there have been situations where previous idols turned out to be quite problematic. Some (unnamed) examples: a male memoirist/poet was lecherous and skeezy in person, and a feminist writer made some terribly transphobic remarks. So I had some concerns; I didn’t think my heart could take Ms. Atwood becoming problematic.

I needn’t have worried. She stood on stage and spoke as if she owned the place, reading from some poems and a novel, all unpublished, all needing to be published as of yesterday, and answered questions with grace, respect, and humor. She was delightful. And she was inspiring.

meatwood

I came home with ideas and plans buzzing around in my brain. A few days ago, I sat down and jotted out a chapter for what I hope will become my first novel about a subject too close to my heart and life for me to write nonfiction about.

I am no longer jaded. I still can’t concentrate, but I rekindled my love for writing. We need our heroes. I’m just glad mine live up to the title.