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I’m going to tell on myself.

A once-a-year quirk, a lapse, a moment of ditz: In the excited anticipation of an event, I show up early. Sometimes a week early. Sometimes, as in last year’s Frieze art show in NYC, a whole month.

In the minutes of puzzlement about why nobody else has appeared to attend the event, I learn to laugh at myself. I look for the lemonade in the lemons I’ve handed myself. And it’s okay.

Sometimes, it’s more than okay.

Tapas, I told myself tonight…a way to redeem a gaff from total loss status (not that any redemption was needed.) A few blocks’ walk. A restaurant noisy with an after-work gathering of fellows.

Suddenly, in the willingness to bare myself to myself, the writing comes. Nothing earthshaking. Not the ahahhh lightning bolt that I’ve been waiting for. But instead, that rare place where apartness and honesty come together in something wonderful.

I am alone; separated from the intimacies that other people take for granted. I like it there.

My mind is free to wander without distraction. My own reflection in the restaurant’s mirror tells me a truth about myself that will become part of a character for the next book…a me-in-part, as they all are. The apartness soothes. It embraces. It stings, then kisses the hurt place better.

In the mile-plus walk home—and the choice to walk rather than cab ride the distance—in the milky light between storms, in the reflections that soften the hard glass of tall buildings, in the streets emptied of outliers gone home after the workday, wonder is. And it belongs to me utterly.

I don’t know whether I’d be willing to trade this cherished apartness for the human pairings that seem so normal, so desirable, in everyone else. I exist without the mechanism to shut out the world. In constant companionship my attention is channeled in the direction of The Other; pulled like a tide to an unavoidable shore. I can’t be alone without being alone. And knowing that I have loved ones in the world is made even more sweet by the absence.

I’ve always been apart. And on evenings like this one I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

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We hear voices, writers do. A word, a thought, an expression, a rhythm, an idea.

In the sweet silence of our self-defined isolation, we close ourselves off from what the eyes can see, uncork the tops of our heads and let the universe float in. We marry the invisible. We know mystery. And joy. And ecstasy.

We don’t try for this, not deliberately—not in the blessed woolgathering phase of a book’s creation, anyway. Is just…is.

Charles Wright called it “the silence that turns the silence off.” But sometimes, in that silence, in that waiting, we are alone.

Without the voices, who are we?

I’ve been living in the limbo between worlds, facing the realities of selling the current book while making space in the head for the next one. I have three books in the hopper, and energy enough to work toward selling only one of them at a time.

And the silence right now is only silence.

Knowing doesn’t help. Knowing that the voices will rise in me like a choir. Knowing that my voice will find a shape. And an audience.

But now, the high, tight ringing in my ears is the only thing that comes close to a word from elsewhere. The characters and the world they inhabit still stand at a stubborn distance, knowing what they know, yet sharing none of it with me.

I am the slow-witted, patient animal in the empty field, waiting for her master’s call; hearing nothing but the damndest silence.

Sing, self. I’m ready.

Not in one place. Not in another. Not past the spell of the past work; not yet caught up in the new. The writer between books.

I am at the house. And I am not here. I am listening to the birds, to the wind in trees, to the absence of human sound, and it is only the placing of the description on the page makes any of it real to me.

A tilled field, I am. The fertile growth has been harvested, the remains plowed under. The fragile, exposed ground is left open to the sun and air, waiting for new seed and rain to green it; to turn it into something worthwhile again. Letting the field lay fallow is a familiar concept. The reality isn’t nearly so fulfilling. For now, I am a dustbowl waiting to happen, waiting for the substance of me to be blown away.

As a character reflects in the last work, “he hadn’t expected to be so…without.” I am, in this moment, without.

I mourn this lack, and I don’t. I don’t like it, but I understand it. Understanding it hardly makes it easier. Nothing will heal the raw and naked ground but the verdancy of a new work taking root. The feeling is a revelation of how deeply involved we were; of how exhausted the break has left us. Knowing doesn’t help.

We stand in the space between raindrops, writers do. In the vacant place that is suddenly us, we don’t dance between the drops—we wander, restless, wanting to be touched by something, hoping for the cloudburst (for the drizzle, even) that will make something grow. From that cloudburst will come discontents and gifts, separations and conflicts. And purpose. But that time isn’t yet.

In this arid country, we are praying for rain.

In New York City, we offer offhanded compliments. “I don’t hate it,” we say. “Couldn’t hurt,” we say.

Years have passed; the uber-cool attitudiness persists. In the compliments we offer ourselves.

A two-sentence end to a passage. A revision from “see what’s coming” blatancy to something a little tighter, a little closer-in, a little stylier. As I closed down the work for the night, I found myself speaking the sentences aloud, as I do sometimes to road-test the idea. The to-me-from-me reaction: “That’s not terrible”…a variation on the time-honored New Yorkism “That doesn’t suck.”

Why do we do that?

What is it about us that keeps us an arm’s reach from being comfortable with praise—even the praise we offer ourselves? What makes that discomfort more seemly, more modest? And what makes us feel that anti-praise is so much more richly deserved?

The psychology is too deep to contemplate here. But the markers are easy to understand. Writing is an endless exercise in perfectionism. We do what we do. We do it again. And again. Until the music rises. Passages that sing from the first note are rare. Divine discontent is as necessary to our repertoires as our laptops. The trick, the talent, is not letting the off-key moments throw the work into chaos; to weight us until we sink under the surface of hope.

The same exercise that purifies us is one that can exhaust us. We look into our own faces and spit into our own eyes. Writing is tough enough without such relentless self-criticism. And being on top of that understanding, even for a moment…that doesn’t suck.

Long days in the office and the limited energy they leave in their wake. Too few hours left, claimed by too many things. Cooking dinner. Eating it. Feeding cats. Changing clothes. To exercise or not in those rare remaining minutes. Or to write.

This is what I want.

To spend time with me. And with my characters. To immerse in the mind of a man who knows that this will be, if all goes well, the last night of his life; the man observed by a woman who is trying desperately not to believe what she knows to be true. The reality of the things you can’t un-know.

What I want: I want to be in love. And I am.

It is a sacred trust, this partnership with the invisible. One gives all or gives nothing. To be full of the melancholy of it, to be a paper boat on its rough waters, to dive so deep that there is no other night, no other room, no other person; a writer owns a gift that is closest to being in love—which may be why so many of us exist without love’s outward manifestation.

The ecstatic lives here. All possibility does. And in that inconstant realization is the thing that conquers despair and defeat and the challenges of not-good-enough. Do we have our crippling doubts? Yes. Always will. But the grace of moments like these when the Unseen smiles at me, when I’m actually looking across the room at the person who was the physical print of the main character, when I know that in a few minutes I will run home and throw myself to the created world as if it were a lover waiting between smooth sheets…I’m holding up my end of the partnership. The things I sacrifice are not sacrifices at all: They are choices gladly set aside for a greater, grander choice.

This is the life I live because I choose it to be so. A silence that is far, far from empty; a self that is fully self, fully given. Isn’t that what love is?

Are we more confident by day than by night? Or are we just stupider?

By day, we writers are creature of light, drawing energy from an optimistic inner sun. We are fearless and confident. Problems in the work are merely possibilities as yet undiscovered. Give it time, we tell ourselves; it will all come right.

By night—especially at the end of long days at the page—we are weak-willed drivellers. The moments that delighted us, the romance in the words, are caught in a vortex of crippling despair. We are doubtful about the whole product. We are afraid. We are terrified breathless.

Day is strength. Night is doubt. The story we loved at noon is hopelessly idiotic at nine. The characters are vapid; the plot, vaporous. What the hell were we thinking? And why the hell have we been thinking it for three years?

There is no way around the pink elephant in the room. We tell ourselves and others that this book is just a very different creature, not readily recognizable as a comfortably familiar genre. At night, all we can see is that the elephant is just improbably, halluncinogenically pink, nothing more.

At night, our daylit confidence dissolves. Our optimistic regard of our talents melts like frost under a heat lamp.

Day tells us that hard work will, eventually, get us where we want to be.

Night tells us that we are talentless shlubs that no effort can possibly redeem.

Now the too-polite smiles will come. The friends who have professed eagerness to read the work will not finish it. Or they won’t comment on it. Or it will just disappear from the list of things you talk about together. They won’t tell you why, for fear of the hurt that you and they both know will result.

Now the doubts will come. The certainty that we will forever be relegated to the limbo of the mediocre-almost; of the hobby writer; of the dabbler. The worst place in the world for a dedicated wordsmith to be.

Which is why I’m going to bed. To not-think. To let my tired brain wait for the day to recharge it. To delude myself afresh—or to find my hope again. Both. Or neither. Over and over and over again.

Just discovered way out there in the way-out-there: a cool dwarf star that’s been reduced to its carbon elements—in a sense, a space-set diamond. In the chip-it-off/polish-it-up phase of writing that I’m in now, I see plenty of parallels.

By now, I’ve scraped down to the mineral. Blown the dust away. Trimmed off the more ill-considered cuts. Some parts of the work shine. Some flaws exist deep in the body of the work, too deep to be reached by even the most skilled diamond cutter’s art. Some I hope that the reader will be too in love to see. All are mine.

In the setting, in the characters—in some passages that pierce the eye with their brightness—I can only hope that the effort, the skill, have been sufficient to bear their precious load. The setting is made of a mettle (pun intended) unfamiliar, suspended between magic realism and the grittier stuff of the street; between spray-painted walls and the canvas of Conscience. I love this book. I hope that love will be enough.

An idea comes to the writer on one knee and makes a solemn request. The ask tickles us; leaps inside us. And yet, acceptance comes with a pause built in. Even as we accept, we know that the joy of the relationship must end. All books end in a separation, of sorts—those “we will always care for one another” moments in which the physcial presence of the great affection is remembered but absent.

This is the time of physical symptoms. Of dread and flatness. The words and passages remain the beautifully-set gem that reminds us how things were once. The time when the work and the so-real people in it sang to us. Where happily-ever-after seemed, for a very short time anyway, as if it would last forever.

For now—for the last of now—the thing shines like a diamond. And in a part of me (and, with luck, in a part of the reader’s heart) it always will.

An awakening at 4 a.m. Of the best kind. A dream.

A living space on water, although in the dream I never saw the main house. This was a kind of exposed, semi-circular under-story, with accoutrements all around that offered the possibility that this could well be a living space: chairs, a lovely old enamel stove, tables…and, incongruously, water beneath, an ocean that should not have been there.

People were there in the space. I didn’t know them, yet didn’t mind that I didn’t. Creative, they were. Eagerly so. Generous in their shared inventiveness, unlike the experience in so many other creative fields. Somewhere, there was a creative director, a guiding force that we never saw—but it didn’t matter. The presence was felt.

This creative engineer encouraged unusual forms of expression without limiting the forms they could take; a mentor invisible. The creators were encouraged to find the possibilities even in the unlikeliest of products. In the dream, I found great power in something that was a cross between a seashell and an exotic spiral pastry…and it occurred to me that some unrevealed potential might be found there. Any object could be the spur to creativity—a tactile expression that wouldn’t require words on paper to express what one should think or feel about the project at hand. An unlikely method ever to adopt, certainly, but an encouragement of non-traditional ways of thinking. The legitimizing of wild fancy as a tool for the imagination. A realization that ideas are findable in every possible form.

And the dream, strangely enough, informed another lightning bolt about the book-in-progress: The freedom to redefine how creativity is generated…the essence of the group of artists at the center of the story, a group for which competitiveness is nonexistent and cooperation and encouragement are all.

The dream’s environmental imagery—as real as reality, although I have never seen any of it—gave me a way to richen the story’s physical space. The energy in the dream room gave me other ways to expand the idea of art’s Divine light and send it into other places throughout story; told me how much richer the metaphor would become if I applied multiple touches. The dream pushed the concept; reminded me of a solution where I hadn’t even seen a problem.

The channel to the invisible. In the constant slog that the commerce-job has been, in this craft-driven stage of the book’s re-writing, that clear channel has been rarely in evidence. I’ve missed it. Last night, I went back to the place of the gifts in dreams. And heard lessons I’m even now trying to decipher. Lucky me. Very lucky me.

This is what it feels like.

The chapter—the momentous act that the entire book has been building to—owns me. Before I wake and once I do. In the choices I make for the day. In what I eat. In the shower I don’t take. In the exercising I don’t do. In the head-clearing catnaps I time to fuel me for what will be written next.

I am the woman in the bubble, holding her breath against the world’s getting in.

The feeling. The overwhelmingness of it. The slam. I stand in front of the avalanche that I called down upon myself and I invite it to come. Breathless, knowing how hard it will hit. Excited and resigned, knowing that, once I’ve called it, there will be no running away.

I write through the fidgets of avoidance; through the sudden, needless urgencies that ask me to do this or do that. On weekends spent at the page, I give myself the evenings off, to let the internal batteries fill. I go to sleep with it inside me. I wake with it still there.

And the day at commerce is intolerable.

The glittering, fragile, horrid, consuming, wonderful bubble is still around me. I nurture it. I don’t want to let it go, this umbilical that binds me to the breathless place in the ethers. I sit at my desk listening to the music that has decorated and informed the scenes. And I am crying…thinking what madness this would be if any of my co-workers should catch me at it…feeling the desperation of knowing that I cannot, can never, hold on to such an ethereal thing.

This is not a thing that can be called up at will. It is a welling from the inside, rich and tenuous and terrifying. I don’t want anything but this. Ever.

Draw the curtains. Take away the world. Leave me be. The writer is not here. The writer does not want to be. She is busy holding her breath. And the world may not come here, where I am.

In a recent conversation with a work-friend, talked about the difference between bull-headedness and the commitment to one’s experienced point of view. For a writer, one cannot lay a word to the page without utter commitment. Without that commitment, one waffles, unsure; vacillates over one word or phrase or rhythm and another one.  Without that humble “yeah”, a whirlpool lurks just over the horizon. Nothing gets done.

Have been through an extended spate of wha?’s lately. One word, another, all the same: the wonderful clarity that finds the right idea and express the first time is missing. One is not propelled into the idea by the from-the-inside-out certainty of the character’s place in his/her own world. Every phrase is a “maybe, maybe not.”

In cases such as these, the writer falls back on devotion. If the passage does not come together today, there is always tomorrow. Spend time, chip away at the edges of the challenge and, eventually, something will come clear. On some nights, the path is merely surrender: Give up tonight altogether, hope for better tomorrow.

The right choices are breathtaking. They are the smiling sated-ness of an encounter with a wonderful lover. They are the satisfaction that the mathematician feels at the conclusion of a provable equation. They are the open chakras, the meal for the mind, the purr of the cat, the grace of a friend.

The unmade choice is like being tone deaf. Not hearing the sounds in one’s own head—not hearing anything at all—is like being shut away from one’s own thoughts, closed off in another room to which one has no access. Not hearing the inner voice is the loneliest place in the writer’s experience. If one won’t talk to one’s self, who else is there?

A product of being tired, certainly. The fear of finishing a work that one loves, probably. The cost of Commerce and days at the job. Or, perhaps, too many back-to-back days at the page. Writers’ brains are wells that can indeed be tapped dry. And watching the inspiration trickle back a drop at a time is barely and rarely enough.

In the distance, I hear music.

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