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Is there ANYBODY, this time of year, whose conversation doesn’t turn sooner or later to the seasonal blues? Whether it’s being starved for light, or the insidious turning back of clocks, or the demands of a relentlessly upbeat holiday, we all feel the downward tug at the corners of our souls.
And creative people: Sometimes I think we’re the worst of the lot.
We talked about this in our e-salon yesterday. What is it in us that lets us—makes us—feel that suffering has more value for our work? The paradigm for comedians tells us that a lot of them have had tough childhoods or challenging personality traits. For artists and musicians and writers (the last category being the one I know best), there seems to be an unwritten rule that we create from a place of melancholy rather than joy. Why?
This silence that attends the act of creation: Is it a natural home for melancholy? Do we turn our melancholy into our art, or does our art create the melancholy?
Personally, I don’t particularly fear melancholy. Truth to tell, I welcome it, am comfortable with it. Paradoxically, I am happy when I’m there. Melancholy (not sadness, mind you—melancholy, a different thing altogether) is a steady state, a level ground, a comfort zone in which delight and darkness can both come to visit. As a creative person, I find more colors in melancholy; more possibility. The language is richer, here, and easier. It gives me good air to breathe.
Melancholy has no expectations. I can smile in the midst of it. And feel deep gratitude. Melancholy is like the friend who listens…and nods at my choices…and doesn’t ask me for anything other than to be what I am.
Think I’ll take a little break (it’s Sunday, after all), but I wanted to share a first for this house: the earthquake.
It hit in Oklahoma last night, just before 11. And we felt it down here on the river, nearly 200 miles away. The bed shook, as if someone were shaking the bedframe. The ceiling fan trembled. It lasted long enough to make me pay attention. Wow.
I’ve had earthquake insurance, here, for years. Here’s hoping that the occasion to use it is still far off. My thoughts to the folks who took the brunt of it.
All houses, I suppose, have a morning side and an afternoon side. My little house on the river is no different.
The morning side, where most of the windows are, warms in the sunshine (except on days like today.) The sun that creeps over the hills across the river tickles my eye into waking and paints rainbows through the prisms in the living room windows.
The afternoon side is an embrace. Dim in the daytime, yet sweetly bright toward the end of day, full of 3 p.m. light, the perfect place to cuddle under a throw for an afternoon nap.
The morning side is where I write, mostly (at least until I clear some of the flotsam of the move that hasn’t yet found a place to live), saving artificial illumination for when it’s absolutely needed.
The sky on the afternoon side was built for sunsets. My parents and I used to bring the lawn chairs there on every promising evening, to watch the sun go down gloriously against the far hills. The near hills, like my old bedroom, were made to celebrate the retiring of the sun.
For me, writing has become the occupation of the morning side, the light. My heart, nowadays, belongs more to the morning side; the evening side, a time for recovery and reflection. Some days I still want to pull my horizons in tightly, and tug my concentration close around me, like a coverlet over my head. That, I guess, will be what the office is for. For the times I seek the darkness rather than trying to chase it.
It’s been said that if you wonder whether you’re nuts, you’re probably not.
I wonder if that’s true.
What about those of us who spend inordinate amounts of time wondering just what brand of crazy we are?
Writing demands a big ol’ truckload of crazy to start out with. Who in her right mind, after all, would sit in a silent room day after day, pulling people out of the air, marching them through the unexpected (and also wholly made-up) turns of their lives? Who would suffer the anxieties of a chapter that refuses to go smoothly? Who would set herself up for the tortures of rejection and indifference?
We do. All those things. Every day. Is that true crazy—or merely useful crazy?
I’ve mused before in this space about the fine line between oughtta-do-it and gotta-do-it; the involuntary place in which a writer dwells, unable to imagine doing anything else. But what is the nature of it?
The companionability of the writing process is built into us…crazy in its compulsiveness, as inescapable as an addiction. Is the unwillingness to break from its black-hole gravity the crazy part? Or is it merely evidence of a choice? Is useful-crazy the rationalization we make for being truly nutso?
Being a writer looms large in me. It blots out the sun, sometimes. I find myself, on occasion, pushing fleshandblood people away when they threaten my time with the written ones. I am jealous of my characters’ company; these are friendships I am not always willing to share. If I make the choice to spend the time in the silence of their collective presence, which crazy is that? When the story fulfills me more than human relationships do, where am I in the grand scheme of my sanity?
These are questions that are safe to ask only in the daylight hours, with the strength of full energy to carry me. Comes the twilight, another matter. That’s where the doubts come. The paralysis of helplessness; the truer crazy. We rationalize best in sunshine. In dark, we fear; we are closer to true crazy.
Maybe true crazy is the state one doesn’t question. But I can tell you this: It’s a helluva lot less fun.
So…here’s an understanding I never expected.
Granted, it’s coming at the end of a very full day, an hour in which I’m inclined to harsh self-assessment; a moment in which I’m winding down on a vastly improved chapter that still has a way to go to be right, improvements I haven’t quite qualified yet. But here’s the thing….
I realize that I thrive on contrast. Being torn between two places sharpens my wits. Wanting one thing and living another makes the experiencing of both more acute.
That need works itself out quite nicely when there’s a job involved. The demands of the job make the writing hours more valuable. The writing that’s made to fit into the off-hours becomes more valuable. I know that I’ll have the enforced step away from it when the workweek starts again. A big loop.
Similarly, the chaos of moving and job-searching makes the writing time more valuable. But when I’m settled, here—what then?
I am 14-plus miles from the nearest town of any size. The things that one can do in town are limited…imagine a place where panko breadcrumbs and manchego cheese are alien life-forms. Where rock music stopped in the 80s. Where I couldn’t find raw duck breast to save my life. The forced-focus of contrast is absent. The observances that make up the new paradigm of contrasts are smaller; subtler.
It’s a wakeup call.
I’ll feel different in the morning. Possibilities are illuminated in daylight. As in birding, every day holds the chance of the unexpected, the good bird. Every walk holds the chance of the company of mink and deer, as this morning. Every look at the river might have a bald eagle in it. Dinners wait to be created. Books wait to be read. Songs wait for an extra voice.
It’s up to me to find the living in living. And that is the best revelation of all.
Gene Kelly danced in the rain. Enjoyed it, yes; celebrated the finding of love in it, yes. But he danced despite the rain, not because of it.
For some of us, we write to the virtue of grey.
Writing in rain. How much easier it is for some of us to write under grey skies than sunny ones. That lowered sky holds our thoughts close-in; keeps our words nearer to us than if we were to think them under a canopy of infinite blue.
The grey sky contains us; it is much more like the roof we see on the inside of our heads. Grey is the color of the melancholy infused into our DNA. The part of us that sighs even as it smiles.
Which raises another question: Do we write from a place of melancholy or joy?
We write from an ecstatic place, sometimes. And, sometimes, from deep sorrow. We write hope and fear and loneliness and gratitude. We exorcise nothing—we merely share it. Often, we magnify it in the remembering. We dance in rain, despite ourselves.
Ah, but grey.
Grey flattens contrast. Grey lays gauze over the vision that pops. Grey is a soft foundation. A lack of challenge. A fill-in-the-blanks. Grey does not insist that we be happy. Grey-with-rain gives us permission to sit in a chair and ruminate.
Grey is not an extreme. In the seesaw between joy and sorrow, grey balances us somewhere in between. And that is the perfect place from which to reach for everything.