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The holidays can be tough enough. Throw in a case of the flu and the challenge becomes more…interesting. Interesting—a nice word for it.

Christmas retreated from my catalog of enthusiasms a number of years ago. In the bad, long-term relationship that I wasn’t self-possessed enough to escape, I adopted a smiling, benign indifference to it. Safer that way. In the years since, I’ve used the cherished silence of the house to let words find me; in the vacation week between Christmas and New Year’s, I’ve braved the chill in long, thoughtful walks on the goes-nowhere road outside and let the universe find me. Days were filled with the page; nights, with the thought of the page. The hours were full.

Not this year.

Being between books is hard. Being beset by the challenge-to-confidence that is the search for an agent makes everything harder. Keeping one’s emotional balance is a difficult thing when the winter silence is silence only. Then, enter the flu.

The 900-mile drive to the house was almost alarmingly easy, even after a 4 a.m. departure. No visits from the Muses during the long drive…but never mind. By the time I’d arrived and unpacked, the illness set in for real: the body-twisting cough, the hammering exhaustion, the Niagara of sinus.

Keeping one’s heart open to creativity is pretty impossible when you’re sleeping 18 hours a day. So be it. Job One is the dutiful avoidance of self-pity. Exist to get well—fair enough. Do the dishes five at a time, the length of time one can stay upright. Read. Indulge in movies that take little attention. The other stuff, the good stuff, the stuff that takes psychic strength and confidence…the reassurances that yes, you are a real writer and, yes, it’s just a matter of time and added effort until an agent finds you and your friends actually get around to reading what you’ve written and, yes, the story is in there even if it’s hiding…those understandings will just have to wait until you’re well.

Yes. But.

When you’re sick, the darkness lets the black dog in. The holiday is a festival of expected happiness and the promiscuous see-what-a-wonderful-life-I-have celebrations of others. The night is not Possibility, it’s just night. The silence is just silence. The blessed, glorious week of solitude is an hourglass of lost minutes. And that damned, ever-present self doubt, that knowledge of the too-thin veil that lay between you and the big, empty, indifferent world: That, my dear ones, is the very real wolf at the door.

So, here is the list of tasks at hand. One: Get strength back. Two: Find the joy that’s so clearly around you—the peeks of sun on grey days, the birds in the back yard, the eagles circling behind the house. Three: Get back on the horse. Write those letters. Transcribe those notes. Pet a cat. And four: Kick the black dog out into the darkness from which he came. You can’t overcome a feeling by pretending it doesn’t exist. Feel it, face it, move on. We are not held hostage by truth: The door is right there, and the key has been in our hand all along.

The elements are there. Most of them…some…okay, a few. Some of the language is right—some of it even better than right. So what’s the problem about finishing the damned book?

The problem is that I am still writing words rather than ideas.  And I’m writing them in language that is bound by convention.

Without going into the actual substance of the book, this is what you need to know. The worst thing that the end of this book can be…well, there are lots of worst things it can be: pop-scientific, pseudo-spiritual, and acid flashback are just three of them. And one of the worst of the potential pitfalls is that the language that portrays the ideas must…

a) be emotional enough to convey the extraordinary wonder of the experience (read: accessible and human),

b) be obvious enough to have clear, descriptive impact about an unseen place (in other words, if it’s too trippy, no one will get what the hell I’m talking about), and

c) be in a form that not only communicates but represents another dimension of thought.

No small challenge, huh?

Sometimes, the task I’ve set myself feels as if I’m standing at sea level, trying to pitch a pebble all the way up to the Hillary Step…and the thing just keeps falling back and hitting me in the eye. My language has been bound by gravity and weighted by convention. I write form and neglect content. I search for content and I get nowhere fast. Getting nowhere fast makes me wonder whether I’m a good enough writer or smart enough to pull off the task. The small things that DO work make me believe that, with more thought and hard work, I’ll get it done.

What I need—what I want—is to open the trapdoor in my head, the one that opens onto sky. But ahahhhhhhh….Now we are in chicken-and-egg territory. Without the idea, the language can’t fly…without the flight, the ideas won’t come. Mobius loop. State of stall.

Time to put the head to the page and make myself go away. Time to open up and just let it fly.

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