I took shelter in a hibernaculum of my own making this winter. An unexpected loss (see Holding Tight and Letting Go) drove me inward and rendered me dormant. I felt blank on the inside, empty. I tried to escape into my writing, but the very act of sitting alone, quietly, was painful. I recognized that I needed to lay low, so I let myself burrow in deep to hibernate and let things be.
The holidays came and went. The new year started, but I continued to linger in my hibernaculum. Almost, but not quite, ready to make a start. Almost, but not quite, ready to pick up where I’d left off. While I believe I needed time to have the fresh wounds scab over, when I wanted to get out and get on with it, I couldn’t. My hibernaculum had collapsed around me, and I was stuck.
The inability to move forward has a visceral taste to me. I think it tastes like fear, cold and bitter on my tongue. It sours in my stomach. It makes the muscles in my face feel like stones, hard, sharp, and immovable. There’s an inexplicable longing, a yearning that is in the background of everything I do and say. In conversations, I listen to its yammering more than to the person I am talking to (sorry, guys). I know this feeling so well because I lived with it for years before I really started writing. It feels like failure too. Fear and Failure: the twin harpies that glide through my mind, squawking obnoxious lies and making me feel lower than dirt. There’s a third harpy, Regret, but her I can tune out most of the time.
I realized that this was going to be a battle.
I tried setting ambitious goals. I tried being a tough coach, yelling at my sleepy, out-of-sorts self to get it together. But nothing harsh, direct, or reasonable worked. I escaped my own scolding, ditched my set goals like an exasperating teenager, and lost the fight every single day — for two months.
Then I remembered that I’ve been here before. And I had won. I went from years of being paralyzed as a writer to writing half a dozen novels in two years — no exaggeration. If I did it once, I could do it again. I also had to allow that during my hibernation, I wrote three new chapters for two different books, rewrote two chapters of a third, wrote two short scripts, a couple of little articles, and edited the first draft of a nearly completed novel.
Had to pause for the facepalm
So, why am I flailing in the morass, doubting myself? More importantly, what do I do about it? And what “it” am I falling prey to?
Steven Pressfield calls it Resistance, that indefinable something that keeps you from doing your work. Resistance is the enemy. The enemy that lies within. And the only way to battle that enemy — no matter how many sources I consult — is to do what Nike tells us with a swoosh: JUST DO IT!
So simple, and so difficult.
So here it is, the end of January. California’s epic storms are ending. School is back in full swing. Jury duty looms.
But I’m out of excuses.
I thank the hibernaculum for keeping me safe these last few difficult months. But it’s time to go. Step by step, I have to rejoin the world. Word by word, I have to write. Sit in my chair and write.
His full name was Arcturus. He had 59 lives and twice as many nicknames.
Under the super moon he crossed the rainbow bridge.
He loved us. We loved him.
We love him still.”
I actually couldn’t write anything more or anything else. And as I am sitting here nearly two months later, I am crying “Rotz und Wasser” — which is my mother tongue’s way of saying, “I am crying my eyes out” but literally means, “I am crying snot and water.”
Can’t be any clearer about why I love the German language. It is direct. To the heart. And completely raw. If you connect to its true poetic depth. There’s more to it than that, of course, but that is for another time.
We lost Roo. And my heart broke. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t focus. And I felt I let my writing partners down by being a completely unreliable mess over the holidays. They were both very understanding.
Most people I know understood, by the way. Even though we always want to apologize for grieving for a pet, people get it. Because people understand loss. And if they don’t — they will.
I lost my mom in 2002. Cancer. Brutal, fast cancer. She was 61, which seemed disturbingly young at the time. Now it seems like very “The Pit and the Pendulum” — a ghost in my mind chanting, “Get it done. You’re gonna die.”
My dad passed in 2005, too ill to attend my wedding (I never thought I’d be a bride) only three months before. My dad was 81. Seemed like a ripe old age at the time. But guess what — now, not so much.
We learn that death is a reality when it keeps happening around us. My Homeric Imagination professor at university, Kathryn Hohlwein, a lovely lady and astounding scholar, taught a rebellious and impatient twenty-year-old me that at some point we all learn that we are going to die. And then we learn that we are going to live.
What she couldn’t teach me then is that the lesson circles back again and again.
After losing my parents, I thought I knew the depths of grief and regret. But I didn’t know that grief and regret reside in a space in our minds that we return to over and over with each loss, as if it were a country we travel to, getting our passport stamped each time we cross its border.
You are never prepared, whether you know it’s coming or not. It’s always different. And it always changes you. At first, there is the loss of the loved one, all the things you wanted to share with them and never will be able to, the finality, the not knowing, the worry, the longing, the empty space where vibrant, living love used to reside, but once you get past all of that, there is another heart-wrenching element. The thing that takes your breath. The thing that freezes your inside. The thing you just can’t allow yourself to think about: The undeniable knowledge that this will happen to all of us.
This will happen to me.
I will die.
What do you do with that? What does it mean?
I don’t have an answer. And even if I did, like all things intangible and larger-than-life, the answer would be intensely personal and wouldn’t translate to anyone else. Not really.
But sometimes, something resonates.
Ray Bradbury said, “Writing keeps death at bay. Every book I write is a triumph over death.”
And for what it’s worth, I am writing as fast as I can.