Six months ago, back when quarantine was new and more frightening than annoying, I was advocating writing through the boredom like that would be easy. But what I failed to think about—or even take into account at all—was that, far from having so much to write about that I’d be crazy prolific, churning out poems like a bakery turns out baguettes, I might actually find myself frozen, unable to write anything at all. And yet, that is precisely what happened. I’ve written maybe 5 poems altogether. In six months. Five poems is usually what I do in a single month.
Now, Writer Twitter is where I get a lot of my anecdotal evidence about writers, but it seems that I am not alone in my frozen state. Many other writers have struggled to get words on a page, and I find myself taking comfort in that somewhat—like, at least I’m not the only one. But I feel really quite miserable about it because I always believed that IF I had “unlimited” free time, I would have so much more to show for it. Granted, I have been working, but I save a couple of hours not having to commute every day (or even getting dressed—heh), and that time adds up. But when you can’t write, all that ends up as is two more interminable hours, making the days seem even longer, endless.
Of course, there are the nauseating writers who obnoxiously crow about how much they are accomplishing with this time—how they are writing more, submitting more, and publishing more. Well, excuse me for being a jealous hag, but bully for them. Take your accomplishments and stick them where the sun don’t shine. Yes, I know, that’s mean. I should be happy for them that they are feeling successful. But mostly it just makes me sorrier for myself. Why couldn’t that be my experience?
If I’m honest, part of my inability to write is lack of outside stimulation. When you don’t go outside except once a week to the grocery, your life becomes insular and small. I get pretty tired of my own company. (Which, if you think about it, would be a GREAT reason to write fiction—you could make up a wonderful, interesting world and live there vicariously.) (But that would require my imagination to work, and sadly, it’s in the shop and looking like it’s D.O.A.)
The other, more compelling reason, is a depression that has just gotten out of control. I don’t talk about it too much, because after all, what have I got to be depressed about? I have a job, a wonderful home, and a loving family. But when I don’t have my writing, I feel like an utter failure. I miss language. I miss falling into a poem and feeling that transformation that poetry brings me. My therapist, who is neither a reader nor a writer, doesn’t really understand this situation and tells me, not wrongly, that writers write, so get off my tuffet and write something. Which is not especially helpful.
The problem with this depression is that in many ways, it’s quite compartmentalized. Yay for high functioning! I am taking care of financial business, exercising, cleaning the house periodically, doing my job, teaching my class. But it’s just so damn hard. It’s exhausting. Sometimes, the thought of getting out of bed defeats me. Of course, I get up, because my cats would slay me if I didn’t feed them. I don’t stop taking care of them just because I feel miserable. Which is as it should be. But being compartmentalized like that means that there’s just not much left over to be me. To be JC the Writer. Like I can only manage so much, and that’s it. Anything else doesn’t fit in the compartment. It takes its toll.
Sometimes, though, I wish I could just fall apart. Throw my hands in the air and just give up. Stay in bed all day and cry. Just be one fucked up mess. Then, no one would expect anything from me. And then I could feel justified in my not writing. Well, I mean, how could I possibly write when I’m a total basket case? Nobody expects anything from people like that. Oh, so you’ve only written 5 poems in six months? Well, you poor dear, of course not, not when you feel absolutely on death’s door.
But being responsible has always been a strength as well as a weakness. And so I struggle valiantly, doing what I can when nearly every day feels like agony. And maybe only once in a while admitting to my close friends that I’m not doing too well. But after all, no one really wants to hear about my depression—can you blame them?—so I mostly just suffer in silence.
And instead of being genuine and honest about it, I make things worse by hiding it—proving to myself (at least) that I am responsible and taking care of things and don’t need to rely on others, who, after all, have their own problems and are struggling in unique ways as the pandemic wears on.
All of this is to say that I know I’m in a really bad place when I can’t write. (And don’t think it hasn’t occurred to me how much of a fraud I feel, telling my students they need to write constantly, and then not following my own directive.) I want desperately to write something—even this blog post is a big deal, and let’s be honest, it’s really just a navel-gazing poor-me—but every time I sit at the computer (or face a page of paper), it’s just blank, blank, blank. Nothing comes to me. At all. And all the tricks I teach my students to do to fight off writer’s block seem to fail me. It’s intolerable.
I really don’t know what to do. If any of my five dedicated readers have any suggestions, I’d be happy to hear them.
Stay safe and Covid-free, y’all. And keep me in your prayers, if you pray. I need all the help I can get.