Somehow, it’s been a year since I last sent an edition of this newsletter. The break was not intentional, but it did, ultimately, become self-perpetuating, in the manner of a cartoon snowball growing ever bigger as it rolls down the side of a mountain. The longer it’s been since I’ve done something, the more perfect I think I need to be when I finally do it again. Which is a non-ideal way to approach writing and also, I suppose, life.
Nobody has been waiting to hear from me. I know that. Even my very few paid subscribers have likely not noticed that they spent the last year giving me money for a product they did not receive, and might in fact respond to this reminder of such by canceling their subscriptions. (That’s okay, if that’s what happens! I get it.)
It’s been a hard year for everybody, but it’s been an especially hard year for me. I don’t know why it’s so difficult for me to say that here, but it is. In person, I can be open to a fault, telling pretty much anyone I meet pretty much anything that pops into my head. But in this format, I feel exposed. There are, somehow, hundreds of you, and this is not what you signed up for. But I guess I might need to say this, just so I can clear the decks: It’s been a hard year. And the reason it’s been hard is that I spent almost all of it in the (still ongoing) process of getting divorced.
Getting divorced is, as you may have heard, terrible*, and I do not recommend it. In fact, I’m not even sure I’d recommend marriage at this point, because getting married increases your risk of getting divorced. In my case, for example, it went from 0% (as an unwed person) to somewhere between 22% (that’s the likelihood, according to one study I found, of a college-educated woman not making it to her twentieth anniversary) and 50% (which everyone agrees is not actually the overall divorce rate, anymore, but no one seems to have settled on a new one). Whatever the exact odds, I certainly never thought they’d apply to me; I never believed that I would be in this position. That is, I guess, a mark of the level of privilege I’ve enjoyed throughout my life, but it’s also exactly what almost everyone would say, I’m betting. Who would get married, if they thought there was a real chance that they’d end up like this?
Anyway: Because it’s been a hard year, I’ve had a hard time writing. I’ll spare you the details, but I don’t think it would be too dramatic to say that I’ve mostly been in survival mode. The vast majority of the professional writing I’ve done has been in the form of marketing emails for a fashion brand, and the bulk of my “personal” writing has been very personal, because it’s been in my journal. Beyond that, I haven’t really been able to accomplish much.
This past weekend, though, for the first time in a year, I had precisely 71 hours to myself in which to write (and eat, and exercise, and sleep…) My parents came to the city to take care of my five year old—and, apparently, to give her a thorough introduction to televised professional golf and MSNBC—and I went with three friends on a soi-disant writing retreat in a small town a few hours north of the city.
Depending on the type of person you are, or perhaps on how much you know about the type of person I am, you either will or will not be surprised to hear that I had some trouble getting into it. My first fifteen or so hours were lost to travel, dinner, and sleeping, and when I woke up on Friday morning, I made the questionable decision to spend a couple of hours on freelance work, which is absolutely not the work I’d gone away to do. Then everyone else got up and it was time for breakfast, and then a coffee run, and by the time we made it to the studio it was nearly one o’clock.
I set up at a desk and kicked things off by spending more than an hour writing in my journal. Finally, at around 2:30 or so, I opened my manuscript, only to be instantly overcome by a wave of transparently Freudian exhaustion. Because someone else was, by then, sitting on the space’s one small couch, I decided to get my sneakers and go on a walk. Which was a good idea except that, by the time I returned, everyone else was about ready to pack it in. We went book-shopping and to another friend’s house for dinner and that was it for day one.
Day two was better, but day three, being the last day and only a half day at that, was worse. By mid-morning I was nearly in tears about how little I’d done, how difficult everything is, and how ill-suited I am to my chosen profession. Deep down I knew, of course, that any writing goal I might have set for a long weekend away from my normal life would necessarily have been both too ambitious and not ambitious enough, whether or not I met it. When you’re trying to finish a novel, any given three-day period is going to be a drop in the bucket. But when I expressed this, my friend E. suggested that I take a break to write something short, noting that in having gone a year working on a novel without actually finishing or publishing much of anything, I’d been doing only the hard part.
So, here it is. When I started working on this, on Sunday morning, I felt deeply un-confident. Right now, I feel slightly less so. Like, it at least seems possible that I’ll finish this and go back to my novel and feel a bit more capable? So I guess in that sense it has helped.
When you go through something like what I’ve been going through (again, leaving aside the details!) it wears you down. Which is the problem with the metaphor at the beginning of this letter. Like, yes, the tasks I need (or want) to complete have seemed to get bigger and bigger, and more and more impossible. But maybe the real issue is that I’ve been the one rolling downhill, and, completely unlike a snowball would, I’ve been getting smaller and smaller.
So. With apologies to Miley Cyrus, maybe it’s time to start climbing back up that mountain. With apologies to no one in particular (but: I’m sure they’re owed to Katy Perry or Kesha or Kelly Clarkson…), maybe I need to learn to take up a little more space again.
*No, I haven’t seen Marriage Story. But thanks to the friends I was away with last weekend, who discussed the plot for like an hour on Thursday night, I now know pretty much everything that happens in it.