“It is always night, or we wouldn’t need light.” Thelonious Monk
Some twenty-six years ago, I began writing down, collecting, quotes in a journal. One of the first entries is “There is a woman at the beginning of all great things.” ~Alphonse Lamartine. I think I found that one on a tea tab for some tea or another. I thought, “Who is he? This Alphonse Lamartine?” This was before the internet. I kept collecting up quotes, these smart, wise, or witty, things others had said, that had somehow managed to stand the test of time, appearing on tea tabs, or in fortune cookies, at the beginnings of other books, thinking I might like to find out about who all had said such things, someday. Well, there are a lot of quotes in the book now, lyrics, poems, other things that struck my fancy one way or another, and I’ll never discover who they all were. Alphonse Lamartine, however, was a French writer, poet, a politician, a Knight of Pratz, per wikipedia.
I don’t know the circumstances under which Thelonious Monk said, “It is always night, or we wouldn’t need light”, but it is one of my all time favorite quotes. It works both literally and figuratively, it is poetic, and it rhymes. It is apt, accurate, beautiful. Had I known of it when I began collecting quotes, it is the quote I’d have written on the first page of the book. I’ll never manage to look up every author of every quote I’ve collected. I could, maybe, if I dedicated my time henceforth to no other endeavor, but no. There’s a stack of miscellaneous work stuffs perpetually…stacked… next to my desk. Perpetually because as one project, task, is finished, another will take its place on the stack. I may finish writing/editing every book I’ve written, up to this point, that I think I’m not finished with, or I may not. This idea, of there not being enough time to finish it all, bothered me for quite a while. I thought, “I’ve got to prioritize.” Once we choose a path, some other path begins to fade. This bothered me considerably as well. So, I prioritized. Having done so I can tell you without reservation that it was a decision that slowed the work process to an absolute snail’s pace and stopped just short of bringing it to a screeching halt. In the midst of that I also decided that I’m not writing anymore horror. “No more horror!” I said. “I’m not writing another word of it.” Because I’m fed up with all the ugliness in the world. Aren’t you? We don’t need anymore horror, we need puppies and kittens, we need flowers and butterflies, cloudless skies and unicorn smiles, and… And none of that has anything to do with it. My own sense of what I find to be beautiful is heightened by my awareness of the ugliness. That isn’t an argument for ugliness. It is an understanding of the nature of balance, of the fact that the world is primordial conglomeration. It is that I think I have understood that it truly is always night. We live in endless night, pretending otherwise will not make it less so. I cannot unknow that. We are endlessly blessed by the bright star at the center of our Solar System. Immediately upon this realization I knew the next story I wanted to write. I thought, “But then this won’t get done, or that. Or maybe it won’t. I don’t know.” Whenever I try to apply too much logic to my creative work, things seem to turn into an arduous process of slogging through proverbial mud. I realized when I try to, essentially, shut off or shut out the darkness, I begin to lose invaluable pieces of self.
When actor Luke Perry passed away, it affected me in a way I wouldn’t have expected, for one reason, because he was so young. Because he was the same age as my husband. Not long after that, we learned of the death, at fifty-seven, of the brother of a friend of ours, whom we’d met several times over the years. I realized, we’re in that strange time of middle years, when it begins to become more of a possibility that some in our peer group will pass on, of natural causes. It reminded me of a time when I lived with my grandparents, I was in my late teens, they were in their late fifties, when every other day or week for a while, one of their friends was gone. My grandmother’s friend would come up the walk with the news, “Did you hear about Frannie? Did you hear about Stella? Did you hear about Ignacio?” I thought it was so awful, to be a teenager, having already survived a life threatening illness of my own, to be constantly reminded in the prime of my life, of death. I’ve thought, are we afraid of death, or are we afraid of it happening before we’re ready to go? I was always afraid of that, “Not yet. Not yet.” Is anyone ever ready? I’ve realized that whenever it comes, twenty years from now, thirty years from now, if I live to be a hundred, or if it’s next week, something will be left undone, unfinished, incomplete, and perfectly so. There will be a stack of work, or dishes in the sink, or weeds in the garden, dust on the bookshelves, a hairball in the shower drain, something I didn’t get to, a future full of holidays and birthdays and moments that I didn’t get to. That sounds incredibly morbid, but it really isn’t. It also makes it sound as though it were eminent, which, so far as I know, it isn’t, and that’s part of the point, … as far as I know. I’ll tell you, it is incredibly freeing. It’s the least depressing conclusion I’ve arrived at lately, it’s quite a happy one, in fact. That’s how it is for everyone, most everyone, I think. Having accepted that, I’m calmer, my joy and appreciation are greater. I feel so incredibly blessed to have this realization as it makes me better able to be present in my life now. On the day I die, there will be a stack of work next to my desk, I hope.
So I was thinking, I should prioritize my work and in doing so, my priorities got skewed. I should be working on what I want to work on. This lead to another question as to what I want to write or be writing, and how that has changed over the years. Poetry became my mainstay not only because I love writing poetry, but also because I didn’t think I could write anything of any length that would be even close to a novel. I think when I was younger, I would have wanted to write books like those of S.E. Hinton, or Laura Ingalls Wilder, or Judy Blume, perhaps. When I think about the books that changed my perspective, they all had to do, in some way, directly with spirituality, philosophy. However, as I’ve gotten older, my perspective has changed. I used to read memoirs from a somewhat romantic perspective thinking they were these great true stories, not realizing how incredibly cleaned up and polished most of them are, how edited for sales. That takes a lot of the bloom off the rose. When I was a teenager, everyone still believed that “Go Ask Alice” was non-fiction. So looking at those books now is considerably different. It’s always back then to those stories that I never really allowed myself to admit to myself that I was being drawn in by. What that means is, I think one shouldn’t make rules for themselves about their art that curtail their creativity or passion, as in, me insisting to myself that I’m not writing anymore horror because I want to deny any darkness. And though I’ve said that very thing before, about making rules about creativity, I’ve done it to myself time and again. I get to the edge of the proverbial forest and not only refuse to go in, but I deny that I want to. I asked myself the question, “What kind of books do you want to write?” If I hadn’t already written “Maybelline Raven and the Wolf” or “The Slick Furies”, I’d write them now. I’d write “Loralee” again too. What can I say, self acceptance isn’t necessarily the easiest thing. The other thing in that is writing a novel, writing long fiction, isn’t for the faint of heart. Generally speaking, I’m a multi-tasker. Writing a novel, for me, means that’s what I’m doing until I’ve got a first draft. I haven’t wanted to get back into it. It’s possible I simply needed to take a break, long enough at least to finish sorting some things out.
I had an appointment with one of my doctors. This sometimes gets me to thinking about how long I’ve been dealing with chronic illness and pain. It gets me thinking about movies like “Altered States”, which I related to on a level of transformation, and later “Near Dark”, a film that gave me a strange kind of hope. About being twelve years old, sitting in an exam room, ninety-eight pounds stretched over my then five foot eight frame, shivering, because I was never warm unless I had a fever, having just undergone another round of blood work, which was at least twice a week during that time, and a young intern asking if they could take a couple of extra tubes of my blood for experiments. I was horrified at the realization that I wasn’t a human being to them. I wasn’t a terrified, deathly ill, seventh grader sitting there with no idea what was happening to me, with no diagnosis, not knowing if I would get well. I was just another blood sample. All I wanted was to be “normal” again. I thank God for my life. I thank God for love. Some think romantic love is perfect. I think real love endures, it changes, it grows into itself. Fairy Tales aren’t all sweetness and light. I’ve known my husband for thirty-six years. We haven’t been together all that time, but he has been the one constant in my life in one way or another. We have been through it, that’s for sure. I feel incredibly blessed to have a strong man who can carry me, literally and figuratively, when I need it. I’ve learned a lot about friendship, about love, loving people, these last few years. We may not get that many touchstones in a life, people who remind us of who we are, people who stay with us in one way or another. That’s what makes the special ones, special.
I wasn’t sure if I was going to write anymore novels, or even attempt to. I’m thinking now, I’m probably going to give it another shot at some point. I also treated myself to three donuts today, because eat dessert first? The world is ever changing, I hope I’m able to keep adapting with it, whilst also keeping true to myself. “It is always night, or we wouldn’t need light.” ~ Thelonious Monk