I don’t know how much longer I can keep doing this. So far this semester, I’ve pulled three all-nighters: one for a Folkroots column, one for a dissertation chapter, and one to finish the work of the semester. But it’s going to get better, I know it is. I have one more deadline, which was originally the 15th but was extended to the 22nd because I simply couldn’t get everything done. It’s for the revised first chapter of the dissertation. And then I have Wiscon. And then I have some time off, although of course there will still be a great deal to work to do. But I know I’m doing all of this for a purpose, which helps when I’m so tired. I’m doing it because it leads to the life I want to live, which will not be nearly as intense. Although I can’t avoid living with a certain level of intensity because, you know, I’m me.
Last night was one of those all-nighters. This morning I finished the work I needed to do for the semester. I went into the city, to my office and the department. Then drove back home, lay down, and fell asleep for hours. And woke with a terrible sense of tiredness and restlessness, both.
To a dark afternoon of the soul.
I think that’s what I should call times like these. Outside, it’s cold and wet, a New England spring. I miss the Virginia springs, with their long, warm days. In May, when I was in college, I would already be studying outside, in a t-shirt and some sort of summer skirt. And here I am, inside, in jeans and a turtleneck, with the heater on. But a dark afternoon of the soul is an internal state as well. I find myself wondering whether the work I’m doing is worthwhile, whether the choices I’ve made are the correct ones, longing for some sort of at least temporary escape, somewhere to go that would be easier – at least for a while.
Longing for sunlight, for warmth, for friends I have not seen in a long time.
The one thing that gets me through afternoons like these is the belief that there is a trajectory, that I’ve been living through a particularly difficult period in my life that has a meaning and purpose. That I’m headed somewhere. I look back over the past year and think, when else in my life have I gone through so much, changed so much, learned so much about myself? Even though the process was sometimes incredibly painful. I feel almost as though I’ve become – not a different person, but the person I was supposed to be all along. Or as though I’m heading in that direction.
I’ve mentioned the Secret Project. I don’t think I could have done that, if I had not lived through this particular year. I would not have known how to do it. I think there are all sorts of things I’m going to be able to write because of this year that I could not have written before. But that’s not enough. I want light and warmth and friends, a life as well as a writing life. And I hope that comes as well, because the dark afternoons of the soul are starting to get to me. And I hope it comes soon.
If I were to write a prescription for myself right now, it would look like this: Take one murder mystery and call me in the morning. I think I might do that, read a P.D. James, learn how to write murder mysteries. The wonderful thing about being a writer is that even during dark afternoons of the soul, you can always learn something. You can always, in some way, practice your art. That’s not enough, because you need those other things as well – you need the life as well as the art. But the art does get you through. At least, I know it does me. And perhaps that’s one of the most important things I’ve learned this year. That when it feels as though I have nothing else, I have the writing. It’s like a light in the darkness. Even on a cold, wet, dreary New England afternoon.
I feel as though I could reach through the interwebs (across the Atlantic) and gather you in a hug. I totally know this feeling… It’s not easy, but you’re right that the thing to do is to keep moving forward. One foot in front of the other. One word after another.
Until the life you’re attempting to build – the life you ARE building – is one day right there on your doorstep, and you’re welcoming it in for afternoon tea. No more dark afternoons of the soul required.
I am building something, too, and it’s somehow comforting to know that I’m not alone.
Your sentence “I think there are all sorts of things I’m going to be able to write because of this year that I could not have written before…” has particular resonance for me. I felt the same way, for several reasons, when I was finishing up my Masters thesis. It was a difficult time, and my kids were small. It was hard to keep it together, but now that it’s done, the memories also help sustain me in my present work.
The dark afternoon of the soul will be left behind, and then it will come again. That’s the way of it, isn’t it? Looking forward to seeing you at Wiscon – hope the Madison weather holds for us!
Thank you both! I know the dark afternoons will pass, and I look forward to seeing what the afternoons will look like then. But I do think we learn an awful lot during those dark times . . . Alex, I’ll see you there!