I recently saw a brief news story on “Summer Seasonal Affective Disorder.” The suggestion being that some people suffer on sunny days the way other suffer in the darker months. Although I love the sun and the warmth and long days at the beach, this summer is full of humid long afternoons and for anyone who is crowd-shy and not a fan of stench, Manhattan is no place to be in the summer. Yesterday I shut the windows, drew the drapes and spent the day reading (Eavan Boland’s essays) and writing. Writing about rain and wind and the darker days of fall and winter. Recently while working my way through a massive stack of manuscripts to be read for one of my “extra” jobs, I began to feel: disheartened, disgusted, disenchanted with the whole process of writing and reading until I came across a manuscript that drew me in, kept me reading, editing as I went and – some two hours later – I looked up at the clock. And then I realized: it was my own work. It sounds weird I know but it’s a manuscript I’d written for NANOWriMO some years back and then just abandoned. Some important lessons I took away from this experience: I do like my own writing, editing is MUCH easier when time passes between the writing and the reading of work, no manuscript should ever truly be abandoned. Now that I have distance from this work, I can see the flaws: in plot construction, consistency of dialogue, logic of events, but I can also see the work that went into creating language that works and the important work yet to be done. At the end of that day spent reading, I confessed to a writer friend that I felt I had “done nothing all day.” She corrected me: “You HAVE been working all day. Doing what it is you are SUPPOSED to be doing.” And that was: writing. Writing is not just the creative act but the whole process: reading, editing, and taking stock of the work that’s been done. While summer is marketed as a time to “get outdoors!” to “have fun!” it can also be a time for reflection, for reading, for writing, for editing and to remind ourselves that as writers, we must take the time to do the hard work of reading and editing in order to do that thing we are SUPPOSED to be doing: writing. Everything else is just what we’re doing to fill the hours when we’re not writing.
While seemingly most of the city is out of town on vacation, there are those of us who work in Higher Ed who are slogging away at all the myriad tasks that are required for a new college semester to get rolling. Full-time faculty are returning, as are administrative colleagues who were away on research trips. People ask me about my summer. My summer has been spent (mostly) in the city working and aside from one quick jaunt to the Adirondacks planned for Labor Day, is now over. Next week I head out to the wilds of NJ for my new Ph.D. program’s Orientation & my classes start the day after Labor Day. Meanwhile, my writing suffers. I still write a poem-a-day during the week (sometimes more) but all the stories I started this summer remain in first or second draft – some likely to remain there for months. Sitting with a long-time artist friend over tea this past weekend, I listened to her talk about a documentary film she’s starting and catching up on her various other output (hard cover book of her illustrations, an installation, etc.). On Friday, I met up with two musician friends – one of whom is playing shows as part of a music-inspired-by-books series before heading out on a UK tour. The other has started a small press and is launching her own line of soaps and perfumes while continuing to play live shows and put out a song a week. Both have full-time jobs. Then I think of all the many creative people in this town who talk more about doing creative work than actually doing the work and I find myself happy to have such accomplished friends and hope that their ongoing creative work will give me the kick in the butt I need to finish my wayward stories and send them out before the pressures of maintaining two jobs and a Ph.D. program swallows all my mental energy. There is a plethora of articles (and books) on how women write when they have kids – maybe it’s time someone wrote about how women create while working full-time, part-time and trying to survive one one income in NYC.
A friend just complained to me yesterday that this summer has been “too cold.” Living on the top floor of a walk-up in the E.V., I’m constantly dealing with temps 10-20 degrees higher than those who live closer to the street. The street itself reeks of NYC in August – that sort of baked garbage & bodily fluids stench that hangs around well into September. And my a.c. has decided to quit. And my landlord is sending exterminators through the entire building whether or not we have bed bugs(I don’t – this time) and wants our apartments “empty” except for furniture. And my apt is full to the ceiling with books – all of which I’ve been sorting through, trying to choose which to keep, sell, give to friends or donate. I’ve also discovered a box(es?) full of manuscripts I’ve abandoned over the past few years – some deserving of abandonment, some not so much. All of which has brought me once again to some basic goals – not keep so much “stuff” and to finish more writing I’ve started. I’ll probably post some excerpts here and send others out into the wide world. Oh & I have the “summer cold” that’s going around and am thinking a farm in Oregon might be a better place for me to be. Meanwhile, here’s a book of “verse” about Oregon from 1914 by Andrew Franzen: https://archive.org/stream/poemsoforegonoth00fran#page/n3/mode/2up