It’s National Novel Writing Month. If you recall, I failed terribly at it last year. I was trying to write a novel in which my protagonist, a woman in her thirties, has a few months to say goodbye to her dying father. I spent the first ten thousand words avoiding bringing the father into the picture–just setting up her life and her habits–I think I even took this chick on a trip to the zoo at one point. When finally the writing reached the scene where the main character was being picked up at the airport by her father, I fell asleep. Like, every single time. I kept trying to write that scene and getting emotionally overwhelmed and falling asleep.
I did not have that time to say goodbye to my father–he died suddenly and completely unexpectedly (though, I suppose the argument could be made that death is always equally expected and unexpected). There were so many things I wanted to do with him one last time. Simple, simple, simple things–seeing him standing anywhere with his video camera strapped to his palm, wearing some random ridiculous hat (he was not a hat wearer, but once in a while he gave it a shot, with unpleasant results). Holding his hand one more time. Making him laugh. Allowing him to make me laugh. I was such a wound up, unforgiving, grown-up asshole with him by the time he died.
When I had the idea, I looked forward to going into my imagination and being with him again (anyone seen Total Recall? You don’t actually have to go somewhere to have been there). But I couldn’t imagine how difficult it would be, even two years after his death and I don’t know if this will ever get easier. Even remembering now, writing this post, I’m crying. I miss him in details that are so tiny I can’t figure out how to write them down and I’m terrified I’ll lose them, lose him–so there’s internal pressure to do it, to write it all down to capture it now, now, now. The grief sits in a pile somewhere inside my body, like laundry waiting to be folded. I can feel it sometimes, and it tugs at my conscience.
So I suppose you think I’m going to say that I’m getting back on the horse and doing this now. That I’m going to commit to spending this month struggling through, so I can come out on the other end like a boss, completely healed and with a novel written to boot. I kind of thought that was what I was going to do myself. But lately I’ve been trying to understand something new. I’m trying to understand that it’s okay to not be actively trying to heal everything all at once. It’s okay to work on the parts that I need to and let the other bits wait until I can handle them. To allow myself to navigate life broken in places, a work in progress (it’s not like I have a choice, but accepting this is key).
I appreciate that my body told me, so clearly, that it could not handle the emotions I was bringing to it by writing that novel, and am trying to listen more closely to what my body tells me to do, where it tells me to ‘go’ emotionally. I’ve been reading The Body Remembers by Babette Rothschild, borrowed from one of the most gifted Social Workers I’ve had the pleasure to work with (I’m pretty sure she doesn’t read my blog, so that’s a real genuine compliment). While the book is primarily about ‘psychophysiology’–the physical manifestations of traumatic memories, I’ve been thinking of all the ways emotions show up in our bodies BEFORE they show up intellectually. And how much time we spend trying to get our minds to sync up with our bodies and vice versa. So much of what I’m telling myself to do on a daily basis is about what I THINK I should do–it’s a far cry from what I FEEL I should do.
Here’s the thing about National Novel Writing Month: I don’t feel like I should be writing 50,000 words in the next month. I really just don’t. I feel my shoulders tense at the thought of it. So I’m going to respect that. Instead, I’m going to spend this month trying to do work related to my writing–editing, reading, submitting, revamping this page, and actually writing–that gives me that physical feeling of accomplishment every single day. It may not be 50,000 words (it will almost certainly not be 50,000 words), but every day I will start and complete a task related to my writing.
I’ll know I’ve done what I set out to each day when I feel, in my body, a sense of satisfaction.