Reflections from the Dark Time

Reflections from the Dark Time

December is the dark time, and it's easy to forget how to really be creative.

In Norway, this time of year is called the M?rketid, the dark time, and the Norwegians, who are used to it, light candles at four pm and have dinner early and snuggle into their warm houses. Or, if it?s snowed, they put on their skis and head to the lighted trails that exist all over the country and ski and ski and ski. They cheerfully get up in the dark at dawn and go to work. Their creativity in dealing with more than 12 hours of darkness is impressive.

When we lived in Oslo, I started a new teaching job at a public high school just after New Year?s. I was three months pregnant with L and terribly morning sick, and two days a week I had class at eight. So I rose at six in the pitch black and attempted not to vomit as I navigated the shower, some clothes, a cup of tea, and the Trikk, the streetcar that took me to Majorstuen, where I would hop on the subway for two stops. By the time I arrived at Berg Vidergaendeskole there was a gray light, but the sun didn?t really rise until the end of first period.

We humans can romanticize all kinds of things.

We?re in our own dark time in California, which is never sure how to be winter, but tries, and I?m still setting the alarm for six as many mornings as I can muster. It is a strange sort of push and pull, for I really do loathe getting up early, but ever since I learned that the poet Lucie Brock-Broido calls the morning being ?wet from the other side? I?ve been unable to shake the notion that this time, this liminal time between night and day, is when the creativity is awakening and the words best flow?or sputter, or crawl. (And, because life is so busy, sometimes it?s the only time of the day, anyway.) Sure enough, I?ve been getting at least a poem a morning, though which are any good, it?s hard to say.

But creativity is a funny thing. Earlier this fall, I took a poetry class and vowed to just write, to generate work, to make, for as long as it took. And I did, all fall. It was glorious. But now, mere weeks later, I feel a familiar antsyness as I start to worry, to push, to want to force that raw, unfinished work into something meaningful?a book, a record, a testimony to the world that I am not lazy, that I am not, uh, bad, that I EXIST. In September, when I read up in Portland with the poet Stephanie Adams-Santos (who taught me about Lucie Brock-Broido), she said that when she writes she tries to scratch some metaphorical itch, to find something inside herself that needs fulfilling and, well, fulfill it. (She actually said this much more clearly and beautifully than that!) In answer to the same question, I said that I turned to my readers to tell me if something was any good. And then I thought about what she said and wondered, what if I did that, too?

What if instead of seeking external validation, I just trusted in my belief that doing the work is the most important thing? Share on X

So, I guess here I?ve answered my own personal logic puzzle: because I have taken a little break from reading from Little Prayers,?because I don?t have something else to publish NOW, because I always feel the glow from a published essay for about a month before it fades, I have been inhabiting this space, on and off here in the December dark, where I don?t feel like I?m any good. Hence the rush to publish something, to finish something, to frantically get out into the world a thing that isn?t even ready yet, just so I can prove something to?to whom? I don?t even know.

How stupid I am, sometimes.

I?m still learning to be a writer: to chase the joy and to find that balance between playful, creative inquiry and brass tacks. And I feel enormously comforted here at the end of this blog post, because somehow writing all of this down, I feel like I have permission to be in the playful inquiry stage a while longer. Brass tacks, be off with you. Glad we had that little chat.

So! In the meantime, while you (and I) are waiting for my second book of poetry (!), if you need a great little gift, you can buy my first, Little Prayers, and I?ll sign it for you. There are more good gift ideas for writers here and here.

And here?s to the beauty and the difficulty of this season. If you want to share what you love or loathe about December, I?d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Warmly and with my best wishes for happy holidays and a fruitful new year,

Susie


You might also like:

Is Writing an Act of Bravery?

What I Learned About Wisdom When I Had a Few Days Off

 

 

 

The Writer’s To-Do List

Screenshot 2015-02-11 11.41.51

Gosh, it’s been a long time since I’ve written. While all you back-East readers are getting clobbered by snow, here in California?we’ve had?a mix of mold-inspiring rain and gorgeous sunny days. It feels so much like spring that I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s been a little confused. Is it winter? Or spring? What’s going on here?

This time of year always feels so busy. I’m not sure why. The fall is busy, too, but with a kind of festive air: the start of a new year, soccer season, new friends, everything exciting and overwhelming. Then, the mad and fun rush of the holidays. By now, February, we’re well into the routine, which is both a blessing and a curse. L is happier at school and at aftercare, we’re onto indoor soccer, we never paused for reflection, and I’ve roared through the fall semester, over winter break, and have squarely landed in my spring teaching and writing routine.?Or what passes for a routine.

I spent the month of January a little confused by what to work on. This is not a familiar problem to me, or at least, in the past if I had too many choices it might have felt exciting. But I spent much of January thinking to myself, I should really get back to that novel?once I finish this essay, write a poem, start another essay, revise my memoir, apply to that fellowship thingy, prepare for the San Francisco Writers Conference, and submit my work all over the place. Yowsah! I never thought I’d long so much to just have one project on my desk. But I’ve been bombarded with ideas?and opportunities, and, feeling like I’m at a place in my career when I need to say yes to lots of things, I’ve kind of been going with the flow. So I’ve been making a lot of to-do lists.

I’m also at this point with my writing?specifically, with writing prose, since poetry never felt like this?where it feels possible to check things off a list. Some of the romance is gone, to be sure, but I also have this sense that if I write something like “revise ending of Will essay” on my to-do list that that’s, actually, an accomplishable goal. I can look ahead?on a Monday and think, yes, I can realistically revise that short story and send it out by Friday (as opposed to years ago, when I might have revised for months, or never gotten to it, or decided to scrap it, or decided what to work on the morning I sat down to write). Is this making any sense? I used to think that artists and writers waited for inspiration, wrote things, had things happen. Lately, for me, it’s more about setting small goals and achieving them. It sounds so boring, when I write that here. But luckily, luckily, when I’m in it?high on too much caffeine, 45 minutes until I have to get L or leave for work, and I just want to write all day?it still feels like there’s a lot of romance, a lot of?excitement.?So much, in fact, that I sneak moments the rest of the day to reconnect with whatever I’m working on. I sneak onto the computer while L is playing with Legos. I postpone my grading to edit one more paragraph. I drive my family insane because I can’t put down my work at dinnertime.?I fall asleep reworking the first line in my head.

So in a way, the to-do list keeps me in check, helps me focus and not get ahead of myself.

But I do long for a time when I won’t need one. In a few weeks?after I’ve gotten notes back from the book editor, and?sent out the personal essay a few more times, and finished that poem?I really am going to sit down with that novel I started during NaNoWriMo. It will be the only thing on the list. No, really.

I’ll be at the San Francisco Writers Conference this coming weekend, FYI. Reading poetry on Friday night, moderating a panel and presenting on a panel on Saturday morning. Should be good. Maybe I’ll see some of you there.

On the subject of writing routines and just getting down to it:

“Kazuo Ishiuguro: How I Wrote The Remains of the Day in Four Weeks”