Like Patti years ago, I walked out of that dark silent room and squinted.
I could breathe. My head was no longer swirling. My mouth felt like smiling, the first time in days. I did. And my husband sighed with relief. I was back, no longer captive of the obsession I named my Stockholm Syndrome, and which drove us both a little nuts, for different reasons. Me, because I could never do enough no matter how long I sat and poked at the computer; him, because he wondered if we’d ever have another conversation that didn’t begin with almost-tears, “I hate this!” and a blank, faraway stare when he attempted to talk to me.
I walked out of that room with two friends whom I met this Monday, a morning I woke up unable to even glance at the lists on my desk without nausea. Even my knees were nauseous, threatening collapse as I made my way to the kitchen for my coffee, definitely seriously wobbling as I made it to my maroon mohair chair next to my bed. My reading chair. Has been for many years, in my life way before my worried spouse. A tulip chair, not meant for a man. At that time, I thought I wasn’t meant for a man also, so it seemed just right.
I keep magazines next to the chair, and one of them is The New Yorker, March 25th edition. I’d already looked at the jokes. Maybe an article before I treated myself to the fiction? That’s when Benjamin Anastis takes my arm, leads me away from the room that has been sucking the life out of me. The review of his book, Too Good to Be True, by Giles Harvey, told of a first-time-successful author for whom the rejection of his latest book ends up with him cheating on his fiancée-about-to be wife followed by a baby, a divorce. And, incidentally, a nicely NYT reviewed memoir.
He’s not alone in the failure memoir, Giles writes. F. Scott Fitzgerald comes to mind (The Crackup), and Norman Mailer’s broadside details his nervous breakdown after rejection of The Deer Park. Jonathon Franzen describes “the deafening silence of irrelevance” that followed the publication of his second novel. The point of Giles’ review, I think,is that young writers writing about their failures may become a new route to success.
I am old, so this is not entirely on point. Failure, the feeling of it, is, however. I read the article and tell myself that I have very good company–a number of good-looking young men. How much does it matter that Graffiti Grandma, guy-wise, sells three copies?
Then, a note, scribbled on a sticky during my frenzied period, leads me to a book which a blogger says is the best, and only, book on writing a writer needed. I look on the shelves above my computer and there it is, unread, like a number of the books I’ve bought and hoped to absorb by osmosis. If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland. I open to the author page. Two pictures, one of a wild-haired young woman in l938 and the second of an old crone in a striped jacket, l983. I love the old lady. She was 91 when the book I am about to read was published. I have a few years to go.
I read it in one sitting, my “yesses” hissing through the late hour air in the maroon chair. She frees me up to be truthful, to not depend on the opinions of others, to write just to write, to not write to the current trends (dystopia comes to mind, and vampires and ghouls) but from the scrapings of my life, the feelings, insights, angst and love I know as truth. And not to think about publishing and success. I begin to believe I can be such a writer. Maybe even am. Maybe.
A quote, difficult to choose among the many that has led me out of the door and into the sunlight: “ . . .you must write freely and recklessly make new mistakes–in writing or in life–and do not fret about them but pass on and write more. Active evil is so much better than passive good, which is just docility, feebleness, timidity.”
So, forget you, reviewers and other folks trying to control me. I’ve got yet another story to tell.