I’ve often said that books will call to me. Journal of a Solitude was assigned during my junior year of college- twelve years ago. At the time I couldn’t read it. The prose was heavy and each phrase felt like stepping through a swamp. I had developed an unsophisticated system of choosing what books were necessary to read in order to maintain my GPA and which ones I could skip. I figured I was astute enough to fake the rest, and it worked.
I brought this book to the cottage several weeks ago, while summer was still at its peak. I chose it from of one of the cardboard boxes in the guest room at my parent’s house- aptly titled “black & white books.” Books are organized by color and size, respectively, in my home and never by author or title. Not surprisingly, I have an array of boxes labeled in rainbow order “red & orange books,” “yellow & green books,” “blue & purple books.” The cottage is small so I’ve been forced to be selective about which belongings I choose to bring into this space. I don’t need every book here, only the one’s which hum to me.
Sarton’s entries begin September 15th, which I had not remembered from my first attempt twelve years ago. There seems to be no coincidence why I’ve begun to read it now. Fifty pages in, I have discerned her struggle as a artist. The process of creation is often disrupted by depression, chaos, and emotion. There is a near constant desire to tap into one’s creative zenith as the pendulum swings.
While in the midst of a five year dysfunctional relationship with a man suffering from extreme bi-polar disorder along with schizoid tendencies, I lost my ability to create. Writing was the first to go, then reading and finally photography. One may argue that to read is not to create, but for me pursuing new ideas and points of view was creative because it stirred in me my own creative spirit.
I was once an avid reader, finishing novels in a day or so because I didn’t want to lose sight of overarching themes and character development. I used to brag that I read the entire Harry Potter series in nearly a week (not something I would recommend because once I had finished I immediately fell into depression.)
When I was naive and adventurous with writing I would stay awake entire nights and still have energy to work and study. It was never about what I was producing; though to look back on those narrative pieces brings me joy- like looking back at an awkward yearbook photo, rather it was about the fact that I was producing work of any kind at all. It was evidence of a calling, regardless of content or style. I was learning about myself and about my craft.
I was inspired by nature and personal relationships. I mostly wrote about friends and photographed them too. I felt that at the very least I was a decent photographer and that it was a skill I should continue to hone throughout my life.
At twenty-six, when pain and chaos disrupted my process, all of that stopped. My boyfriend at the time was and is a highly intelligent and creative man. I viewed his creativity as supreme and thus stopped investing energy into my own creativty.
First I lost the ability to write.
Conversation was the most prevalent aspect of our relationship, second only at times to his insatiable sex drive- a symptom of his mania. Hours, days, weeks, and even months were spent hashing out the complexity and depth of a given subject. No topic was off limits. We discussed television series and string theory, the color of a sound and the texture of ice-cream, the shape of the universe and the meaning of songs without words. We’d challenge ourselves to come up with the perfect introductory sentence to describe a given individual. We created characters for every place we existed together, from the stairwell to the bed we shared.
We discussed writing books together, though I knew on some level he was incapable of committing to the idea. I felt in my intellectual prime when we were together. I honed my conversational skills and paid great attention to the images and phrases that moved through my mind as we spoke, and what I worked toward every day was proving my brilliance to him.
He of course never had to prove that to me because I filled him with praise and encouragement in every area of his life.
It’s safe to say that he took me for granted. He’s admitted as much.
Those moments when I could tap into a pure thought, speak the words before I became self-conscious and observe his reaction, were moments when I felt the intensity of our intellectual connection. When I would stumble upon an observation or thought that left him at a loss for words, his reaction was always the same: he’d begin to move his mouth as if he had immediate response, then he’d pause, look down- wheels turning, touch one hand to his chin as the thumb and four finger on his other hand ran through his hair. Lastly, he’d let out sigh and look up to me as if I were his queen, bereft of speech.
I lived for those moments, though they exhausted me.
When the hurt outweighed the love in our relationship, I lost the ability to read. Time spent in silence with a book became torturous. I could barely complete a paragraph before my mind began wandering. And it was always the same spiraling thoughts: Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? It was psychosis. My remedy was to pull the blankets to my cheek, the scent of my own self working like ether, until I fell asleep.
I haven’t read a complete book in five or so years.
The space I’ve created here at the cottage is helping me to heal. I was terrified of the silence when I moved here last October. I spent weeks eating dinner in my bed and crying alone. I started to see a therapist and slowly posting to this blog again. It was the first step toward resurrecting my creative spirit. I am experiencing an internal sense of urgency now as the season turns, similar to the squirrels and chipmunks (one nearly scurried across the top of my foot) collecting with fervor. August and September are a digging in of my figurative heel, as if to say “No, I won’t do it, I will not prepare for winter.” It’s because I’ve always struggled with change.
I am teaching myself grace. Time spent in nature in this place has taught me to be like the trees: to bend with each breeze, to let go of what will ultimately pass, to remember my roots and to derive strength from them.
Just moments after writing this, I turn the page in Sarton’s journal and read:
Does anything in nature despair except man? An animal with a foot caught in a trap does not seem to despair. It is too busy trying to survive. It is all closed in, to a kind of still, intense waiting. Is this a key? Keep busy with survival. Imitate the trees. Learn to lose in order to recover, and remember that nothing stays the same for long, not even pain, psychic pain. Sit it out. Let it all pass. Let it go.
It’s evidence of waiting and listening for something to call to you- subtle vibrations from thoughts on a page create a murmur in one’s mind that cannot be ignored. It’s a reminder to trust myself and to not be scared of the space I’ve created here. Time has proven my ability to always find myself.
Hurray! I’ve begun to read again.