“This gentle and unforc’d accord… sits smiling to my heart”

This summer has been an actual battle.

I say that with a certain amount of willful optimism, implying that summer is approaching something like an end, when in fact in the Valley of the Sun we could easily be looking at another two months of temperatures over 100°F.  That’s just how Phoenix rolls.

When the heat took hold and the dimensions of my world shrank in the name of self-preservation, I thrashed against the captivity like a caged tiger.  My very literal physical confinement quite naturally led to the surfacing of all the other ways in which I’ve been feeling limited.  And, being trapped with myself and my thoughts, there was little I could do but huddle in my hole and stew.  I flailed miserably against my novel all through the month of June, ultimately deleting more than I walked away with by an alarming margin.

July made it worse in some ways, as the heat deepened and the monsoons rolled in with their humidity to make us truly suffer; and with my son off staying with relatives for the entire month, I found myself suddenly without any tangible responsibility. It was mind-boggling how quickly I embraced the nothing I was able to get away with doing.  But it soon became clear that my avoidance of the sun was quite literally making me ill – clinical depression brought on by vitamin D deficiency.

Even as my general ability to anything dwindled, that trapped feeling was brimming over, exploding into something volcanic and destructive.  I needed out, and I needed it any way I could get it.  Dark thoughts in the midst of the sun’s ascendancy.

Now, Depression and I are old friends and I know its knock by heart.  I know not to listen to ideas that aren’t being spoken in my true voice.  But that helplessness, that need to escape, to do something, was real.  Unfortunately, so are all of the familiar limitations that daily hold me where I am.  There were two things, only two, that I could exert any control over in the depth of summer’s hell, and I dove into those as if to save my life.

Because it was.

My novel: I’ve vowed to finish it by the end of the year, and I mean it.  I’m tired of being vaguely embarrassed to tell people I’m a writer just because it hasn’t been monetarily rewarding.  I’m also tired of being too poor to handle my daily life, and having no recourse to do anything about that because no one will hire a thirty-three-year-old autistic woman with limited work experience.  Well, if I can’t get hired, then I just need to earn money at the thing I’m good at.  I don’t want this book to feel like it has to save my life, but it kind of does.  (Don’t tell the novel.  It’s under enough pressure as it is. /whisper) So I’ve spent the summer hacking away at this word count, some days with a feverish urgency because the more trapped I felt, the more I needed my writing to save me.  Every time I hit a snag, I begged the novel to behave because we don’t have time for that.  I need out now.  The poor novel has done the best it could.

The only other aspect of my life I had the power to effect any change over was my attention to my health.  I dove into that too, because it was all I could do.  Knowing I needed some sun, but obviously unable to get it healthily in the middle of the day, I made a choice.  I’ve always struggled with insomnia, and I mean that struggled quite dynamically.  I fight it, trying to force my clock to conform to social norms, only ever ending up the worse (and more sleep-deprived) for it.  But this summer, with no spawn in the house and no one to make demands upon my daylight hours, I made a decision to go full vampire.  Completely flipped my schedule.  I didn’t want to be up and moving around and trying to do things during the hottest part of the day anyway. I did this ostensibly so that I could get out for a brisk walk in the mornings at dawn, before the worst of the heat set in, but there have been other benefits as well.

I’m getting my 6-8 hours of sleep every day for the first time in a decade and a half, now that I’m not fighting my body’s natural rhythm and trying to take them at night when my mind is most alert and active.  I would say it’s miraculous, except it’s more like I should have thought of this years ago.  My family isn’t exactly on board with this, but you know.  They have their struggles and I have mine and we all have to deal.  And this is me, dealing.

But the other unintended side-effect has been that the surrender, the laying down of arms against my body’s sleep cycle, has led somewhat organically to a more cooperative approach to my writing.  Instead of seeing my own creativity as an adversary needing to be conquered by the forces of productivity, I’ve been able to accept the flow of ideas as helpful even when they don’t ultimately lead me where I want to go.

Part of this has been a direct result of the hour-long walks I’ve been taking before the world has awoken, because in the silence and solitude I am naturally inclined to explore dialogue and creative concepts.  Sometimes it’s hard to get it all down on paper when I get home, and not everything I write ends up being useful, but surplus is the opposite of the problem I’ve been having until now and I’ll take it.  Mainly, though, I really think this sudden relative ease in my writing is just the lack of struggle.  I’ve stopped fighting myself, at least in this.

And, strangely, I’ve even found things to love about my little corner of Hell since I started venturing out with the sun:

The clouds at dawn. The stillness of the world in that hour before morning shakes off night’s silence.  The utter freedom of being out beneath the sky at an hour that belongs to no one.  The inexplicable colony of lovebirds living in the neighbors’ Royal Palm.  The dog that still barks at me every morning as I pass his chain-link fence, even though he started recognizing me weeks ago; he wags his tail now while he makes his usual ruckus.  The baby cock that thinks he can crow like a man, and tells us so every sunrise in his reedy little voice.  The dawn-light on those ageing blue crackle-painted louvers.  The contrast of the fuzzy black carpenter bees against the wall of glossy white lilies.  The scent of ripe figs telling me I’m coming close to the crumbling old brick building at the end of the neighborhood.  The cats who watch me pass from their comedic safe spot, wedged in beneath the eaves.  Familiar faces whose names I’ll never know greeting me with a nod and a smile as we pass, we alone moving through a world not yet awake.

As the approaching equinox chases dawn deeper into the morning, I know I’ll be sharing my quiet hour with more of my neighbors, so the solitude has been a gift that only summer could give. And for that I must thank it.

This remains a place I know I can’t go on calling home forever.  If there’s one thing I took away from the depth of my desperation, it’s that Phoenix cannot be all there ever is to my life.  We are not and never will be friends.  But for as long as we are forced to deal with each other, we may as well accept a wary truce.

July taught me this

Things I’ve learned since I started taking daily walks at dawn:

  • There is far more action around here at 5 a.m. than is decent — which is to say any
  • I walk funny
  • Phoenix sucks so bad that even at dawn it’s not exactly tolerable outside
  • Someone’s peach-faced Lovebirds seem to have escaped and formed a commune in the Royal Palms around here, and at first I thought I was seeing things when I spotted them up there
  • When you’re completely alone, and the only sounds are the wind, the birds, and the distant hum of morning traffic just getting underway, the natural inclination is eventually to talk to yourself. Or maybe I’m just crazy.
  • Talking to yourself at dawn in near-complete isolation while revisiting familiar territory is the perfect time to run dialogue for flow
  • Or maybe I’m just crazy
  • Moving around at dawn makes me question my sanity
  • Uncoincidentally, moving around at dawn makes me wax philosophical
  • We have a foothold situation in progress re. the feline population

The Avengers or The Dark Knight Rises

I posted this elsewhere, but I’m importing it here because this might be the most coherent thing I’m able to say about The Dark Knight Rises for a while. It left me pretty shaky.

Which movie is better: The Avengers, or The Dark Knight Rises?

I know this is a question that’s going to be asked a lot, for obvious reasons. I’ve already been asked it four times. But despite the obviousness of drawing comparisons between the two films, I feel like any attempt to rank them against one another is an artificial reach.

Let’s just say this:

On the spectrum of how to make a successful superhero movie, they each represent exact opposite ends of the scale. TDKR is probably strictly a better film than The Avengers in most measurable ways that you can quantify filmmaking, but that’s not the whole picture.

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything more amazing on a movie screen. Period. It’s astounding, Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece to date, and to be perfectly honest I spent most of it in tears. Right from the first frame, the mood is one of overwhelming, masterful tragedy that holds your heart in its fist. Doesn’t crush it, just holds it there breathless and fluttering like a small bird, waiting for the worst to happen. The weight of this looming tragedy hangs there, an ache that never abates for three hours. And in the end, I thanked the movie for hurting me so badly. Silently, because I had been rendered literally speechless. I’ve never been made to feel quite this way by a movie, and I know unquestionably that I’ve never loved a movie this much.

But. When I own both The Avengers and TDKR on bluray, Batman is not the one I’ll be watching every day. I can’t. I don’t know if I can ever watch it again. I’ll have to feel that out on a day-to-day basis, hoping that one day I’ll have the strength to face it again. It was deeply emotionally draining.

The Avengers, on the other hand, was the most fun I’ve ever had at the movies. I love every character and every actor in it, and Joss Whedon is my man. That movie is two hours of bouncing in my seat because of sheer childlike joy pumping through my veins along with the adrenaline. It’s a happy-maker. We’ve got explosions and dudes in capes beating each other up and aliens ruining the shit out of Manhattan accompanied by a consistently awesome stream of snappy dialogue. It is win on a tightly-scripted gold plate.

But really, trying to say which one of them is better? No. You don’t compare ice cream and puppies. You enjoy them both and shut the hell up about having to declare some kind of winner.

Dying every day

I really need to get out of this town.

For most of the year, our mutual hatred for one another simmers down to a low background murmur of discontentment I can mostly ignore. My neighborhood is bad, so I don’t go on walks or bike rides as often as I would like to. Culture is nearly non-existent, so I don’t get out much. Drive times are horrific and the scenery terrible, so I occasionally talk myself out of seeing my friends and family. I’ve never been a fan of desert vegetation — I find it harsh and alien and I have never been able to feel at home in it — and water is a rarity, so visits to public parks aren’t exactly the tranquil retreats I’d like them to be. But, I don’t know, my family is here and so is my husband’s job and my teenager’s life and the college degree I’m only a semester short of if I ever get back to it, and the cost of living is tolerable. And I’m frankly too poor to uproot and make a life somewhere else. So I deal.

But then May comes around and the temperatures start to rise. A panic sets in. I know I’m about to lose what mobility and social life I vaguely cling to. Sometimes I entirely deplete my store of financial and emotional resources living as though I’ve been given a terminal diagnosis. Because it’s sort of true.

June arrives, and I am rendered literally housebound by Nature. In the same way that winter robs people in northern climates of their mobility with blizzards and killing cold, summer in Phoenix takes tyrannical control of my life. My interaction with the world outside shrinks to its barest minimum, necessities only. I could tell you how long it’s been since I last left my house, but it’s maybe just a little too sad. Cabin fever set in a long time ago, but just stepping outside to collect the mail is enough to remind me why I’m not getting out more. There’s nothing good about living in a place where you need a shower just because you spent thirty seconds beyond the reach of your central air.

For the first few weeks of summer, this hermit-like living is too instinctive, driven by sheerest self-preservation, to inspire much grief. Indeed, it’s hard to think anything at all when the a/c is running nearly constantly and still can’t dispel the heat.

Then I realize it’s July and I’ve spent an entire month dying slowly. I realize this place is killing me. Because this, what I’m doing now, what the heat has made of me, is not living. And it’s going to be literally months still before summer lets me out again. Months of my life every year are lost to this tyranny. The bars of the cage come into focus. I’m bursting with plans and ambitions I cannot realize because they require me to step outside. I’m filled with restless longing, twitching with it, sick with it. And it’s just so hot out there, so ugly, so barren, that the only choice is to stay inside and keep dying.

This is the phase of the summer where I turn desperate because it hits me that this is my life and I’m wasting it in hiding. That this is my life and I’m living it in my own personal Hell on Earth.

I really need to get out of this town.

Familiar spaces

Just now I came up for air on the novel and was reading through some old journal entries while I regrouped. Something about the feel of this one in particular resonates with the mental space I find myself in at the moment, for reasons I can’t entirely pinpoint.

So, because it hasn’t ever seen the internet before, I’ll just go ahead and share this old insomnia-driven scrap from August of 2008 that for some reason speaks to where I am right now:

It is so easy to forget, living immersed in city lights, just how beautiful the sky can be at night. I knew once what the Milky Way looks like — that gorgeous belt of diamonds wreathed in stellar mist. That seeing it again was such a shock to me is a grief I only wish I could remedy. I would almost say the long drive was worth it for that midnight view alone.Unexpectedly I met a kindred soul this morning, as sudden as lightning in summer. Perhaps it’s only my imagining, but I think she sees it too. Something about the way she stares at me, as though she sees a familiar thing but can’t quite find it in her memory. Her pain is my pain, and all the world around us is oblivious. There are words I could say to ease her suffering, but I don’t know which ones or how to speak them. Too much has happened already in the name of this cause, too much damage that may never be repaired, and I fear to botch another operation so delicate. One day I hope the door is open at a time when I’m standing before it ready to enter.This feeling is odd and unsettling, surrounded by beauty of a sort I have long since ceased familiarity with, and unable therefore to drink it in without some discomfort. It hurts, in a way. In many ways.

There’s so much here I cannot process.

Sitting out upon the lawn far greener than those at home, I was recognized by a stranger who knew me by the family resemblance. I remember the days when that was more common, and we would laugh about it. The age gap is not inconsiderable, but I suppose we’ve both always been difficult to pinpoint. The boys were trying to play at the time, but both of them being what they are the exercise was fraught with certain difficulties. I think they have a bond regardless and it pleases me.

Sleepless now in a strange place that is nevertheless much like home — like what I wish home was. I feel haunted almost by memory, regret, the ghost of contentment, yet these spirits mean no harm. They simply have words for me that I cannot quite make out and am straining to hear over the sound of my own disquiet.

I wouldn’t say no to a Thorazine or two

Blockage defeated.

I’ve pushed past the rather miraculous 100K mark on this behemoth and have managed to meet every monthly word goal this year, somehow.  (Except in March, but that ended up being okay because I overproduced by so much in February and I did manage to get something out of March in spite of everything.  All forward motion is progress, and I’m still on track.)

Can’t say for certain how long this thing will be in the end, but I am definitely past the midpoint.  I made myself promise to write at least 10K a month in 2012 because I assume that should leave me able to put a cap on this monster by the end of the year, as planned.  If I can have more months like February and fewer like March, then so much the better.  I am by turns excited to have this story told and out there, and frustrated that it isn’t already.  And somehow, oddly, I also feel both that I know exactly what I need to do to get there and that I have absolutely no clue how this thing actually goes.

It’s quite possible that this manuscript needs heavy antipsychotics.  Or that I do.  Or something.

So there

I know I’m a little old to still be getting to know myself, but I just had a realization.

Chose not to attend a social activity at which I was expected tonight.  I had reasons.  Legitimate ones.  I could have given advance notice that I planned not to show, like a reasonable person would have, but I didn’t.  I even know that I should have.  Even telling myself that, I have to admit that if I could go back and do it again, I still wouldn’t have.  There doesn’t seem to be any good reason for that kind of cussedness.

So I realized, I just really, really don’t like having to justify myself.  I don’t like the idea of other people trying to talk me out of, or into, my decisions, and if you give them any lead time they will.  I don’t like them feeling like they have the right to do this, or like I have an obligation to let them.  There’s an implication that I haven’t already thought things through and come to my decisions deliberately.  I find it disrespectful on a very deep, basic level.

And I mean, I know that even this is an unreasonable attitude.  That it makes me intractable, and impossible to share a planet with.  But that won’t change me.  I’m just an arrogant dick and I don’t feel like I should have to justify myself to anyone.