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.