Reinhabiting the world
This is long.
I haven't gotten much writing done these past few days. Some, but not much.
For years after I got sick, our yard went to hell, and I tell you: In Oregon, hell is covered in blackberries. The blackberry vines were up to my neck. The dog couldn't go down the back steps. It was that bad.
We finally scraped enough money together to hire a landscaper, who wasn't able to do much more with the little we had but clear out the blackberries and other weeds, and lay down the bones of our future garden. Gravel paths. Beds where future shrubs will go. A gravel patio next to the concrete patio, with two raised beds for vegetables, and a fire pit.
For eight years I haven't been able to use our yard. Now, in fine weather and foul, I find myself walking through the yard, patrolling for those damn blackberries and thistles. Even after their ruthless extermination, they're determined to come back, and I am determined to stop them. The only way to do so is to wait until they stick their tender, tentative heads up through the mulch or gravel, and cut them to the ground. Over and over and over. Eventually, they give up and die, or go somewhere less hostile.
When that is done, I find myself sitting on the back deck under my new patio umbrella, drinking coffee. Sometimes I read. I am so very behind on my reading. I haven't read--really read--in years. I haven't let myself. Reading fiction was frivolous. I felt guilty for doing it. I had things to do, like kids, and staying alive.
I have a lot of young writers in my orbit, not unusual in homeschool circles and not unusual when both my daughters are writers of one kind or another. "For every word you write, you must read ten," I'd opine, parroting better writers than I am--Steven Barnes just for starters.
But was I reading ten-for-one? No. I had spent my youth walking into walls with my nose in a book. Wasn't that enough? Hadn't I stored up nearly forty years' worth of words before I stopped letting myself read?
Reading is my job. It's a huge part of my job. It's a part I was confusing with laziness. Reading, for fiction writers, is not laziness. It's essential.
Consequently, I am gorging on words like a starving woman. I am sitting on my deck in soft Oregon sunlight, sometimes filtered by the patio umbrella, sometimes by clouds, and I am reading. I spent this afternoon reading a Roger Zelazny novella. I spent the days before that reading Tanith Lee's The Silver Metal Lover (wonderful, and very close to my own work), Patrick Rothfuss's The Name of the Wind (the longest prologue I've ever read, not that I minded too much), several anthologies including the next one I'm in (Synchronic: 13 Tales of Time Travel, which you can pre-order now--it's coming out Thursday!).
I read N.K. Jemisen's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. I finally finished Anansi Boys. I have a bunch of books by friends on my Kindle to go through. I renewed my subscription to Fiction River and Clarkesworld, and I'm going to subscribe to Lightspeed. I'm reading Trollope, who I adore, along with a group of other Trollopians; right now we're reading He Knew He Was Right. I may even take YET ANOTHER run at that goddamned Cryptonomicon; I have been trying to read that book for years now.
Today, as I sat in the perfect warmth on the deck, I had the Zelazny novella ("Eye of Cat") in my hands. I'd spent my therapy appointment yesterday talking about why the hell I wasn't writing more than a couple hundred words a day (yesterday I actually deleted words); I didn't know, except I currently have a strange, dreamlike sense of the present that I'm loathe to leave.
Last week was my eighth "rebirthday," the anniversary of my death and revival. Usually flashbacks and PTSD accompany the day, but not this year; this year I didn't even realize it was the day until it had passed. For the last few years, struggling with the PTSD, a supplement it turned out was slowly poisoning me, several illnesses and a surgery, the world of the body was out of my reach. I didn't go outside--couldn't. I didn't do much of anything but write, and suffer, until there was nothing left but illness. I am better now, but I am also empty.
It dawned on me that in spending my days reading outside, soaking in warmth and peace in my new garden, I am not just filling myself back up. I am learning how to be in a body. I've never been good at being in a body. When I was a girl, struggling with my weight and all the soul-crushing judgment that comes of being a prone-to-fatness woman in a misogynistic culture, I used to fantasize about being disembodied--just a floating consciousness.
What a sad wish, don't you think? I have had and will have again literal eons to be part of the disembodied whole. Though droplets of my soul may go on to be a part of many other things, this is the only time I'll be me. Being me, means being in this body.
So that's what I'm doing. I'm back to learning to be in this body. I'm back to learning my craft through the work of others who are better at it than I am. And that will have me back at the keyboard, sooner than we all think, because I am letting myself do these things.
I have to.