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I could not believe it when I came across this page from an old notebook and realized that I had originally begun writing my recently completed novel in 1990.  And then I was even more shocked when I realized that 1990 was 23 years ago.  Could I have really shelved this book for that long?  Yeah I could.

But the more interesting question is “why?”  The answer is that I stopped writing.  But that just raises the same question.  Why?

If I wanted to go into avoidance mode, I’d just say, “there was a lot of stuff happening in those intervening years.”  But “vague-booking” the answer is of no help to anyone, least of all me.  Because if I could experience such a long hiatus of not writing, then how could I be assured that it wouldn’t happen again?  Better to look at it directly and try to take it apart.

The easy answer to the question is that during the years of not writing, I was re-making my life.  What made that necessary was the end of my 18-year relationship in 1996 and a long period of grief, anger and adjustment that lasted almost 9 years until I met Jenny and moved to NYC.  And really, even after that, I was still re-making my life.

It’s kind of poetic and almost romantic to assert that this undertaking required all my creative energy during those years.  But if I’m totally honest, I have to admit that there was very little that was either poetic or romantic.  Well maybe poetic, since during the worst of the post-breakup months, I stopped reading and writing prose, kept a heart wrenching journal and wrote lots of poetry, of all things.  It was as if my brain had been completely rewired by the trauma.  I’m no judge of poetry, but I can definitely say that it was depressing stuff with only a glimmer of hope.  Here’s a modest example full of really cheerful imagery that leans heavily on the Holocaust (yes, I’m Jewish):

If We Had Lived

In the time of barbed wire
and bricked walls
of high-pitched sirens
and round ups
I always thought
it would be me
who’d be shuttled to the left
down the path of the useless
naked and in terror
prodded by rifles
tripping along red bricked stairs
to that final place of crystal pellets
dropped from rooftops
into bone dry sprinklers

I thought you would work
drained and hollow
straining under boulders or
assembling munitions that could blow
at any time
mourning me and
hoping against hope
that our boys
hidden with skittish Christians
would grow and not forget

I would see through the
ash-laden smog
that I would die
and you would survive

I cannot say why
I am surviving now
where I have found
this will
for forward motion
why I step up onto the
train each morning
instead of in front of it

It was safer to travel back
to an unsafe time
than to picture this alternate universe
where I have not died
and instead am fighting
you
to survive
and you have failed me
closed to my pleas
walls built by us
the enemies here inside
we walk down
different roads
drained and hollow
fire in our souls

–12/16/96

Oy, if you’re still with me then you likely get the picture by now.  Just a horrendous time.  I can hardly believe I once felt so bad that I was moved to write that.

During those first few years after the break-up, the writing just fizzled out.  It’s similar to losing your sex drive.  You just have no desire.  Instead, I spent my time figuring out how to create a home as a single adult and half-time parent of two young sons, how to meet and date women (mostly unsuccessfully and sometimes atrociously), and finally, how to begin again, in a new relationship, a new city (actually, my original home city), and a new job.

It’s not that I didn’t write at all.  I wrote a 67-page evaluation report for work and countless grant write-ups and other business-y prose.  I was able to throw around the philanthropy and non-profit jargon with the best of ’em.  But a novel or a short story, well in the words of my character, Tracy Patterson, “not happening.”

So why did it come back this year?  I have a theory.

Starting in January, I did three new things, and I don’t know which of these, or what combination of these, re-ignited my desire and ability to write.

My decision to do these three things was precipitated by a visit to the doctor at the end of 2012 during which I learned that my already medicated blood pressure was still creeping up and needed stronger medication to control it. This was a bit of a wake-up call because my mother and all of her siblings died relatively young from a variety of hypertensive diseases.  My mother was only 62.  I’m 57.

So beginning in January, I (1) changed what I was eating (very low carbs, larger lunches and smaller dinners, fruit instead of sweets); (2) lost weight by following Weight Watchers Online (I’m down 45 lbs. so far); and (3) began to exercise 150 minutes a week by using the stationary bike at home and recently lifting hand weights.  None of this has been easy and has necessitated a bit of hibernation (fewer restaurant outings) and regimentation (keeping my meals pretty consistent).  I’ve also watched a ton of TV and movies on my iPad while exercising, which has made something I hate more bearable.  

All of this caused my energy to change.  I am much more alert and focused.  Again, but this time in a good way, something in my brain has shifted.

For some reason, I started reading lesbian romance novels again, switching away from literary fiction and the weekly New Yorker magazine.  And then it just happened.  I wanted to write a novel.  One night, I tore the house apart looking for all my old notebooks and writing folders.  I was so driven that Jenny thought I had gone completely insane.  Luckily I had saved a lot of hard copy print-outs of my writing.  Good thing, because anything I’d written on a computer way back when was on old discarded machines or on antiquated floppy discs.

I found 55 pages of the old novel about three young lesbians in college and realized that I could now finish it and fit it into the romance genre.  So that’s how it all began again.  I thought about this book and these characters night and day, and pretty quickly, the arc of the story came to me.  In 1990, I never could figure out where the story would go past a certain point.  But now I could.

Re-making one’s life takes a lot out of you.  But it’s probably just as unhealthy to live a static life that consists mostly of coasting through.  Yet, it is also not so easy to live a life of constant re-invention as I did.  Truth is, I have no idea if I’ll ever again lose the desire to write.  I hope not.  But for right now, whatever re-making I’m doing is focused on being a writer.  The trauma years are behind me.  I’m happy and settled, but not settling.

One of the prevalent plot devices in lesfic romance is the reunion story.  You know, a long-lost love is reawakened when the two main characters attend some type of reunion event.  In some ways, that’s what’s happened with writing.  I look a little different than I did last time we met and I’m eating more healthy foods.  But what has lain dormant has now come back alive–and Writing and I can begin again.  We’ll see how the epilogue unfolds and if, indeed, this becomes a series.

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