When a Writer Goes Dark (a look back at 2017)

Merry Christmas to all who are celebrating.

I promised in my last post to include a little update about where I’ve been throughout 2017. Have I been busy procrastinating? Not really.

Okay, maybe a little.

2017 has been a growing year, a changing year. Cole went from six months old to 18 months old (I know, I also dazzle myself with my arithmetic skills), and swept us all away with him. He’s learned to get up and walk, to feed himself finger foods, talk a blue streak, kick a ball, and stack tiny wooden blocks. His capacity to adapt, grow and push forward, forward, forward, astonishes me every day.

For my part, I worked to reprioritize my time accordingly. I wish I could tell you that writing had a place near the top of that list.

Cole at 18 months old. Who left a teenager at my house?
But it didn’t.

Learning to Prioritize Stuff Other Than Writing

Following my MS diagnosis in November of 2016, I took casual stock of my health as a whole. Emotionally, hearing I had a chronic illness knocked me back a step or two, but if I’m honest, the blow was a superficial one. First, I’m walking, I’m talking, I’m driving, I’m running and working and typing and doing all the things I’ve always done. Yes, some things are harder and yes, there are symptoms that I deal with every day. I used to have clever fingers, watchmaker’s hands. I could untie the tiniest knots and thread my earrings and facial piercings with my eyes closed; now, it sometimes takes me a few tries to tie Cole’s shoes. My hands shake when I feed him with a spoon. My lower half goes numb for a few minutes when I begin exercising and my core temperature rises. Stuff like that – annoying, but hardly life-threatening.

Oh! I also turned 30 this year, the day this photo was taken.
Second, hearing my diagnosis that November evening was nothing – nothing – like hearing, only nine months earlier, that my soon-to-be-born child had no hands or forearms. Learning I had MS pales in comparison to news like that, like dropping pebbles into the crater left by a meteor. (Sorry, dinosaurs. Too soon?)

In some ways, having that experience first has made me much tougher when it comes to news about my own well-being.

Anyway, I deliberately faded into motherhood, and into prioritizing my health. My body was weak and out of shape from pregnancy and complications, including months of residual high blood pressure, so as soon as I could, I set about building it back up (and, uh, let’s be honest: slimming it back down). When Cole napped, and before he woke up in the mornings, I was on the treadmill, or swinging kettlebells, or doing pull-ups on my pullup rack (thanks, Greg!). Writing took a backseat.

(And, surprise!, MS meds help with the weight loss. See? Always a silver lining to everything.)

Cole meeting the beach for the first time.
I also had important projects to complete at work (I am a WAHM, or work-at-home mom. I’m at the office one day a week, telecommuting the rest of the time) that, due to their complexity and also due to deadlines, took deserved priority over my own writing work. Whenever I had a free moment on the computer, it was logged in to do more work.

For almost the whole year.

I started projects here and there, but to be frank, I didn’t feel like coming back to The Procrastiwriter with nothing “new” to report on the writing front. I was being productive, but this blog is about writing, not the website I helped build, or how to attend a conference call and put a toddler down for a nap at the same time, or finally being able to do ten pullups instead of just one.

Instead, to keep my literary lifeline intact, I made a concerted effort to read as much as possible. I put effort into picking up both indulgent and thoughtful books, loading up my Audible.com account with classics and contemporary works to entertain and educate me.

Blue Nights by Joan Didion was one of my favorites. I read it in two early morning sittings. I just sank into her prose. Gone With the Wind was another plain delight, and I fell a little bit in love with Rhett Butler and Scarlett, too. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed that almost 50-hour Audible read. Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly is a must-read about the women of the Ravensbruck all-female concentration camp in Poland during WWII. (I was so inspired I drove to visit the Bellamy-Ferriday House referenced in the novel, just a few towns over in Bethlehem, Connecticut. Caroline Ferriday is hugely fascinating as a historical figure.) I reconnected with my affection for Nora Roberts novels. My Pat Conroy collection has been curated with reverence. He’s still my favorite.

I still can’t finish Anna Karenina. Sue me. It’s boring. I’m a Philistine at heart. High society novels make my eyes glaze over and my scalp itch.

Then Came NaNo

NaNoWriMo had me skeptical, but after winning it last month, I love it with no reservations. Some writers need permission to just create, and I’m one of them. I enjoyed every single second of my time doing the challenge and I look forward to doing many more when I have the bandwidth.

But it came with consequences. Some I’ve already written about. But many I’m still feeling. I’m still feeling the lack of sleep. I came down with a cold, or tried to, but the antiviral I take in combo with MS meds kept it from being more than just a sniffle. (Silver linings are everywhere.) I’ve picked up a terrible habit of drinking coffee and having at least one if not two bowls of cereal late at night while I write or try and fuel my mind into writing. And my output has ground to a halt from being just a teensy bit burned out (I’m at 53,000 words from 50,000 Dec. 1). But I’m allowing myself to snap back slowly. I’ll pick back up in January. It’s the holidays and Cole is cutting molars and learning words and his mirror neurons are firing in such a fury that he even yawns when we yawn now, that I am going to try and just flow with it all, rather than trying to wring efficiency out of every last moment. I simply don’t have the energy for living at 11 these days. MS, having a toddler, getting older, whatever it is, it’s teaching me to slow down, trust the process, and do a little consistently, every day, to reach all of my goals.

Or maybe that’s Elmo talking. Who even knows, anymore?

Merry Christmas, and a happy, blessed New Year to all of you.