When I’m unwell, when the darkness descends and I can’t reach my characters anymore, I lock my voice in a musty mental trunk, piling distractions on the lid. I talk only about the most mundane and shallow topics. I write only grocery lists and technical documentation for my day job. I’m a makeshift Pandora, barricaded in the dark with magazines and Netflix binges, because chancing the loss of the light is unfathomable.
He notices. Of course he notices. Sometimes his comments are gentle nudges; sometimes he braves bloody retribution with bald reminders that I’m crabby when I’m not writing, and please go kill something on paper so I feel better.
My writing group listens and commiserates, setting word counts and editing goals for the next meeting.
But my words are hoarded. I am Gollum guarding my Precious, and woe to anyone who forces the lid open before I’m ready.
Woe to the characters locked away; it gets crowded in there.
A polite knock from inside the trunk prompts a gentle conversational poke from my conscience about books requiring attention. It’s irritating. I ignore them both and watch cat videos on YouTube.
A more insistent pounding jiggles the trunk’s lid. My writing group gives me a deadline for pieces they can critique. It’s grating. I finally read a non-fiction book I’d promised to review
six months a year ago.
The trunk’s inhabitants lose patience; a small army of angry dwarves with pickaxes strikes constant blows from beneath the lid. My head is full and I’m cranky.
He gives me the LOOK with a heavy knowing sigh, and reminds me that I NEED to write to be well, because stewing is somewhere less than awesome for ALL of us. It’s infuriating, and I watch terrible horror movies instead. Piece spoken, he knows the inevitable pattern and lets me be.
Eventually, no matter how far I withdraw from the world and myself, I return. I find a smidgen of energy. I shut off the TV. I set the junk food books aside. My stubborn streak subsides enough to let sense take over, and I hear my tribe’s commentary, inside and out.
I open the box, careful not to damage the lock. I’ll need it later.
The fetid pool of emotional sludge must be drained in order to let characters out. I write for my own escape, for that painful release that only comes with a pressure valve’s opening. In a tirade of furious handwriting in a half-full journal, words gallop out of their prison on illegible ink. Pages fill with garbage that’s been swirling inside for weeks, and I sigh when my hand is cramping around the pen: the constant buzzing finally goes quiet in my head.
Writing is the way I become well, and remain myself, under the onslaught of random plots announcing themselves at inopportune moments. Notebooks fill with the new inspirations and I have enough to stay busy until the next bout of darkness.
Some people worry their secret lives will come to light after their death. Pacts are made; promises to delete, burn, or otherwise eradicate anything a loved one might find distressful. My fear is anyone reading my journals without knowing my writing cycle would assume I’m constantly miserable.
The truth is, notebooks and journals carry the regular catharsis that unlocks the trunk of the clamor of tales pushing impatiently for THEIR turn. Universes wait inside me, but I have to clear the path before I can wallow in the lives of imaginary people doing imaginary deeds in imaginary worlds.