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Sep 14th
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The Year I Didn't Write

Lisa_JensenOn the morning of Dec. 31, Art Boy spoke the words that struck dread into my heart. Reading from his Yahoo home page, he sallied, “Hey, the Aussies have already celebrated the New Year!”

Fast away the old year passes, and here I am, as usual, struggling to catch up. Like the little lame boy hobbling far behind the Pied Piper, like Dorothy beseeching the Wizard as his balloon takes off without her, like Ben Braddock racing for the church where Elaine is marching to the altar: Wait, wait, wait!

I’m not done yet!

{mosimage}As 2006 paraded to a close, I felt even more left behind than usual. This was partly because of that ambulatory malfunction that split open my knee Thanksgiving night and left me almost literally benched for the first two crucial weeks of the holiday season. And partly because of my heedless decision, months earlier, to participate in two holiday art shows selling my Weird Sisters dolls. It seemed like such a great idea back in April—convivial artists convening around ye olde punch bowl in festive surroundings. Cider! Cookies! Sales! And in fact, both shows were fun to do; my fellow artists were a joy to hang out with, and the public was generous and supportive.

But those two show weekends were the only four days that I wasn’t shopping, wrapping, shipping gifts, baking cookies, housecleaning, or decorating, let alone seeing movies and hammering out reviews for this newspaper’s insane holiday deadlines. All these activities had to be crammed into an ever-shrinking window of opportunity as the season sped toward its conclusion. (OK, housecleaning may have fallen, unlamented, off the list of priorities, but, hey, you can’t do everything.) Not to mention the two previous months I’d devoted to actually sewing dolls. When Art Boy asked what I wanted for Christmas, and I replied, through clenched teeth, “More hours in the day,” he wisely decided we should scale back this year’s festivities.

But I think there was a deeper reason for my feeling more adrift than usual, less able to ride the wild surf of life’s daily demands. It can’t all be blamed on the holidays, which, let’s face it, are always nuts. I think I spent most of 2006 out of touch with myself because, for the first time in decades, it was the year I didn’t write.

Of course, as Art Boy is always quick to point out, I’m a published writer every week; the good fortune continues to amaze and sustain me. What I mean is, it was the first year in ages I didn’t have a massive fiction project monopolizing every waking moment of the day, gnawing away at my innards, bludgeoning my tiny brain into submission. And, boy, did I miss it.

The first six weeks of 2006 I spent blitzing through what I optimistically thought was the final draft of a novel that had obsessed me for two years. In February, I mailed it off to an agent I knew would take an unconscionably long time to respond, just so I could spend some time basking in liberation from the behemoth that had weighed me down for so long. It was finished! Free at last! I could return to my real life, make new dolls, read other books, participate in my marriage. Finally, I could be here now.

{mosimage} But as the fiction-free weeks, then months, went by, I began to miss the daily grind of writing. No matter what the project is, when I’m writing fiction, I’m more in tune with myself than in any other aspect of my life, and I think anyone in thrall to a creative muse, a hobby, a sport, or any other passionate calling will tell you the same thing. Somehow, the act of writing fiction, rooting around in the murky, unchartered crevices of my imagination, whether or not the writing itself is going well, provides the grounding I need to get on with and appreciate the rest of my life. Without the daily discipline of writing, other aspects of my life feel untethered and fragmented.

Not that my writing is all that disciplined. The first hour or two in front of the keyboard is an act of decompression, as I attempt to clear my mind, Grasshopper, of distractions—salient points I should have made in last week’s movie review, insistent song fragments from Gnarls Barkley or the Kaiser Chiefs, answers to e-mails not yet sent. It takes awhile to get into the zone where the stories live.

If I get there at all. My muse tends to be cranky and unpredictable. She won’t come at all, or else she taunts me, arriving when I’m in the shower with epiphanies of plot-solving brilliance that evaporate like shampoo bubbles by the time I rinse off, towel down and find a pencil. Yet however frustrating it may be, some demented gene inside me craves the act of writing. Like the most addictive drug, my life doesn’t feel whole without it.

I finally sent my manuscript to another agent I know. He rejected it in four days, but called me up with vivid ideas on how to punch it up. Now I’m all afire to get back to it.

Jan. 11 is an auspicious date for new beginnings. I feel totally in sync with the new year. So far.

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