I was in a slump.
I returned to Alaska a few weeks ago, everything muddy and brown, the trees bare of leaves, last year’s trash blowing across the streets. I was used to the sun-filled warmth of Tucson, to hot days and balmy nights, to sitting out in the yard and reading and then running late afternoons in just shorts and a tank. Suddenly, I was bundled up in a puffy down jacket and mittens.
I wish I could say that I transitioned gracefully, but I didn’t. The first week back it rained almost every day. Gray and gloomy skies, and not a hint of sunshine.
Perfect writing weather, right? Except I didn’t do much writing. Oh, I started two essays, dappled with a couple of poems, thought about diving back inside my YA novel. But mostly I ran, swam, walked the dog and spent the rest of the time slumped on the sofa under the electric blanket and watching Netflix (“Doctor Foster,” has anyone seen? Season One is pretty damned good.)
“I’m not going to be a writer any longer,” I told my partner. “I’m moving back to Tucson and working at Whole Foods.”
“Okay,” he said.
“Did you hear me?” I almost shouted. “I said I’m not going to be a writer any longer.”
“Okay,” he repeated. “But what about the dog?”
Seriously sat there, looking anxiously back and forth at our faces. Poor Seriously, poor sad and needy and overly affectionate Seriously, who loves me too much, whose love I don’t always deserve, Seriously looking at me with her sad and soulful dog eyes and I swear, something inside of me just broke.
“Okay, I’ll stay but I won’t write,” I said.
The next day I received notification that my essay “Eating” had won the Women’s National Book Association’s nonfiction prize. The piece is about dressing my sister’s body after she died of an eating disorder, years ago. It’s formulated in short segments, in bare-bones prose. The experience was both ghastly and yet beautiful, and the essay hopefully reads much the same way.
I’m so, so honored to have my work chosen as the winner, and I’m also grateful for the kick it’s given me to sit my ass down at my desk and resume the hard task of writing again. It’s almost as if my sister is urging me on from beyond the grave. “Get up,” she scolds. “Quit feeling sorry for yourself. You’re alive, you’re one of the lucky ones. Get over yourself and get writing.”
It reminds me of a quote from Glenn Savan’s White Palace, has anyone else read this? It’s such a damned good book. They made a movie out of it, and of course ruined the story. Anyway, there’s this quote that I always think of when I’m ready to give up: “When you’re alive, you do what you can. That’s the duty, that’s the privilege of the living.”
Okay, enough about the meaning of life and living and writing, blah, blah, blah. Here are some scenes from Alaska.