February 21st, 2018


Your acting like somebody else makes me frustrated

The last few days have come draped in fog. A month or two ago—time has collapsed for me over the past year, stretched and folded in on itself so that what happened a week ago seems as though it were a lifetime back—there was one day, a weekend day perhaps, where all of New Haven was wreathed in gauze. Steam rose from the snowbanks alongside the roads and coating the Green. And it was too warm for that jacket-hoodie combination that had become the hallmark of my February’s in this part of the country. The place seemed haunted, and that was perhaps the starkest reminder that the planet is changing, fast changing. This changing is not only an existential mega-death but, smaller, the taking of things I’ve found precious. I miss cold February’s. I miss February’s where I would stand outside of churches during meeting breaks or after meetings or before and start conversation with “can I bum one?”

Today and yesterday and the day before, a dip surprised me, and my mind raced through a number of explanations. The biological clock inevitably ticking, meaning I was due for one. Or maybe the frequency with which I’ve spent nights in New York away from my own bed. Perhaps post-project ennui and the anxiety attending that uncertainty before another contract is signed.

That’s where I find myself now. Book 2 has a title and a release date (my youngest sister’s birthday), and will soon have a cover. Galleys are coming my way shortly. Then there are a few short stories I’ve been asked to write and to which I’m excited to return. But, as I’ve known is true for me, I’m lost without a longer project to lose myself in. The past few years have been so filled with Taj and his adventures in and out of Kos, and now that his story is finished, I need another one to sink my teeth into. I have the beginnings of one, but that peculiar space of being paid for my writing means, paradoxically, that sometimes I need to hold off on something before the timing rights itself.

In the meantime, I’ve been reading, and I have quite a few back issues of magazines to catch up on. Our bookclub at work had chosen Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing for its inaugural selection, and I finished it on my morning train ride. She has written the Great Southern Novel, if ever there was or could be such a thing. Cut directly to what Faulkner always wrote around. Lyrical and kind and painful without being so maddeningly elliptical. Faulkner always felt like he was showing off, difficult for no reason. But Jesmyn Ward, Queen of the Southern Novel, has broken my heart.

Today was in the high 60s, low 70s. It’s awards season, and my head is spinning with all the pride I have for friends who are finding their names on finalists and nominee lists, who have already accumulated accolades. That external marker, one I’ve held tightly in my dreams, day and otherwise.

Nearly every morning, there’s a troupe of South Asian woman working the Dunkin Donuts at Union Station in New Haven. A friend joked that I should start calling them didi for elder sister or, if they’re older, behen-ji (a more generic term of affection). If they’re significantly older, then aunti-ji.

I’m home now, on the verge of sleep, having returned to Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, which I had started not long ago but abandoned temporarily for more pressing and active reading. I still have a growing pile of magazines to get through, back issues of Harpers and WIRED and Vanity Fair and the London Review of Books. Not sure when or how my reading fell off; even those printed-out long reads that I have finished I haven’t yet posted. Something has thrown me off a rhythm I’m usually able to maintain through these periods, and now a neighbor’s dogs have begun their hellhound barking on the back patio.

But I have the women who care for me every morning I go in to place my order, and I have a novelette I’m slowly, haltingly turning into a novella, a patched-together thing made of cannibalized parts with a through-line that’s but a whisper but there nonetheless. It’s like a ghost’s spine where the rest of it is fully formed, arms and legs filled with muscle and bone and words. Yet it slinks and slides and can’t yet stand upright. I used to be able to build stories from the ground up and now I find that, with so much already written, it’s far easier to strip what exists for usable parts than craft from whole cloth. Fatigue is at work, sure, not just the type a good night’s sleep can dash away but also the type to settle into the bones and hunch the shoulders and harden the heart and slow the laugh. I also find myself directionless, writing-wise. And this is a new thing. Usually, I’ve found it easy to focus. One project at a time, but now, with payment and professional obligations involved, things begin half-formed rather than having time to settle in my mind before spilling out onto the page. I’ve inverted a process that before had me writing and submitting and hoping rather than saying yes and committing and writing in accordance with those pressures.

I have a weekend home coming up. A reunion with family and perhaps a second viewing of Black Panther, about which I’ve already written, and about which I hope to write some more. A quiet afternoon or two on the couch reading, settled by familiar tunes, the trills of familiar sparrows, the feel of familiar cushions, the chaos of warm, familiar laughter, breathing the same air as people I love and who love me.

I’m due.