Thursday, September 3, 2020

Some Days (and Weeks, and Months, and Years) Are Just Very Hard

As the child character says in the opening line of Sara Pennypacker's delightful book Clementine, "I have had not so good of a week."

An excruciatingly painful legal case my family has been involved with for the past three years reached its conclusion. I thought this would bring me the relief of closure, but instead it made me all too aware of consequences we will all be living with for the rest of our days.

Then, on an extra-bad morning, my editor emailed me another round of revision notes for my forthcoming verse novel. I had already done two extensive rounds of revision, so I expected the suggested changes to be minor tweaks. But as I read her very long and detailed memo, it seemed as if every single aspect of the story remained problematic: the entire engine driving the plot was sputtering, crucial scenes were implausible, major characters were unlikable. There was NOTHING here that was salvageable at all. The problems in the book that I had written with such joy were simply un-fixable. 

To quote another delightful children's book: like Judith Viorst's Alexander, I was having "a terrible, horrible, no-good very bad day."

I started an email to my editor saying that I wanted to withdraw the book from publication, but instead sent her an email asking if we could set up a time to talk through the comments. "Of course!" she said. And when we did talk the next morning, I realized that all of the problems she raised were not only fixable, but could be fixed in fairly simple ways that will make the book I love that much stronger and more compelling. So hooray for that.

But I'm still sad. I'm sad about my family's heartaches. I'm sad about the state of the world right now (who isn't?). Too sad to work, I've been spending endless hours scrolling through Facebook posts. This is not a good activity for someone who is already depressed (oh, those poor teachers, parents, and students trying to figure out how to educate anybody in the middle of a pandemic!). So I retrieved the I-pad I had banished to the garage and started spending endless hours doing online Sudoku puzzles. This, unsurprisingly, did not improve my mood, either. 

Reading good books helped: Ann Patchett's The Dutch House and Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, and watching episodes of the French detective series Maigret, with English subtitles (I now have a huge crush on lead actor Bruno Cremer). So did walks with the dog, and phone calls and ZOOM chats with friends.

It may just be, however, that nothing will help all that much. My family situation is very sad. The state of the world right now is horrific. We're ALL sad. Sadness is appropriate and justified.

Still, I know the one thing that would lift my spirits is doing the work that I love, which is writing. Even though I feel too sad to write, I know with great certainty that if I could force myself to work on these verse novel revisions for just HALF AN HOUR, it would add a tiny bit of joy to this hard week. Writing this blog post is already giving me an itty-bitty surge of satisfaction: at least I'm doing this. 

So I'm going to try. After I publish this post, I'm going to take a shower, put in a load of laundry (another spirit-booster), pull up my manuscript on the screen, turn over my half-hour glass (the one I use when a full hour is too daunting), and begin fixing the most easily fixable things.

Some days (and weeks, and months, and years) are just very hard. But we might as well do what we can to make them a little bit better. 

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