gall and gumption

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

"Get Out! Get Out!"

The reason for the silence will become apparent soon, I hope. I've been working on something to put up here, and the trouble is every time I think I'm going to write a short note it keeps not being a short note. It has become two notes--one very long and nowhere near finished and a medium-length one that may be finished if I can convince myself I've really said enough. Too much and not enough. It's about Al Stephens and right now the only way out is through. For weeks after he died I didn't want to do much besides write about him. Fun was had, certainly, dogs were walked, and I kept cheerful enough, but a big stupid indigestible lump of sadness sat where my writing brain used to be and I've just been trying, trying, to write my way out of it. For weeks I was going in circles, writing each sentence three or four times in the morning and then deleting it all at night, or else sitting with the big legal pad and filling it (I'm on the second one now) with more, more, more.

I have always been a somewhat stingy writer. I mean, when I began I wrote the absolute minimum needed to complete any task. This wasn't so much laziness as the creeping approach of anxiety and fidgetiness that in combination would sort of explode me out of the chair into any distraction. Because it was so hard for me to get myself to write I couldn't afford to commit myself to anything that couldn't be finished in one session of writing. Didn't want to rewrite--I almost never rewrote anything till I wrote my doctoral dissertation, and then only because Al's comments were so brilliant, and because I was writing for Al. And even then there was little that had to be reconceived or stripped back down to nothing and rebuilt.

So this task of writing about Al has had its terrors, in that I had to write, for weeks, scratching away at this thing, without feeling sure of what I was doing, and knowing that a lot of what I was writing would just have to be thrown away. I'll admit that this terrified me, and that the habitual dark imaginings would come visit: brain going, FAILFAILFAIL yer life is a farce and a charade haven't got the stuff any more kiddo visions of living in my car shopping cart plastic bags what will I do with all my watercolor paper then? watercolor paper or clothes? brain gone completely gibbering bag lady riding the subway Have you seen your ass lately? etc. No one will ever know who she really really was. Except Al (now departed) and her closest friends who have had quite enough of the craziness. See? I can keep this sort of thing up for, like, forever.

And then I spent the weekend on a quick-turnaround editing gig. It was supposed to be 37 pages, a report for a possibly not completely evil think tank. It ate the weekend because it was twice as long as they said and had 25 tables.

So with all this growing load of miserable apprehensions and sadness and furious editing of NGOese, for the last two nights I got maybe four hours sleep per night. Last night I lay awake alternately worrying (I mean that horrible chill in the guts feeling like when you've just been dumped), looking to see if there was anything on the Internets (nope) and reading the entire Penguin Book of Ballads. I know you're wondering which ones my favorites are.

Sir Patrick Spens
The Twa Corbies (but not the version that's in this book)
The Wife of Usher's Well
The Unquiet Grave

When I got through those I had Ben Jonson ready to jump into next, though I was afraid of anything that might make me think.

So it was a rather dazed me that arrived to work late this morning, but then I had lunch with a kind friend--one of those lunches one is always meaning to have--and she turned out to be exactly the person to talk to about the various stalking horrors of the night.

And then I went back to work and when I came up for air from the editing I read this little news item. And that's when I lost it.

Back to work, stop and think about that story again and find myself losing my composure, all alone in my cube. At last I stopped by a friend's office and tried to tell her the story and found myself doubled over and weeping, my sides just aching, completely gone, I can't remember the last time I laughed like that, laughed till it hurt.

This is the passage that did it:

The awful stench coming from a Queens apartment on Monday was so bad that cops thought they would find a body inside.

But when firefighters busted down the the door, they found tenant Ming Li Sung was very much alive - and living with rotting garbage piled floor to ceiling.

"When they started trying to clear away some of the trash to get in, he popped up inside, yelling, 'Get out! Get out!'" said Ray West, who lives across the hall.

After work I decided to walk from the office to Union Station, and I don't know why, but everything seemed beautiful and to be loved. It's not a particularly scenic walk, except in faces, and I enjoyed that, moving along easily without haste or fatigue in this inexplicable beatific haze.

All this, of course, explains nothing.