Needless to say, I haven’t even looked at my novel since arriving in Berkeley. For various reasons. Responsibilities and obligations that overpower writing. It makes me sad. Frustrated. Angry. Guilty. Resentful. It makes me want to eat. Punish myself. It makes me feel small.
But I did have a perfect day out here this weekend. I met up with friends at yoga (lots of chanting, alas–it’s Berkeley after all). We went to the Bakesale for Japan, surrounded by a lot of love and baked goods.
My friend and I nibbled on our treats as I felt the cool and dewy foggy air on my face, the kind of air that makes my skin gurgle with delight. She and I hadn’t seen each other in months and we made easy talk, the kind that comes with long familiar periods of silence, a combination of good friendship and post-yoga calm. It was good to see her. It felt good to be with her.
I felt so balanced. No anger. No worries. No anxiety. Just peace.
When I got home I said to myself, “If I can fit writing in, this will be a perfect day.” And so I cracked open my journal and wrote. No pressure. No plot or character development or perfect language. Just thoughts. And feelings. A wonderful mess of writing, like listening to a vinyl record with its pop and crackle.
It was a perfect day.
When I had my stroke, I had, among many things, a lot of issues around short term memory. Mostly, I didn’t have a short term memory. Whatever had happened 15 minutes prior, I forgot. And forget about planning. I couldn’t plan anything at all. So I lived in the present tense.
My damaged brain was totally quiet. There was no background “static” containing worries, anxieties, fretting, and grudges. Think about it–you probably have an ongoing radio in your head–try to silence it–it’s nearly impossible to turn it off. Stressing out requires memory. Worrying requires memory.
My brain was just quiet for the first 2 months of recovery. Just a blank. I couldn’t even figure out what to eat. I’d open the fridge, dizzy with hunger, and become overwhelmed with all the labels and ingredients inside. Too much. I’d shut the door and walk away from the noise that I could not process. Sit down. Forget I was hungry. Be dizzy. Be quiet. Stare at the wall for hours. Or maybe minutes. I didn’t know how much time had passed. Pet my dog, her soft fur. Stare at my fingers. Then stare at the wall. Turn the television on. Not understand a thing, forget the plot. Shut it off. Sit again. Quiet.
I now think, wow, that’s peace. That’s being in the present tense. In the midst of something awful, I was experiencing something magical, something people pay a lot of money and spend a lot of time to pursue: total silence.
It was a strange kind of peace–just blankness. There was nothing to negotiate–just a sense of being in the world, without awareness of boundaries or limits. I’ll never have that kind of peace again–because my life is not a blank page as it was in my brain damaged state.
My life is full–of emotions and experiences and geography and people and responsibilities and indulgence. It’s messy. My writing slays me. But I’d also never not write. But that sense of peace, that incredible feeling of being everything and nothing, all at once I felt when sick? The closest I get to it is by writing. And the different peace I get from writing, a day of good writing, far exceeds the blank slate.
So when I don’t write, or when my writing goes poorly, I struggle hard. I lose my center. I lose my peace. It’s difficult. But there’s no solution to it, other than to keep writing. And then comes the peace, that perfect day, once in a blue moon.