A Day in Which I Write Nothing Relevant

I wore myself out writing a political post last week and answering subsequent comments. Then I read that Antonin Scalia died. Liberal pundits are off their nuts trying not to do a happy dance. I feel uncomfortable with this. To celebrate anyone’s death seems tasteless, if not unkind. I did not like his rulings or his beliefs, but he was interesting to listen to and had a level of integrity that I appreciated.

I’m glad one conservative is off the Supreme Court, but I wish it were Justice Thomas, who has never struck me as someone who has political or personal integrity. He can shove a copy of The Fountainhead right up his arse. Yeah, yeah, people are complicated.


Today I am starting David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, because my reading has become too facile of late, with relatable characters and interesting story lines. I realized that there’s no way for me to expand as a writer, if I don’t continue to expand as a reader. I read James Joyce last year and while I found it a long slog, I came away with pages of notes about literary devices, made-up words and scene development. I’m keeping my notebook handy for Jest.


canstockphoto5857227.jpgAh, Valentine’s Day. I bought myself a bouquet of tulips and thanked my husband with a smirk. I gave him some new swim goggles and my daughter got a gaming gift card. Romance is subtle in our household. My daughter made us sweet cards and then we all plugged into our devices, shows or books and promptly ignored each other. Love means letting each other be whoever we are – until dinner time or someone needs a ride.


canstockphoto24939985For writers everywhere, or just me, I’ve written this in big letters on my whiteboard: “Never hope more than you work.” (Both Rita Mae Brown and Beryl Markham have been credited with some form of that quote). It really explains why my novel re-writes are not done. Hopin’ and wishin’ and prayin’…that somebody else will do it.


Stinging bits of snow pelted my cheeks and my eyes watered. I could feel a burning sensation on my legs as the wind cut through my jeans. It was 2°F/-16°C with a wind chill factor running 20 degrees lower. I decided a 3 mile walk to the library would be the curative for cabin fever and listless writing.

I spent most of the walk thinking about the nature of discomfort and how I’d forgotten why it is a necessary thing. I live a comfortable life and I have reasoned, at times, that I’d earned it. That I’d had so many periods of difficulty and misery and struggle, that perhaps it was okay to have soft landings.

Here’s the funny old thing about my tough times. They shaped me. They taught me resiliency. They forced me to critically think and problem solve. They made me power through, overcome, and challenged every aspect of my being. They made me hunger for more knowledge and skills. In the end, they made me see the world in a broader context and made me, for all my failings, more compassionate towards others.

canstockphoto3180270I walked against the bitter wind, trying to keep my footing on ice-covered sidewalks. It reminded me of all the other times. The years without a car. The rain. The baking sun. The ache of carrying groceries or book bags. It reminded me that I did my best thinking when I walked, that all the physical challenges gave a pinpoint focus to my brain.

One of my visiting college professors told me I had the душа, the soul of a Russian. Dostoyevsky wrote that the soul of a Russian was the spiritual need for suffering. I thought it was a compliment. When I started reading Buddhist texts, it seemed less of one. It made me seem like a masochist.

So I began the steady path towards only watching, reading and listening to things that I enjoyed. I ate only the food I liked, worked only when it didn’t feel like work, dressed to excessive comfort, didn’t push too hard during workouts, only hung out with friends who didn’t irritate me and only when I felt like it. Cocooned, safe, precious and ensconced in my own navel.

It’s true that life is short and that there is value in spending time how I want to, but at what point do I stop growing? At what point am I willing to stop reaching beyond myself and my small corner of the world? At what point do I become so static that death would seem an adventure?

It reminded me that at 48, I was still hearty enough to carry my own weight, to put in the miles, to lean into the discomfort. I was reminded of how important and nurturing my connection to the outside world is – that observation and the senses yield so much. And when I returned to a comforting home and a warm cup of tea, my gratitude was expansive.

Every day is a new possibility – I hope your day is a good one.

And if Valentine’s day bugs the crap out of you, feel sorry for all those people getting shitty Whitman samplers with the chocolates filled with spackle and toothpaste. Pity all the lost hopes for marriage proposals that just turned out to be dinner at Applebee’s. Shake your head at all the grown-ass women getting stuffed animals and itchy lingerie. Roll your eyes at all the men shopping desperately at Targets and gas stations at this very moment…

And get yourself the good chocolate. It will be on clearance tomorrow.

54 thoughts on “A Day in Which I Write Nothing Relevant

  1. fransiweinstein

    It was -25 Celsius (-13 Fahrenheit), -34 with the windchill, here (Toronto) yesterday; and it’s -17 today. Unlike you, I’m a total wimp — stayed home, in a fleece robe and furry slippers, all day. I did manage to get out of bed and spent most of the day writing. My cats were ecstatic. More of the same planned for today. Totally agree with your views on Judge Scalia, Judge Thomas and the importance of treating oneself with the good chocolate. Happy Valentine’s Day!!


    • I don’t think I’d go out in those temps! It was milder today, but I returned home from a walk with a red windburned face and feet that are blocks of ice.
      I hope you had a good day, today, Fransi. I’m spending the evening with a cup of tea, a stack of books and fuzzy socks – pure bliss!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Nothing relevant? Quite the contrary, Michelle. Your post gave me a lot to think about, ranging from Dostoevsky to fine chocolate (two of my favorite things). Also the hard-earned lesson that life is all about managing polarities: instead of the either/or of suffering vs. hedonism, the both/and of managing each to the degree that it serves our lives and our values. I also needed to be reminded to read some more challenging books…I’ve grown lazy in my reading. Thanks for a thought-provoking and enjoyable post.


    • I like your point about not viewing things as either/or, although I find that I sometimes need to be prodded awake through contrast. And thanks for the kind words about the post, Donna.

      I think it’s a running joke in my head that I can’t keep up with the speed of social media, so the idea of relevancy makes me laugh every time I sit down to write a post.


  3. “Dostoyevsky wrote that the soul of a Russian was the spiritual need for suffering…”

    I think it was a compliment, no matter how it was intended. It is the human condition to both suffer and to seek meaning in that suffering. When we stop seeking meaning, we surrender precious humanity.

    Great piece. Well done.

    Liked by 1 person

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  5. pinklightsabre

    Infinite Jest…gosh, if “Portrait” put a bug in your knickers that one just might really drive you over the ledge. But looking forward to hearing what you have to think of it. I just met with a good friend of mine who’s German, saw him in Berlin, and he studied “American Studies” (Literature) if you can believe that, and wrote his dissertation on DFW. He did so before it was popular to write very complicated, confusing papers on Wallace. It was fun hearing him help me understand how he connected some influences to DFW, like Kierkegaard especially, and how these attitudes about the sickness that ails some of us in life, how it comes through in that book. Have fun, try to…keep your eye out for Poor Tony.


    • I felt torn about starting Infinite Jest. I remember when you and Ross were reading it and some of the comments between you made it seem like a tough read. However, I was either going to read Jest or The Road by Cormac McCarthy. When I saw The Road at the library, there were two cover versions – one stamped with Oprah’s Book Club and the other with the promotional movie picture. Jest it is.

      Already jotting down notes and in love with some of the wording (“the spidered light of an Arizona noon”). We’ll exchange some emails over it, I’m sure, Bill.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. 11fifty6

    I love your blog. I have just separated from my husband in what feels like the most selfish act of survival I’ve ever taken on. I am not clever nor am I a writer but have found a new romance in words, writing and reading. I carry many fears and long to be like you. I hope one day I can express what I think and feel in an honest however not offensive manner. Your blog makes me laugh, cry and ponder the world around me, which at the moment feels the biggest and scariest it’s ever felt. Thanks for being my friend and not even knowing it.


    • michelle213norton

      You sound like more of a writer than you realize! I remember learning bout a poet in English class who didn’t write a word until he was 40 or 50 or something like that. I guess he bit into a cookie and ended up writing pages of poetry just about that bite of cookie. It’s never too late to start (and don’t think you need to be published to consider yourself a writer, most of us aren’t in the traditional way!!)


    • Thanks for your kind words about the blog. It sounds like you have some challenging times ahead. For me, writing can be a refuge, a salve and a way of making order out of chaos. Writing, too, is a way of finding you.

      I get a lot of positive feedback about authenticity and honesty, but I don’t spend much time worrying about what offends, as I do trying to be respectful. I think there’s a difference that changes the tone of writing. I know that my feelings are mine alone and I have no expectation that other people will or should feel the same. Every time they do agree, I think “whew – not as weird as I thought I was.”

      Take care of yourself and best wishes on your writing journey!


  7. You got pretty relevant there for a while. Good for you. Our writing doesn’t come with any promises to please when it comes from the heart. I enjoy the authenticity of your posts. Totally with you on that last paragraph, re: the hallmark holiday syndrome. Happy Sunday!


    • While I have a sense of an audience and a sense that I can barely keep up with issues, I do tend to write for myself. It’s why I think the idea of always having something worthwhile to say or something current is a funny one.
      I have to admit, I was in Target muttering under my breath “effin’ made up holiday” while shopping for a couple of gifts. I suppose I could opt out entirely, but you get sucked into it sometimes. Have a great week!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. michelle213norton

    It’s probably impossible to be grateful without hard times to contrast with the good ones. That’s why you’ve got people with everything they’ve ever wanted who commit suicide. The things that really matter, like peace and joy, are hard won and can’t be bought.


    • I think that’s an absolutely true thing about human nature. We need the cold to appreciate the warm, because we tend to take things for granted.

      In regards to suicides, I think all the exterior trappings can deflect from underlying issues of mental illness. Others assume they’re fine. The person thinks they should be happy with fame or money or things, and feels wrong because they aren’t, making it hard to ask for help. One’s mental state often has little to do with appearances.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I too can relate to “the years without a car…The rain. The baking sun. The ache of carrying groceries or book bags…”.
    I too spent almost a decade without one, dealing with all those things and more, and I too, did my best thinking and focusing during all those miles walked.
    But now that I have a car, I’m eternally grateful for it. Just something a lot of people take for granted, but should’t.

    Happy Valentines day all!


    • I am absolutely grateful for a car and doubly so that it’s relatively new. Even when I had cars in the past, they were always clunkers that stalled out in 4 way intersections or left me stranded on the interstate late at night (before the ubiquitous use of cell phones). I did a lot of walking!

      Have a great week, Lisa!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Glad to be in your head this morning.
    I tried DFW and threw him across the room (but loved his tortured non-fiction). I also bounced Joyce off a wall, too, so there you have it. I’ve turned into a reading weenie, which I’m actually fine being. Brain damage gives me an excuse to stop torturing myself with Great Literature and just read for joy. I’m all for More Joy, Less Dusha.


    • Fortunately, taking notes gives me a little distance from material that pisses me off. If it’s not enjoyable to read, then it must be redeeming in giving me ideas as a writer.
      Joy comes to me so quietly these days. I think I often confuse depression with the fact that understatement is kind of my schtick. You likely have the right idea, though. More joy better.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Seemed pretty relevant to me. Good read! The last few months of 2015 I felt complacent, mentally lethargic, spinning my wheels…whatever you wanna call it. I felt as though I had hit a plateau in growth, and it scared me. So I grabbed a of my favorite books, and flew back to my childhood home, spent a few days in my happy place (a cabin on top of the mountain with no electricity but no running water) and spent some time re-awakening my spirit. I came back to GA in the new year refreshed, with a renewed focus on growth.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I’m with Adam: If this is a non-relevant post in your estimation…geesh!
    I especially like the contrast between being ‘Russian’ and being Buddhist…wonder if there are any Russian Buddhists out there?
    Personally, I think the Russian Prof did mean it as a compliment…

    Savor the bitter with the sweet – afterall, chocolate is at its best when heavily on the bitter side! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  13. It was a pleasure to read your post. The quiet times with your husband and daughter remind me of times with my husband and sons. I like your definition of love too. You said so much that was worth reading. Thank you, Lori


  14. usually, when I’ve talked myself into the studio to paint, there is a reward. it may not be that the artwork is coming along exactly as planned, but that I made the effort! it’s like pulling the covers off and gradually lifting oneself out of bed. I can always jump back in, but not doing so, yields better results.


    • I find most of the battle is just getting there – whether it be forcing myself to sit down and write or getting to the gym. So much is about habit. If I get in the habit, then I’ve allowed space for good things to happen. Thanks for reading and sharing your artistic experience!


  15. Hi Michelle, thanks for the like. Ye I find that if I read I learn more about writing and also it preserves my skill in writing. I think, for me, if I don`t at least read, even if I don`t write, it keeps me in the habit of thinking about what I will write and how I will write. I love your comments about love!


  16. You don’t know how hopeful it was for me to read about James Joyce, David Foster Wallace and Dostoevsky all mentioned in one post. I’ve consciously dived back into the difficult reading of my undergraduate days, wading through Joyce’s Ulysses, now Melville’s Moby Dick. If I wrote that way in this day and age, my keyboarding hands would be slapped, along with a word balloon of, “Good heavens! Nobody has that kind of attention span!”


    • Sometimes I feel compelled to make myself sit down and read tougher material, because I realize how short my own attention span has become. You make a good point about current norms – I wonder how many of these tomes would have been written in present day. Wallace’s is a current example, but I have to admit that I wonder about the editing on Jest. Soldiering on…

      Thanks for reading and commenting!


  17. Ber Kanatsidou

    I guess you found (or finding) the balance between cocooning and let yourself suffer just enough to stay alive. I’m afraid the I can’t follow your example though. The climate I live in is too damn comfortable 🙂
    Really enjoyed your post!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Glad you enjoyed the post. It’s a rather tenuous balance, I think, between cocooning and suffering. Anyone who is coming up against difficult times, must wonder at the luxury of choosing one’s own discomfort. I’m fond of the weather in the midwest for the extremes, but usually from the comfort of my reading chair!


  18. Maybe you would do better in Russia than in a Buddhist country then? What I mean is that it’s all in the perspective whether some things are positive or negative. Not tangible things, necessarily, like killing or harming. But more intangible like how we approach life. Makes no sense, right? Ugh, I need to go back to bed.


    • I think being around a bunch of Buddhists would make me very irritable about my own flaws. There is a hardship angle and cynicism with Russian culture and history. I can appreciate the perspective and the dark humor while not wanting to live in it. Every place and frame of thinking has its pros and cons, I suppose.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s such an interesting thought. I can see that. I used to love the classic Russian novels. I can’t imagine reading them now though though I did just watch the War & Peace mini series. I wonder where I fit in. Not Russian, I’m pretty sure. But not Buddhist either (though I might wish for that and when I was in jr high desperately wanted to be Buddhist).

        Liked by 1 person

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