The November Blues

It’s been a rough month and likely to get worse. Sometimes being human is just a bumpy ride and at other times, it’s talking yourself through the next minute without collapsing on the floor in a heap. I need to be in a heap for a bit.

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Socanstockphoto1419219.jpgmething’s been brewing all month. I’ve been experiencing chronic insomnia and was struggling with National Novel Writing Month. I was burnt out on politics and the work associated with getting out the vote. And now, as we keep vigil over a family member in hospice, I’ve realized that I am just flat out exhausted. The daylight savings shift and sudden appearance of winter were the final kickers.

So I do what a lot of writers do, I write about my anxieties, in the hopes that they have just a little bit less of a hold over me. Putting order to chaos and words to the silence.

Aging Gracelessly

Being a member of the sandwich generation for the last 15 years, means that one is constantly needed. Parents to care for on one side and a child to raise on the other. But there comes a point when you realize in only a few years, you’ll be needed by no one and you discover how much of your identity was invested in caregiving.

I’m watching as my child becomes a young adult and goes out into the world and as parents shrink and leave the world. It also gives one a bird’s eye view of a human timeline. And how very short it all is.

On a more superficial note, I realize that I have to let go of the idea that I’m a brunette. I inherited the family gift of premature graying in my early 20s. Between dye jobs, I can see that my hair is almost completely white now. Over the next year, I’m going to go with lighter and lighter hair colors until my hair is its natural color – white. It means seeing someone else in the mirror, changing all my profile pictures, and being referred to as my daughter’s grandmother at awkward moments.

canstockphoto19169321The positive side is that I’ll get the power of invisibility. I’ve experienced it off and on throughout my life, but the white hair will clinch it. I remember watching the members of my League of Women Voters chapter boldly approach strangers for voting registration and thinking how benignly people view older women. No one wants to tell grandma “no”. I have a feeling that it’s an advantage.

On the other hand, it might sack my writing career before I can even get this lead balloon off the ground. But that’s immaterial at this point.

Writing

It’s been six years since I first did National Novel Writing Month and it was apparently long enough me for to forget why I never wanted to do it again. I signed up this year, found some writing buddies to join up as well, and began the long slog towards 50,000 words. Day 7 – deleted 8,000+ words in a temper tantrum. Day 14 – Hit 15,000+ words and quit.

canstockphoto3436262I love the idea and organization related to NaNoWriMo – it encourages people to do something they thought they couldn’t, as well as encouraging young writers. What I have to come to terms with is that I am an excruciatingly slow writer for a reason. I do everything slowly, because I have to rework sentences and paragraphs. I edit as I go and get overwhelmed with the mass of drivel that I tend to put out under duress.

There are great merits to pushing yourself to get past the inner editor and for the longest time, I have viewed my inner editor as a problem – something to cure myself of, so that I could be prolific. Getting older means that the time for curing oneself, for retraining a lifetime of habits starts to seem less efficient than just going with who you are and making the most of it.

During a discussion about goals at my writing group, I blurted that I wanted to write literary fiction. Someone asked me for clarification. I said I wanted to write layered, complex fiction – the kind that no one reads, but that gets awards. It felt like naked ambition to say that out loud and likely contrary to the kind of writing I’m doing now. I felt silly afterwards, as if I’d revealed some sort of shameful, secret fantasy.

Reading

canstockphoto1076788There’s a trite saying about dressing for the job you want to have. I think the same thing goes for reading. I’m always reading above my grade level, because I think that’s one of the few ways that I’ll ever get better as a writer. Sometimes it feels like I’m putting on airs, being some sort of elitist, but this language and attitude is a holdover from my childhood. I was the kid who always had her nose in a book, something that was often mocked and derided. Our current culture carries a whiff of anti-intellectualism and sometimes I internalize it, because it feels familiar.

39891438Still, I am submersing myself in the more challenging reads and coming up for air with a lighter read or two. Currently, I’m reading William Giraldi’s American Audacity: In Defense of Literary Daring and Rita Dragonette’s The Fourteenth of September, an enjoyable work of fiction about another time of social and political upheaval – the 1960’s. It reminds me of being younger and ideologically self-righteous. It’s a debut novel by an older writer. Obviously, I’m finding inspiration where I need to.

How is November going for you? What are you reading?

44 Comments on “The November Blues

  1. I totally understand. We all hard times within our daily lives. But you should live your life to the fullest! I had a rough and a ‘scary’ time last year. BE STRONG BE BRAVE X

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  2. Thank you so much. Once again you have put many of my thoughts/feelings into actual paragraphs! It’s comforting to see yourself in someone you admire 😁. Plus, like you, I’m finally giving up on keeping my natural color. I got my first gray hair when I was 17. Forty years later I’m painfully transitioning from my no-longer-natural dark dark brown. I’m practically a blonde these days 👧. Weird!

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    • Thanks, Tina, for your kind comment. The hair thing is so weird. I really put it off. First I said, when my child is out of elementary, then middle school. Now she’s in high school, but I’ve gotten so fed up with trying to keep a lid on the white hair. I imagine it will be freeing not to have to deal with it anymore, but the transition is going to be uncomfortable! If you have any tips at all, I’m game.

      But think of all the voters I’ll be able to get registered for 2020!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ha! 😂 And I’ve got no tips. I still feel like a stranger when I look in the mirror. If the first big step of going from DARK to much lighter hadn’t cost so much I might have reversed course by now. I’m trying to gracefully embrace aging. BUT. …

        Liked by 1 person

        • I’ve never been known for my gracefulness, so aging will likely go the same route. It’s the looking in the mirror thing that will be tough. Many years ago, I had bonding done on my front teeth. When I looked in the mirror, I burst into tears and wailed “it doesn’t look like me”. It was such an odd experience, but we get used to our own appearance – it’s familiar, something we come to expect. I’ll just have to see how it goes – I’m sure I’ll be writing about it again!

          Liked by 1 person

  3. I think you are a gifted writer…who hasn’t yet embraced her truth. You are authentic, humble, creative, smart and compassionate.
    Your writing reflects all this and more. In Iyanla Vanzant’ words, “now believe it!”

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s such a generous comment – thank you. I think when it comes to writing, I have often been at cross-purposes with myself – wanting one thing and practicing another. When I blurted out my ambition at the writing group, it made me realize that if that is truly what I want, then I’m working in the right direction. Just very, very slowly – always the tortoise, never the hare!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. NaNoWriMo has a “bucket list” quality to me; people want to say they did it. As you note, perhaps useful for young writers or generalized bragging rights, but not for a person who aspires to serious writing — which is, appropriately, you. (Related, I find myself thinking the inner critic, and shame, both have appropriate places in our inner and outer lives if we aspire to something other than mediocrity.)

    November is often dreary and later life is hard; I have recently felt so aware of and discouraged by the transactional quality of human relations. It seems we routinely conflate love with need-fulfilment, and that few of us ever give or receive anything finer, ever make the effort to extend ourselves to each other as innately worthy, independent of what we do (and don’t do) for each other. So, no sunshine here, either.

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    • I think NaNoWriMo was fun the first time around, but you’re right, getting to another level requires more labor than just hitting a word count. I’ve come to recognize and respect the history and forces that make me who I am and to understand the “upside” – I’m likely more driven and determined than I would be otherwise.

      November took me by surprise – things piled up (and on) rather quickly. I’m trying a new practice and part of this is due to the reading I’ve been doing. Whenever I feel depressed by humanity, I try to think of one thing I can do that is nice for someone else. There is likely also a transactional aspect, because by doing the nice thing, I feel slightly better – about myself and about the world. But still, to give or be kind unasked, there is a healing quality about it. Not sunshine, but perhaps a sigh of relief.

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      • That’s well put. It’s apparently impossible for humans to avoid the transactional aspect of relating to one another, which I guess brings us back to Carnegie and at least aspiring to give as well as get. Not as some abstract “should,” but because of the healing quality you note, which is hard to do without.

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  5. Hi Michelle. I found your comments about aging and white hair particularly interesting for a couple of reasons. First, my hair has been white for years and I’ve chosen to leave it that way. It has in no way impeded my writing career, so I hope you take heart from that. Second I have, for the last several months, been writing articles for a new Canadian magazine YouAreUNLTD. Their focus is on changing the conversation around aging. Here’s a link to the 3 articles I’ve written, one of which is a cover story for the print magazine. I hope you find them both interesting and personally inspiring (btw the photo is an old one before my hair turned white — they didn’t have time to wait for me to have a new one taken): https://www.youareunltd.com/author/fweinstein/

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    • You are an inspiration, Fransi. My jokes about white hair and a career are more tongue-in-cheek, considering that my career attempts have been slight. I don’t think that has anything to do with my hair color! I’ve bookmarked your articles to read – you are quite prolific!

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  6. First, sympathy for the hard times you’re going through and for getting trolled on top of it. And now on the important stuff: white hair. I went gray early as well and I just loved being invisible. Still do. I doubt that’s everyone’s experience of it, but I think it’s wonderful. I can’t remember the last time anyone even thought about hasseling me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The trolling thing was bizarre and I think it’s no coincidence that it started happening shortly after starting Facebook and Twitter accounts – bastions of useless fecks nattering away at each other.
      I think the white hair thing will work out alright – just getting used to the idea of seeing someone who looks different staring back at me from the mirror will take some getting used to. I never was able to use my looks for anything, but the “harmless” old lady thing might come in handy.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I’ve been learning the uses of letting people underestimate me. When I was younger, it infuriated me. Now? Mostly I think it’s funny. Occasionally it has advantages.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Michelle. I enjoy reading your blog posts. You write from the heart and I find your strong, honest writing refreshing. I have also had aspirations to let my hair grow naturally white but then I give in to my teen’s despair at his mom going old already – believe me I don’t feel the already part, I am ready to grow old. Sometimes I see an old person and actually feel jealous that they are farther along in completing whatever their purpose in this life was. Anyway.. I am re-reading Beloved these days. My high schooler is reading it for his Lit class and I got tempted. Hugs and best wishes

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    • Thank you for your kind words about my writing. I think it’s a real gift to figure out what the up sides of aging are, because there are so many down sides in terms of physicality and health. But focusing on the freedom and the ability to let so many things go is a worthy pursuit.
      Beloved is one of my favorite novels ever. It’s one of those books that made me want to be a writer. Sometimes as a reader, you just sit back and sigh when you’re done, because you’re so overwhelmed by the sheer power and beauty of it. Enjoy!

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  8. Good for you. Embrace your own writing style, your own personal style, your own reading preferences. And yahoo for white hair. Mine is salt and pepper and I wish it was white. While I think there is definitely a prejudice in the industry for certain genres and generations of writers, it has always been thus and it didn’t stop Harper Lee or Frank McCourt, so go for it.

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    • I joke about the career and aging thing, because I don’t have the time or luxury to worry about whatever biases there might be. We’ve got things to do, dammit!
      The hair thing seems so superficial, but as I have said to some previous commenters, it’s just the getting used to seeing oneself look so different.

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      • I just bet you will gain a greater sense of integrity when you let your hair go natural. I, too, have referred to myself as not being very graceful at this aging thing, but I think it is more my desire to be authentic and not to follow the norms of what aging women should be. I think your spirit will carry you through so you can maintain your career goal, or not, depending how your goals evolve.

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        • I do like the sense of growing into oneself as we age. So many artifices and concerns get tossed off. And I agree with you on the issue of integrity – I’ve learned how to be so much more myself over the years – why not the hair, too? Thanks for sharing your perspective, Pat.

          Liked by 1 person

        • I wasn’t finished, Michelle. LOL I just continued in another comment. This was a post that produced a lot of fruit in my brain.

          Liked by 1 person

        • It was very well written, well organized but I just had a lot I wanted to say about each topic. Just tell me to write my own post. LOL

          Liked by 1 person

  9. On going gray: Embrace it! I know so many women who have gray hair and they are so gorgeous. Why is it so many people think that gray-haired men look “distinguished” and gray-haired women look “old”? It’s stupid. My hair is just started to gray and I don’t have any intention to cover it.
    On NaNoWriMo: I totally agree. It’s not for everyone. I tried it last year. It wasn’t for me. I have a different process, and the more I write, the more I figure out what that process is. All writers have different ones that suit their individual strengths and weaknesses. The important thing is that you keep going and keep reflecting and analyzing and discover the strategies that work for you.
    On Literary Fiction: Wanting to write isn’t some secret shameful fantasy, but I know what you mean. I’m a stay-at-home Mom who was thrilled when I finally sent my youngest off to kindergarten so I would have time to write. I’m very strict about my schedule and have daily word-count or revision goals. But when people ask me “what I do all day” now that my kids are in school, I usually lie. I don’t really care for people to know that I’m writing a novel, especially when I’m working so hard and don’t know that anything will end up coming of it. But it’s all good. I’m working to build a writing community with others who “get it.” It sounds like you’re doing the same. But don’t be ashamed of what you’re trying to do. If it gives you purpose, go for it without feeling apologetic about it. Some people won’t understand what you’re doing and that’s okay.
    On Reading: I used to be a reading snob. I had my idea of what was “good” and what was “bad” and what was worth spending my time on. But one of the best things I’ve done for my writing was to vary my reading and hit as many bases as I could–reading fiction intended for all different age groups, all different genres, award-winning books, and fad books. And let me tell you, even the books that I don’t like, I learn something from. Even the books outside my genre teach me something–I lean what it is about that specific genre that that audience loves so much. I recently discovered the bookstagram community on Instagram. I know how you feel about social media, and I feel the same, but I purposely follow only bookstagrammers (no politics, etc) on Instagram and it’s led me to read some books that I would have never discovered otherwise. I have my favorite accounts that I pay close attention to. I also use my account as a reading journal for myself. I don’t award “stars” to the books that I read, and I purposely keep things positive . . . even the books that I don’t enjoy so much have *something* good I can say about them, even if it’s that I enjoyed the narrator or voice or whatever.

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    • Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

      I am not someone who embraces anything. I tiptoe around things for a long time until I get used to the idea and then I move onto the next thing. I’m not slowly graying, as my hair is fully white so it will be a drastic change. I give myself a year to get used to the idea before changing.

      NaNoWriMo is often a fun and useful exercise for people, especially new writers. Once you start digging into writing, then a lot of other facets come into play beyond just getting the words out. And I completely understand why you don’t tell people you’re writing a novel. Inevitably you get asked all kinds of questions you may not be ready to answer and it just gets awkward. I stopped saying I was a writer for a long time, because of that.

      While I read widely and from many genres, I don’t want to read bad writing. I just don’t have the time and I’m at a point where I very easily recognize poor writing, so that skill set is already in play. 20-30 pages is my limit and then the book gets returned to the library or sent onto another life. I also do a lot of editing of other people’s work, so that is where I practice sussing out writing problems and what their fixes are. I’m just at the stage where my reading has to help elevate my writing. Time is running out…

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  10. Michelle- I guess the FB thing would be adding to the trolls. Sorry to hear that you endured such horrible behavior.

    Jump! Tip toeing around anything doesn’t help. Jump with amazing graceful arch into the writing and the hair. No one messes with a bad ass grey haired lady who acts like she knows what she is doing. Own it! Just my opinion- you have enormous talent.

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  11. Oh my goodness, Michelle. I could have written this post, it so reflects who I am. I enjoy reading literary fiction because of the depth of plot and character development but wondered if I was being arrogant (a label from those who are anti-intellect?). While reading your post I realized it is because my mind enjoys complexity and I think in the way authors of literary fiction think. I also write in the same way as you do, editing endlessly as I go. Makes for slow writing but the end product is good. I have had dreams of being published but haven’t been willing to put in the work or pay the political games. I am now in my mid-70’s and have decided to do what I enjoy doing for today. There is a freedom in getting older, as long as we have good health. Sorry if this feels disjointed – I had so many responses to this post and wanted to fit it all into a short reply. Bad idea. 🙂

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    • My post was disjointed, so no need to apologize. It’s so easy to get sidetracked with writing advice, but the real answers about what works for you only emerge after you actually do the work. I have been fighting the editing thing for a long time and I’ve finally realized that is my process. I often go to visiting authors’ lectures and it has become clear to me that nobody is spitting out award-winning novels. They are laboring over them for years, putting them down, coming back to them, eventually surprised that they finally get published. My mantra these days is “invest in the process, not the outcome”. The process is where we are spending our lives.

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      • I like that. I frequently get stalled before I even get started because I know how much work it is and know I can’t spit a good post out in 15 minutes – unless it is just posting a photo. I might go check some of the unfinished posts I have stacked up.

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  12. I’m (still) reading Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker, that is when I’m reading at all. I’m a quarter of the way through it, and it’s amazing, but finding (I should say making) time to read right now is a challenge. So many RL fires burning, and the daylight is gone when I get home. I’m a “read on the deck” kind of guy and the deck is cold and dark. I’ll adjust, but I never do immediately. I’m thousands of pages behind on my reading goal this year. I’ll definitely (not) make that up in 2019.

    I did NaNoWriMo last year, and it was my first time. I wrote 50,000 words of a novel I’ve been promising my wife I’d write for 25 years. I have no idea what it looks like today, since I haven’t opened that document since December 1st, 2017. Maybe I need to get forced into a Na19WriYe. 😉

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    • I read The Better Angels of Our Nature by Pinker last year and have Enlightenment Now on my reading list. I still, however, have his The Sense of Style: A Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century in my pile to read. I imagine at this point in my life, there is not enough time left to read all the books I want to read. Enlightenment Now looks like a serious commitment!

      I think most people put their NaNo novels away after such a writing-intensive month. I put mine away for months and it’s taken years to get serious about revisions. Still, it was a good experience to have.

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  13. I feel the same about NaNoWriMo. I didn’t do it this year. I don’t need another unfinished manuscript in the virtual drawer. I’m not sure what I want to do with my NaNo novels anymore. Somehow the themes of them seem less urgent and burning, and/or world events have overtaken them.

    I have not been doing a lot of writing in other ways either but I finally got a blog post out about music. I have been playing a lot of music. It’s the season for it, and that will have to be enough.

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  14. Hello Michelle. That’s a powerful essay. I’ll focus on your question about books.

    I read I Am The Clay last month. Liked it a lot. It’s a novel by Chaim Potok. And last week I read A Study In Scarlet, by Arthur Conan Doyle. Hadn’t read any Doyle in ages. I give it two thumbs up.

    Neil S.

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    • I hadn’t heard of Chaim Potok before and looking at some of his book synopses, it looks like more reading for me.
      I have a worn collection of Arthur Conan Doyle novels and stories that my grandfather gave me when I was a kid. It is on my list of go-to comfort reading. Even when I know the plot and ending, I still enjoy reading them. A Study in Scarlet is my favorite of his novels since it is when Watson and Holmes first meet. And some of Doyle’s short stories left indelible impressions on me like “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” and “The Redheaded-League”.
      Thanks for the opportunity to indulge in some reading nostalgia, Neil!

      Liked by 1 person

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