If you asked me what I would describe myself as, I would say I’m a writer. But that label seems disingenuous these days, as I am hardly able to write. I write emails, I write notes about my garden, I write weekly blogs. But I have been struggling with writing for months now, and I’m definitely not feeling like a writer.
There are a few culprits that are sucking the writing life out of me. COVID, for one, which as many have noted is making us feel grief at how our lives have changed in the face of the pandemic. As David Kessler says in the linked article, “The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.”
While I spent much of last summer walking in training for the Lake-To-Lake half-marathon, these days I don’t walk the busy Kinsol Trestle trail because I’m concerned about proximity to other people (COVID of course). This means I get out to walk less, because I’m not a huge fan of walking up our street given all the traffic and the lack of a sidewalk or clearly marked shoulder. At the same time, I have no option to go to the pool, whether I want to or not. So I’m not getting the exercise I usually get – exercise that in the past has helped kickstart my brain and generate new ideas to write about.
Then there is the bipolar depression I’ve been hammered by since last October. It’s been almost a year now, a crippling feeling that sucks the life out of everything I do and makes it hard to initiate new projects, especially writing projects. I’m not only not writing – I’m not doing fabric art, I’m not getting out much, and gardening is a struggle. When gardening becomes hard, you know things aren’t going well.
Then there was my dad’s first stroke in June, which resulted in him being in hospital for a week and then in rehab for four weeks, during which time we were in touch by phone and email. He felt lucky that he had escaped the worst of it, with only some cognitive issues to deal with – plus the loss of his driver’s license. My days were organized around whether I was calling my dad or not, and emailing with my mom and sister about his health and prognosis.
The most brutal hit came from the loss of my dad at the end of July, when he had a second stroke that he just couldn’t recover from. Losing him during COVID is the worst thing that could have happened, as I wasn’t able to be there in person to say goodbye during the days he was in hospice care. My sister held her cell phone to his ear so I could say a few things and hope that he heard me, but all I got in response was his strange whistling, grunting breath – so far from the person I had talked to just days before the second stroke felled him.
I feel I should try harder to write. I should dust off my copy of Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones and ease myself back into writing with her easy to follow exercises. But as my counsellor says, I need to rethink what I “should” do and think instead of what I “can” do. Can I get into writing again? Do I have the wherewithal and the time in my day to write, given that this depression has me sleeping more than usual? What will I write, if I open up my notebook and put my pen to the page?
I am planning to put together a scrapbook in honour of my dad, and I already have ideas of what I want to write in combination with the photos and cards that I’ll paste into it. Maybe my way back to writing is through thinking and writing about my dad, his life and his time with us. Maybe his passing is a signal that it’s time for me to get back in the writing saddle and share stories about him that will make the writing happen again. I can’t be sure, but maybe he will be with me along the way, reading my words and commenting like he used to do on my blog.
As Lauren Groff writes on Twitter, writing doesn’t always look like writing: