I stopped writing this week. No words on my work-in-progress. No words in my every-morning-for-the-past-fifteen-years journal. Writing is how I make sense of the world, how I process my thoughts. But more and more the world makes no sense, and I am tired of processing my own thoughts.
What if, I wondered, I just decided to quit?
I spent a day cleaning. I spent another day flopped out on the porch swing, alternating between trying to read, crying, and sleeping. It was possible I was having something of a minor nervous breakdown. But then I got tired of that too and took the dog for a walk. It was swelteringly hot and I could feel the energy leaking out of me with every step. How do other people do this?
But I already know the answer. You just do it.
When I was a little girl, I used to have panic attacks. Nightmares. I'd wake in the middle of the night and couldn't fall back to sleep. Or rather, I was afraid to fall back to sleep. I was terrified of the dark.
Terrified of someone sneaking into my bedroom in the middle of the night. It wasn't a baseless fear. Even when I was eight years old, I knew that there are bad people in this world, and truly, many of them want to hurt us. To cope, I surrounded myself with dolls and stuffed animals, a particular order and arrangement, their plastic-y faces and hairy heads pressing against me as I fought to keep my eyes open. I always lost the battle.
There's a road my dog sometimes leads me down when we go on our walks that I call the Chicken Road because it winds behind a house that has a chicken coop in the backyard. The dog likes to run up to the fence and the chickens lazily scatter. Then they scrabble back, not really afraid, the dog, tongue lolling, happily watching. While the animals play this game, I study the small wooden door that someone (the chicken owner person?) has glued onto the bottom of a nearby lamppost. It's exactly the kind of thing I would've loved when I was a little girl.
Small things because I was small and wished I could be even smaller. One more plastic doll propped on a bed. But what a small door! Where could a door like that lead? To what other world? And off my little mind would go. The colorful, rollicking landscape. The happy and kind people who lived in that place.
Something I learned when I was eight years old was that while I had no control over my own life, I had been given a gift to slip into other lives. Forget the dolls and stuffed animals. I could write. I didn't do it to understand the senselessness of the world or to process my own thoughts. No. Back then writing was escape. Survival. Magic.
It got me the hell out of where I came from and kept me (somewhat) sane along the way. It brought me to where I am now. Paused for the moment on a winding road with the dog and the scattering chickens. A door fixed to a lamppost, and what can I do... but open it?