The Perils of Being a Slow Writer


Reading time: about 5 min.
posts  writing  art  health  general 

My mind has been full of all sorts of things, I’ve been saying to folks that my brain is full of bees. Because that’s what it feels like when I lie down at night and can’t fall asleep to save my life.

Part of the problem is that I’m not getting enough physical movement, but when I do get enough, I’m often completely wiped out afterwards–I suspect a mild case of PEMS, but how does one get that diagnosed? One doesn’t, as far as I can tell.

And this week has, oddly, been full of activity. Oddly because this is a rest week from work and I’ve only needed to check tech support email twice and each time it was less than an hour.

But: we went to the Delaware Renaissace Faire last weekend and met up with a some of our friends, (D + L) x 2 as I’m going to call them, as they’re from two distinct friend groups. It was a lot of fun and I found a really lovely necklace made from the bowl of a spoon with a pretty crystal and a feather charm and P. made it to the pin vendor–I was too tired to schlep all the way across the grounds to go–and got me an early birthday present, a metal pin with a shield and scroll on it that says “Medical Mystery.” I cracked up and immediately put it on my purse because I am indeed a medical mystery.

I’ve also noticed a shift in how I talk about the events of 2018. I don’t say “I had necrotizing pancreatitis in 2018,” but instead say “I survived necrotizing pancreatitis in 2018,” which is honestly more accurate. Everything else, except for the uterus bit last year, stemmed from that initial incident–and if I weren’t a stubborn person, I doubt that I’d’ve survived. There are definitely things I’d’ve done differently, like have my MIL come and hold down the fort in the hospital with me because that woman is a force of nature and she would have made things happen that I wasn’t able to manage on my own (like adequate pain control).

But back to this week. Yesterday I attended The Rossettis at the Delaware Art Museum, the only place in the world to have this exhibition other than the Tate Modern in London. That would be because we have the single largest collection of Pre-Raphaelite art outside of England in our art museum. It was glorious to be able to spend time with many of my favorite paintings, while also noting that Dante Gabriel Rossetti essentially turns every woman into some sort of ur-woman in each painting. You can definitely tell when he started using Jane Morris as a model, but you can also see the elision of her features into those of Fanny Cornforth and other models, too. And it was sort of incredible to notice that the woman’s face in “Found” is actually green-tinted in person, too, and isn’t an artifact of bad reproduction.

The only painting where he doesn’t mush features together is in “Beata Beatrix,” which is unabashedly my favorite. The story is unbearably sad and it’s cast a long shadow over Elizabeth Siddall, a poet and writer in her own right. But I just find it to be transcendentally beautiful and I can’t help but love it.

The single most interesting–and long-due at that–thing about this exhibit was that it didn’t try to put Elizabeth Siddall in a box called muse/model and leave it at that. There are examples of her work throughout the exhibition and while her style is self-consciously naïve in places, I love that she was making art while not being formally trained. The same for her poetry, a collection of which was published in 2018 and which I bought from the gift shop.

I also bought the whacking huge and expensive exhibition book, which features a number of excellent essays centering the women in context and talking about how many of them weren’t simply passive models but that there was significant evidence among their writings–the ones who could write, that is–that they collaborated with Rossetti on costuming and composition. There are places where you see Siddall trying out a particular composition of figures and then later it shows up in a finished sketch by Rossetti.

There were also piles of ephemera that Christina Rossetti had written (She had exquisite handwriting!) and some works by William Henry Rossetti, who outlived his siblings and shaped a lot of the popular knowledge that we now have.

It’s the sort of blockbuster exhibition you’d expect to see in DC or NYC, so to have it be 10 miles from my house is a real privilege. I’m planning on going back at least once before it closes in January, potentially multiple times, depending on how many people I can talk into going to it.

Naturally, that much excitement tired me out and I essentially slept through the night, got up for therapy at nine, and then went back to bed at ten, where I stayed until one. At which point P. made me get up so I’d sleep through the night.

So I packed my stuff up in my new, lighter backpack to give it a test run to Starbucks. It’s a 20L bag from Cotopaxi with a separate zippered sleeve for my laptop and a notebook and then a larger undifferentiated compartment with a drawstring closure for everything else. The bag itself weighs just over a pound and I needed it to be fairly small because if I have space in a bag, I will fill it when I’m traveling and my trip to Boston was made exponentially more difficult by having bags that were simply too heavy.

What I’ve accomplished is to add pagination between entries and styled them in a way that I’m mostly satisfied with but which I may also mess with over the next few weeks. I need to add a tags page, as I’ve been faithfully tagging all my entries as I write them. I also want to add a reading time to the top of each entry.

And tomorrow, I’m getting a paracentesis. I had to make multiple phone calls and get labwork done before I finally connected with the woman who makes the appointments. It was thoroughly ridiculous.

But this all adds up to me being a slow writer, because usually the last thing I want to do in the evening after work is spend more time on the computer fucking around with code or even writing. For the last month, even my journaling practice has been disrupted, which really makes me unhappy. I want to write more publicly, but I’m still figuring out where I want my boundaries to be, which makes the whole process rather fraught.

If I have an opinion about this year’s Hugo Long List (if it ever comes out, I am fully on Team Shenanigans), is that going to bite me in the ass somewhere down the line? If I write about this Tanith Lee book I’m reading (Kill the Dead which was in my Capclave bag and Michael Dirda told me I should read it and if Michael Dirda tells you to read something you do) will I be taken seriously as a critic or will people think I’m out of touch? Will people be annoyed that I’m going on about my health again? Am I writing to too much of a generalist audience? Am I whining?

These are all things that run through my mind when I sit down to actually write something, anything. I have always cared too much about what other people think of me and I don’t see that changing any time soon–there were things in my childhood that have always made me regard others’ opinion of me more than my own opinion of myself. At the same time, I know that no one person or group of people can be everything to me and that I have to look to myself for approval and not to others.

But it is a harrowing series of roadblocks that I have to navigate to write, much less publish, anything these days.