Thursday, October 10, 2013

Anxiety and charity shops

Directions in Le Panier, Marseille
When my daughter was a toddler I was on the underground at Green Park station, changing tubes. I was packing up the buggy, my son was standing next to me. I turned around and saw my daughter staggering towards the edge of the platform. She was close. I took her hand and brought her back to our pile of bags and wheels.

At times, in the early hours of the morning, that moment comes back to me. Fleur Adcock has a poem about anxieties clustered around the bed and she's right of course, they don't come singly. Anxiety is one of those states that is magnetic. It draws fears together and it draws other people into its magnetic field.

I resent anxiety because I've always been a worrier. I have lists of worries that I mentally tick off, but if that list is ever nearly empty, I take on friends' or strangers' worries.

Recently my anxiety's been on overload. Mostly this is to do with money - a very lowly paid contract, but regular work nonetheless, was cancelled at the last moment. Another piece of work came in, but it's short term and I feel the pressure to prove I can do it so much so that I have been unable to sleep.

Outside this morning, the sun's bright. The same black van is parked in the same place. The cat is sitting on a green cloth I bought from a fabric warehouse in Louis Trichart, a country town in Limpopo. When I immerse myself in things, in the long chopstick I keep in my pen jar to scratch my back with, the bamboo in my neighbour's house bending in the wind, the sound of a scooter straining up the hill, I can put anxiety in its place.

I did a google search on anxiety in writers and what came up was block, strategies for dealing with it, positive thinking. I was bored immediately. A search on the word alone scared me into a search on writers writing about writing. Alice Walker writes about meditation, Walter Mosely about the need to write every day and Annie Proulx writes about rummaging for secondhand books. As I read her, I was thinking 'yes, yes' and I promised myself I'd try what my mother's been urging me to do for years - short stories.

There is this hiatus at the moment. There are poems I didn't put in Woman's Head As Jug because they didn't fit and I don't think I'll dump them forever but they need their own place. There are two poem sequences I began but didn't finish before I sent off the manuscript. They need work. Surprisingly, one or two standalone poems have emerged in the last few weeks. They may not survive. But I am following in my mother's footsteps and appreciating the skill of the short story writer. I am rediscovering the talent of Maupassant, delighted by Alice Munro and Lorrie Moore.

Indeed this is how Lorrie Moore describes writing in The Paris Review: "...what it feels like is running as far as I can with a voice, a tuneful patch of a long, nagging idea. It is a daily struggle that doesn’t even always occur daily. From the time I first started writing, the trick for me has always been to construct a life in which writing could occur. I have never been blocked, never lost faith (or never lost it for longer than necessary, shall we say) never not had ideas and scraps sitting around in notebooks or on Post-its adhered to the desk edge, but I have always been slow and have never had a protracted run of free time. I have always had to hold down a paying job of some sort and now I’m the mother of a small child as well, and the ability to make a literary life while teaching and parenting (to say nothing of housework) is sometimes beyond me. I don’t feel completely outwitted by it but it is increasingly a struggle."

Struggle is a more active word than anxiety. I am suffering from struggle and struggles are keeping me awake at night. I will go out into the sun, down to St Vincent's and London Road where the charity shops are numerous. Maybe even take the car out to Emmaus.

"I gather what I can of the rough, tumbling crowd, the lone walkers and the voluble talkers, the high lonesome signers, the messages people write and leave for me to read..."

Annie Proulx, May 10 1999, New York Times

Writers on Writing: Archive of the New York Times Writers on Writing column, in which writers explore literary themes

The Paris Review, Lorrie Moore interview: