Being and Writing: Finding Silence in Unquiet Times

Tonight was one of those magical nights, one of those nights when I could just be. I've had a hard time with that recently, what with the end of the semester and the hard news that the fall I had in March might have lasting consequences. Last week I learned that in addition to the coccyx injury, I have a herniated disk--a bad one, pressing on not one but several nerves, going from my right hip all the way down to my toes. My moments of comfort are rare, but I'm learning to make the most of them when they happen.

Even though I have to limit the amount of time I spend sitting and the amount of time I spend on my feet, when I do feel well enough to walk, I relish it. I walk around the block, savoring the warmth of the sun on my skin. I smell the jasmine, breathe in the heavy, perfumed scents of a verdant Texas spring. I lower the window in my husband's truck and let the wind whip past, watch the blue bonnets and Indian paintbrush.

I write as much as I can, and I read. Right now I am giving myself permission to read even more than normally, because that is something I can do lying flat on my back with my knees up, one of the few comfortable positions. I've been reading ghost stories, Gothic novels, and John Berendt's The City of Falling Angels. Today I spent most of the afternoon with Bonnie Friedman's Writing Past Dark: Envy, Fear, Distraction, and Other Dilemmas in the Writer's Life. It is a book I go to, along with Ralph Keyes' The Writer's Book of Hope, when I am feeling down and doubting whether or not I am a "real writer." What I love about both of those books is that they don't shy away from admitting the darkness within the writing life, and in fact, they examine it.

Today I was struggling with feelings of envy, mainly because it is spring and therefore the time many of my friends and colleagues are querying agents, getting book deals, and finding tenure-track jobs. But I am not there yet, just like I wasn't there when I was 24 and maid of honor in two weddings. I remember feeling happy for the brides and not envious, but angsty, wondering if and when my time would come.

That's how I feel now--or at least how I was feeling earlier today. I woke up today feeling antsy and really wanting to work on the book, but yet again in too much pain to do so. But before I got too into feeling sorry for myself, I picked up Friedman's book and read three chapters, until the Darvocet kicked in and I felt a little sleepy. I reminded myself that there is a reason for all of this, and a season for everything.

And tonight, possibly under the influence of Darvocet, possibly just because I've finally surrendered to the circumstances that are beyond my control, I went outside in soft flip flops and loose jeans and crept, at midnight to my moonlit garden. I lit the tiki torches Mark has put out back and lay down flat on my back on the garden bench, armed with a ghost story book, a pen and a notebook. But in the end, I put all of that down on top of the heap of bricks he's using to make a raised flower bed. I laid it all down and stretched out on that bench and turned my face up to the trees. I stared through their leaves to the moonlit clouds and the two stars visible in the sky. And there, just for a moment, I could fly.


If you ever again wonder if you're a writer, this post, particular the last paragraph, will stand as proof!

Heal quickly, go forth, and finish that book!
Joni Rodgers said…
Go, Dr. KatPat!

Coincidentally, I just nabbed a hardcover of Berendt's City of Falling Angels off the bargain bin at B&N Friday night. Snarfing it down as we speak.
Mylène said…
Everything you write is 'broken open,' Kat. Kathryn Patterson is a real writer the way a kestrel is a real bird. There is no separating the two.
blossoming said…
Loved this post. I too have learned from chronic pain to slow down and to savor the moments when my body allows me to move or to get into positions that are usually too uncomfortable to sustain. Perhaps this is your time for resting, reading, and enjoying silence. I finished my Ph.D. "late" at 35, married "late" at 37 but I think both my TT job and my husband were well worth the wait.
Thanks you all so much. And Sophia, I actually wanted to add to this (but felt it didn't fit the blog format) that the fall after that summer I was in all those weddings was the fall I met Mark. That was after breaking up with my first great love and spending the summer feeling convinced that there would never ever be anyone else. (At 24, sheesh)

Then I met Mark and quite literally ran from the emotion--our relationship could almost be the subject of a memoir! It took us five years to get it right, so we too married "late" at 30 and 31, respectively. But I always tell people all of the craziness was worth it.

Still not sure about the sixteen years of graduate school that it took to find my way to the PhD though! And frankly, I've been to enough things "late" that I really want to push to do something "on time." But I still surrender.
And Mylene, at least you said kestrel and not keister! :D
Joy said…
Dr. Paterson, you consistently embrace your sorrows so that you may extract meaning from them, and then you present them to all of us who struggle with our gift, our craft and our place in the world so that we can all grow and heal together. Thank you again for sharing in such a well written way. You inspire me!
KjM said…
"And there, just for a moment, I could fly."

And you took your readers with you, for far more than a moment.

Thank you for a fine example of how this writing thing is done.
Jeanna said…
From a reader's perspective...the *struggles* are the best part of the novel, the best part of the movie...and the best part of this article. Thank you for sharing with us.

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