A Long Time Down

Still not writing.

I know what it feels like when things get all balled up at the head office. They put you though Hell. -Charlie, in "Barton Fink"

A friend suggested I start a substack newsletter. She writes one once a month to stay centered on her voice, a thing for her and not for "them" (the readers, few that they are). This struck a chord with me, because I already had one of those and had already proven to myself on a number of occasions that I can't keep up with it. (It's this.)

I never write in this blog I pay for: before this latest solution, a virtual machine running on some rack somewhere here on the east coast, $5 a month, and then creeping to $6, and then to $7. Every time I thought of my blog (not often), I would see that it had crashed, spend an hour resolving it, clearing system logs, configuring it just-so it doesn't happen again. Then I wouldn't write in it, and the cycle would repeat the next time I thought about my blog. Now, I've migrated it to a provider where I don't have to worry about that stuff; I pay for the privilege of someone else worrying about it. Still not writing.

This crash-cycle followed shortly after my mother's death. A thing I still haven't gotten total grasp of and has since become a spiral wishing well for my thoughts–those yellow funnels you put a penny into, and the it goes around and around until the penny is vertical and immune to gravity. It finally runs out of ground and falls in. I haven't written anything. A story, that had largely become about my mother called "other old people" remains in the state it was almost two years ago, when she texted me about the large snowfall we'd received in New York, and I texted back with a picture of the snow piled up in front of the door. This is the photo I sent her.

Eugene and I left for Vermont shortly after that storm when I texted my mom and sent that photo, and I missed their phone call on Sunday because I was on vacation. And skipped their subsequent phone call, because I was just getting home from vacation. And then, my dad on voicemail: "Jake, I've got some horrendous news. Sandy just died." They were out to eat, she was talking to some of her colleagues from the hospital who were eating there too, colleagues who sprang into action and tried to revive her, but "it didn't take, it just didn't happen." He sounded distant on the phone, confused.

My therapist asked me why I listen to that voicemail every once in awhile. I told her it bewilders me, trying to understand it and appreciate how it could be so sudden: what did she eat, did she have any inkling, was she ignoring a symptom she hoped would go away? Am I experiencing that symptom right now? I can almost imagine her chest clamping, and the decision that it was just indigestion, something completely normal and not the end. People don't start out hypochondriacs, it turns out.

In January of this year (2024), we'd gone 701 days since the last time I'd communicated with my mom. More than an inch of snow came on January 14th – still not writing.

My brain is a cluster of timelines, deadlines and nostalgia. It's because of work I think: I am tracking too many things, and my system for doing so feels insufficient to the task in a lot of ways. There are plenty of systems and tools that I have experimented with, but for me the core deficiency always comes back to discipline. I am overwhelmed and rely on my memory to keep everything in line.

My therapist offers the pattern: Do you notice how your anxiety tracks with other people's vulnerability? She's in reference to my father, and the heart issues that occurred when he finally caught COVID. "These vulnerabilities make you home in on your own?" My leg, snug in its compression sock, pulses.

I haven't been writing: I've been stuck. I see evidence that it's been longer, but my mother's death was a cleaving moment for me, an opportunity to see two sides drifting apart from one another and I'm on the stuck side of myself.

The substack suggestion I mention above was last summer. I'll see her again in Taiwan in two weeks this April. So many anecdotes have passed in the interim, observations that reinforce this drifting sense of being stuck.

Everything overwhelms; I must prepare. Still not writing, but this kidney stone of a blog post must pass. I need to return to the original mission of my internet writing space. To generate content, and get used to finishing things. I deleted a diatribe from this about discipline, about how the chaos and unpredictability of days just pushes us all along like an invisible, endless river but I just typed myself into it again. I do not finish things because I have not trained that muscle. I get stuck in my head, and ideas and thoughts get backed up to such an extent that decision fatigue sets in just trying to decide where to look.

There will be more to say on this topic, it doesn't all have to be here. That's a lesson worth taking to heart. It'll clear the trail for the next thing. Sooner.