I’m not writing at the moment. In truth, I haven’t written any fiction for months. If you follow me on Instagram you’ll have noticed a lot of posts of my sewing, knitting and other fibre arts, lately. That is partly because in November last year I decided to challenge myself to be wearing only home-made (or ethically made) clothes by November 2018 but mostly its because it’s pretty much all I’ve been able to do for several months.
It’s not my words that have failed me (though I did embarrass myself miming a chainsaw to my real estate agent a couple of weeks ago). I can put sentences together and edit them, I still have ideas for stories and scenes I can even tell structurally where those scenes should go in a story but when I sit down to write I cannot visualize them. I know not everyone writes that way (in fact some people have complete afantasia) but for me the inablity to visualize anything that isn’t a memory means I cannot write.
At first, about 9 months ago (just when I was in talks about ‘something exciting’ re: The War of Wind and Moon) I thought I was anxious, scared of success or some other psychological block. But then I started recognizing a worsening in my CFS. I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome back in 1997 after 3 years of tests as my health deteriorated until I was housebound. The whole episode lasted about 5 years before I started improving. I’ve been fairly lucky since then – unable to do anything much requiring exertion except in random bursts (for which I know I’ll pay, though willingly) but living a satisfying life filled with words and stories and travel with a partner who knew my limitations and didn’t think twice about adjusting to them.
About 7 months ago I couldn’t ignore that I was simply falling asleep a couple of times a day for hours at a time, getting nauseated every time I travelled in a car, had my first full-on migraine headache in 5 or 6 years and, the big tell-tale: simply could not make basic decisions like what to have for lunch, or which socks to put on, let alone which path a character should take. I’d felt this way before – in 1994 when I first became ill in the middle of my honours year in Philosophy, and had to pull out. The thought of spiralling into the state I’d reached by 1996 was terrifying but my darling Superman reminded me that things are different now.
In 2017 we know what this is instead of having to fight for doctors to listen and then get the diagnosis – a diagnosis which doctors now take more and more seriously as the studies into CFS have shown that it is, indeed, a genuine disfunction of the immune and energy production systems. In 2017 we know what will help and we can adjust accordingly.
So, 6 months ago we made a life change. We moved from our apartment on the main road to Melbourne’s CBD to a lovely country village an hour down the freeway from Melbourne’s CBD (to which Superman commutes to the same job each day). I loved our city apartment, it was big as apartments go and it had a wonderful view but as I became less able to get out I was starting to feel like a princess trapped in a tower. Here in the country we have a large house with a spare room for visitors to stay and plenty of space to potter around in, with big windows that look out to a garden (well, a lawn but I’m potting up some herbs etc.) surrounded by trees which fill with Magpies that sing all day. At 500m above sealevel, the weather is cooler than the city by several degrees which immediately helps my migraines and my circulation (heat is not my friend). The pace here is gentler, kinder, friendlier – it seems cliche but it’s true!
Most important of all, we are allowed to have a cat here, and any of you who follow my on Instagram will have seen Oggie (named for Ogma, Irish god of writing). He has become my instant familiar, napping with me and helping me with all my sewing and knitting.
On my better days, I can walk to my doctor or to the shops in the village and we stock up on amazing local food and produce at the farmers’ market each month. We’ve solved my decision-making problem by trying to take as many decisions as possible away – like having meal recipes and ingredients delivered so I still get to cook (with wonderful ingredients) but have no decisions to make!
But what’s this got to do with all the crafty stuff? Well, I decided I needed some kind of project/purpose that wasn’t about flogging myself trying to write and I had been fretting about buying clothes made by exploited workers when I had the skills (and enjoy them) to make my own clothes. I put all that together and challenged myself: by 2018, everything in my wardrobe will be handmade, mostly by me but possibly also by people I can identify and who weren’t exploited. Of course, the cost of such ethically made clothes is enormous so mostly that means I’ll be making it. My decision will be minimal because I will be restricted by my skill lol!
As I embarked on this “slow fashion challenge” after we had moved, I soon realized that it was exactly what I needed. I was reminded that I had both skills and passions that had nothing to do with writing and my fear and I stopped flogging myself. I worried a little as I faced patterns – both for knitting and sewing and found I couldn’t visualize the steps but I found that if I follwed the patterns step by step I soon remembered the motions, the feel of the fabric or yarn and it was as though my hands knew what to do. In the case of my first knitted piece, I abandoned patterns altogether and just let my 40 years of knitting and the beautiful yarn I’d had in a box since I bought it in Tokyo in 2009 guide me and I created something I’m genuine proud of. I have a lot of practice and brushing up to do but it seems to be using an entirely different part of my brain to which I still have access!
So, for now I’m going to stick to what I can do – if/when that’s writing again, then that will be wonderful but until then I’m going to be kind to myself as I’d tell any of my friends to be. To those of you who are waiting for more of The War of Wind and Moon, I’m truly sorry but it will be a while. In the mean time, I’ll soon be sharing some of the work that inspired my love of Japan and Japanese Mythology in a new podcast (I can still read!) and helping other writers in their own self publishing journeys (something I’ve been doing already and finding such joy in!) I’ll be sharing more personal posts rather than the fiction that dominated last year, and probably sharing lots about my slow fashion challenge, about learning how to make everything right down to socks and lingerie, and the new crafts I’ve taken up (mostly thanks to my Aunt) – weaving and, this month, spinning my own yarn!
Wishing you all creativity, courage and love in all you do,