When I woke up this morning, a dragonfly perched on my nose, tickling it, making my sleep-soggy brain think that maybe I had to sneeze, or maybe I was being overrun by spiders, or maybe a lone owl feather had drifted through a crack in the ceiling onto my face. I opened my eyes just in time to see the iridescent blue sliver flit away. Transfixed, I watched her spiral higher and higher, toward the hall light I had forgotten to turn off the night before. We all know what happens to insects when they fly into the light, but I didn’t warn her. Instead, I buried my face in the pillow, unwilling to bear witness to her fate, unwilling to remember anything but the beauty of her body revealed to me as a miracle in the soft, pre-dawn glow.
This interlude with the dragonfly is my biggest newsflash. The most exciting thing that has happened to me in ages. Which is glorious. I’m sick of excitement.
I’m hiding in a cabin in the woods right now. I told my friends and family I was going away for a few weeks, but it’s been a few months, and I’m still not ready to come out. Every day I think, maybe soon, I will return to the real world. Every day, I open my email inbox and decide, “Nah.”
I wonder if I’m depressed. I don’t think I am. I’m not particularly unhappy. I’ve been clinically depressed, and it felt much more doom-infused than this. This is more of an unending “meh.” Not about everything though. I’m “meh” about Facebook. And happy hours. And parties. Dragonflies get my blood pumping, as do trees and sunsets. Solitary starry nights blow my mind.
Another thing I’m meh about right now: my writing career. In 2014, Simon & Schuster released my first novel, Beauty of the Broken. It won some big awards, including the ILA. And that’s how every writer’s fantasy life begins, right? That’s when you ride off into the sunset on your yacht to have mimosas with Oprah while she waxes euphoric about the sublime intricacy of your prose. That is the big finish line.
But it wasn’t. It was just another starting line, and ever since I sold that book, and then two others, I’ve been running a marathon, only it’s a not quite a marathon, because a marathon has an ending point, a goal, and this doesn’t. My main job now is to “stay relevant.”
“Put yourself on social media,” my publishers say, and I do. “Go on a book tour!” “Meet your fans!” “Speak at some colleges!” Done, done, and done. I keep writing things, and selling them, and meeting people who read them, and while all of this is lovely, it’s starting to feel utterly pointless. Like I’m a hamster on a wheel. I never get anywhere. There is no payoff. As I’m reading at my latest book launch, my agent is messaging, asking me how the next one is coming. The day a story comes out in a journal, I’m already over it, onto another piece. When I put pen to paper, I hear the voices of every critic, every editor, every fan, screaming in my head, telling me what I should be writing. I have lost my own vision for my words.
It’s not that I’m not writing in this cabin, mind you. It’s just that I’m not writing anything I’m sure anyone else will ever want to read. I guess I’m trying to write for my heart instead of the market, and the market isn’t as big into dragonfly encounters as it once was. (Henry David Thoreau, I’m looking at you.)
So here I am, schlepping around in my hoodie and sweats, no makeup, thank you very much, ignoring emails, refusing to engage with social media, missing networking mixer after networking mixer, trying to remember why I started this writing thing in the first place, recalling a time when the words themselves were their own payoff. Inspiration had something to do with the way a dragonfly’s feet feel when they tickle your nose, with the staccato dance a woman’s heart enacts when she opens her eyes and realizes she’s been visited by a miracle. There was a time when life was an unending series of wonders, epiphanies so splendid I had to write about them. I want that back. So I’m hermitting it up out here in the boonies, mining for miracles.
Huddled on my porch, I stare up at the stars tonight, watching them dazzle and sizzle. I ask them when my marketable words will come back to me. “Who cares?” they answer.
I swallow a gulp of mountain air and take a sip of pinot. They are smart, those stars. No wonder I’ve made them my best friends.