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Hi, loves. 🌿
These last few weeks I seem to have lost the plot. On most things? My work, my life, the state of our home, various friendships, bureaucratic matters (all those camp forms), planning, the world at large (war, Covid, climate change).
Losing the plot is an expression (or is it just a funny phrase?) I learned from my beloved Irish friend in Vienna, and I immediately fell in love with it, the way it so vividly encapsulates the feeling of falling off the rails, of wandering aimlessly through the days and the weeks, untethered to some former narrative, only to wake up one day and say, Wait, wasn’t this whole storyline meant to go somewhere?
I just inhaled Julie Otsuka’s phenomenal The Swimmers, which spends an inordinate amount of time wandering, plotless, through a community (a cult?) of lap swimmers at the local, underground pool. The setting and culture of the place are so devastatingly rendered that it is enough to keep us reading for pages and pages without any nod toward plot, or really even much toward any individual character (instead we learn about “the swimmers” in a collective voice). It isn’t until page 35 that an inciting incident occurs and a plot is very, very slowly set in motion. (Page 35 is not that late, but this book is only 175 pages long.) And yet, even as the story is propelled forward, it still resists the predictable structure we sometimes expect from novels: A then B then C. I never quite knew where this one would take me, which is the best kind of reading there is.
This is how I’ve been feeling about life these days. It is packed with people and things and obligations and routines and so many fucking meals but with no clear pathway forward, no momentum, no shining goal to reach for. My planner from earlier in the year was tight with plans and goals and to-dos, written in clear, crisp handwriting. I’d figured something out, I thought. The “Top 3 Goals”—per this journal—written down plainly every week (write 4 days, meditate 2x/day, beach walk on Thursday), and then the supposedly less important below (plan poems, pay city taxes, pay for N’s dance). So many check marks! So much accomplished! I was on a roll! I have no idea what any of it meant, to be on this kind of roll, but I wanted it to mean something so I kept writing it down in order to cross it off.
These days my weekly to-dos are empty. Not because I have nothing to do (hahaha) but because I can’t even be bothered writing any of it down. I’m grappling with an annoying health thing — really, I’m fine, fine, fine — but it means that I feel like I’m moving through molasses, and whatever momentum or drive I felt earlier in the year is gone. Wasn’t I meant to be writing a novel? Meditating twice a day? Walking at the beach? Swimming on a strict Tuesday/Thursday 8am schedule? Wasn’t that all meant to make me happier, healthier, more productive and calmer?
See! I’ve lost the plot. None of those things are happening.
In fact, it was in a moment of panic about plot that my little peep of a minuscule novel suddenly seemed awful to me. Where’s the plot? I don’t know how to build I plot! This thing is all over the place! I panicked. (I’m an essayist! Who cares about plot!) Forget that every single person I’ve ever talked to about plot has said that plot emerges out of character. That it is revealed one sentence at a time. Forget about the fact that this makes perfect sense to me in an essay; that my wanderings in this form feel like a natural part of the process and hardly ever cause me genuine panic.
It is so easy to look around — especially online — and feel that I’m the only one who has lost the plot (in my life and in my writing). Online is where people share their sold and published books, and post happy pictures of their families all getting along, and their maskless far-flung adventures. Offline is where I am being whispered the truth: the marriage feels fractured and awful. The kids hate and hit each other. Everyone got Covid from that trip and one of us is still mysteriously ill. The book took six years and eighteen agents and I hated every moment of writing it.
I’m having so much trouble reconciling these wild swings in reality. Are we…okay? Why the performance?
Whenever I feel myself spiraling into feelings of plotlessness — this is how it feels to me, more of a sense of aimlessness, of laziness, rather than of outright failure — I am reminded of advice from two artist friends who seem, without knowing each other, to agree on the most fundamental of fundamentals: you commit to showing up. You see what’s urgent and of interest to you in that moment. That’s it.
Forget the marketplace, forget other people, forget your old self and its desires, what you’re “meant” to do, what will “sell,” forget your mother or partner or children who will hate it/you for it. Forget other people’s everything. What does the you, right now, sitting down at the computer or with the notebook or standing at easel or inside the dance studio want to play around or experiment with?
Easier said than done, I know. I know! But I’m right there with you, in the difficulty and exhilaration of simply showing up.
✨ WRITING CLASSES! We had a wonderful time on Sunday at April’s intro class. One more left until September, at the end of MAY! It’s a loving, calm Sunday morning. I would love, love, love to see you there. Come again! Send your friends! Take a leap! The water is nice and warm! Here are some things people are saying about class. ✨