This week has been a tough week. I got bruised and wounded and suddenly missed my mother so much that I found myself one night in the kitchen at eleven o’clock, swamped by Railway Children tears. If you asked me, I would have said I did not get much done. I survived. I was hanging on by my fingernails.
Writing is a dangerous job, because you can always make excuses. Your hours are flexible. It’s tempting to say that you are simply not in a sane, productive frame of mind, so you will do other things. You’ll do what you grandly call research, which generally means wandering about the internet, being distracted by fascinating but entirely irrelevant pieces of information. (This week, for instance, I discovered a tiny village in Russia where the temperature is minus sixty-two and the women have icicles on their eyelashes. It was actually rather a groovy look.)
I did not feel at all productive. I felt a bit battered and a bit flattened.
However, I’m starting a new project and I laughingly think of myself as a professional, so I set my timer and forced myself to get some words on the page. Because of my scattered frame of mind, I convinced myself that I had not done much, simply spun my wheels.
This afternoon, I did a word count. I wrote eleven thousand words this week. Life had taken me out behind the woodshed and duffed me up, but there are those dear old words, existing where there once was nothing. I’ll have to go back and cut and refine and rewrite in the second draft. Many of those words will disappear again. The dead darlings will litter the stage like the bloody corpses at the end of Hamlet. But there are those words, and nobody can take them away from me.
I worked my horses. My five-year-old great-niece came and rode my red mare and smiled with joy and waved her arms in the air as the grand old duchess walked gently round the field. Someone gave me a compliment. I talked to a kind woman about the thickets of psychology and she smiled and said, ‘Thank you, that was really helpful.’ I thought I was banging on, but I had been helpful. Sometimes I think all I want to do now, in this strange time of middle age, is to be helpful. I used to want to win prizes and see my name in the paper. How one’s ambitions change.
I made someone laugh and I paid someone a compliment and I spent one whole evening running round the internet leaving kind comments with little lovehearts under every single photograph or post that made me smile. I quite often do this when I’m feeling doleful. I have this weird theory that when you feel you’ve got nothing left to give, the best thing to do is to give something, even if it is just a little red heart on Facebook. It’s not much, but it is a kind of offering. It's a tiny act of hope.
This is my bad week. The power of the negative internal voices can be so strong sometimes that they wipe out everything else. They are like Donald Trump shouting ‘Fake news.’ They loathe the truth. They are the evil emperors of confirmation bias. They see only what they want to see. I’m damned if I am going to let them win.
So I write down my small things. My good things are all very, very small things indeed. But the small things add up. It was a bad week, and it was a good week. It was a human week. Everybody gets duffed up, from time to time. Everyone feels vulnerable and bruised and wrong. There are mistakes and regrets, searing moments of doubt, the stumbles and the falls.
There are the emeralds in the dung heap, shining in the muck. The dung heap will always be the dung heap, but oh, oh, those glorious, glittering gems.
I suspect that there may be something good in every bad week. It’s just that sometimes you have to dig it out with a pitchfork. I think it is worth the effort.