Summer vacation is rolling along in its usual lovely way — sunshine, warm temperatures, trips to the cabin and the pool, visits from out-of-province relatives, and lots of relaxing. And projects. Home projects.
A shed is being built in our backyard, by some guys Jason hired. Jason himself, in the after-work hours, is renovating our old treehouse into more of a teen-hangout deck-extension. And I am, somewhat to my own surprise, painting the bedroom.
When I say “surprise,” I’m not surprised it needed to be done. Jason and I last painted our bedroom about the time we moved in to this room, after Emma had come along (she’s 12 now) and we moved Chris into our old room and Emma into the nursery. We painted it a fairly strong dark blue and then, one night, decided it would be a good idea to rag-roll it all over with yellow paint. It was a whimsical idea that was cute for a few years and then got a bit tired, but painting this room is such a hassle we kept putting it off. The amount of books on bookshelves and large items of furniture to be moved around a small space makes it a job we never got around to tackling.
Why am I doing it now? Well, lots of reasons. There’s a general Air of Accomplishment, with all the projects going on. And I am on vacation. We’re going to get a new bedroom window put in next week or the week after, and in the fall Jason is going to put in the built-in bookshelves he’s been promising me, so the universe is converging to make this seem like a good time to paint. But I think, deep down, none of those is the real reason.
The real reason I’m painting my bedroom is that I’m not writing a book.
Usually summer break is my time to dive headfirst into a writing project that I’ve been struggling to find time for during the school year. Last summer, the project was final edits on That Forgetful Shore. I think the summer before it was the first draft of James — or was is something else? The summers run together in my mind but one common thread is that summer days often find me on the back deck, or in the Starbucks at Chapters, or on the viewing deck of the pool where my kids are swimming, tapping away at the keys as I plug away on my latest project.
But this summer, there is no latest project. Since That Forgetful Shore went to press last summer, I have not written anything new. That’s probably one of the longest times I’ve gone without writing something new in my adult life.
When you’re a published writer, one of the things people always ask is, “Are you working on a new book?” Other writers tend to ask, “What are you working on now?” because the assumption is, of course you’re working on something, this is what you do. And I always say vaguely, “Oh, I’ve got a few things on the go,” because I hate talking about projects that aren’t ready to be seen yet. And it’s always true, to some degree or another — except that at the moment it’s not.
Of course, I’m not doing nothing. I’m working, off and on, at getting an older out-of-print book (The Violent Friendship of Esther Johnson) ready to re-release as a self-published e-book. And I’m doing some edits on an unpublished manuscript. But nothing new, nothing that seizes me with that frenzy of creation where the words just pour out and you know three-quarters of them are worthless and will have to be edited out but at this stage, you just don’t care because the story and characters are coming alive and …
Oh well. I’m painting my bedroom.
I know myself and my writer-brain well enough to know why I’m stalled: it has to do with those unpublished books (three to be exact) that I don’t really know what to do with. They don’t fit well with the other work I’ve done, and I haven’t found a home for them, and I keep alternating between tinkering with them to “improve” them, and sending various of them out to agents hoping someone will fall in love with one and get all three published for me. And these unpublished books are taking up a huge amount of space in my brain and making it psychologically difficult for me to move forward with a new project, even though I do have an idea for a new project and it’s a historical novel which the people who like By the Rivers of Brooklyn and That Forgetful Shore will probably also like, so there’s no earthly reason I shouldn’t just start writing it but … well, this is just what it’s like to live in my head.
I will move forward. I will get out of this stuck-place. In the meantime, my house is probably happier. Last week, before I came up with the paint-the-bedroom plan, I got so desperate for entertainment I washed the living room windows, which badly needed to be done but also revealed to me how badly I needed a new writing project. I mean seriously — washing windows? IS THIS WHAT MY LIFE HAS COME TO? I thought I’d hit rock-bottom, until I found myself slapping white primer over the blue-and-yellow rag-rolled bedroom walls.
Maybe I need an intervention. In the meantime, I’ve got to go pick up a gallon of new paint for the bedroom walls ….