“Jane Austen wrote like that until the end of her days. ‘How she was able to effect all this,’ her nephew writes in his memoir, ‘is surprising, for she had no separate study to repair to, and most of the work must have been done in the general sitting room, subject to all kinds of casual interruptions. She was careful that her occupation should not be suspected by servants or visitors of any persons beyond her own family party.’ Jane Austen hid her manuscripts or covered them with a piece of blotting-paper.”
I had fibromyalgia for many years, and came to agree with the doctors who told me it was a sleep disorder. Now that I am free of its constant pain, I cherish a good night’s sleep. The only other person I’ve known who was so enamored of sleep was a Greek man who remembered having to get up pre-dawn in the Army. Ruined him. A lot of my writing is done in my sleep – I wake up in the morning with the resolution of a challenge, a few choice words, a title to something, an idea for a new project, whatever. I also used sleep when I was studying foreign languages – I read over the vocabulary lists before I went to sleep and remembered them better in the morning. When your mind is asleep, it is still prioritizing, analyzing, and digesting ideas and intentions. Insomnia doesn’t happen often, and one reasons is that I have become familiar with a practice called YOGA NIDRA. There are places online where you can be guided through various Yoga Nidra sessions. I use yogaglo.com. The number one pick on Google is https://www.doyogawithme.com/content/yoga-nidra-sleep and I nearly conked out while evaluating it for you. Here are two yoga practices which put me to sleep without fail.
- While lying on your back, breathe in on a count of three, hold for three, breathe out for three. Breathe in for four, hold for four, breathe out for four. Continue until you reach fifteen. You’ll feel a touch of oxygen deprivation when you get into the higher numbers (which might be the secret of this exercise). If you aren’t asleep by then, count backwards to three.
- Begin by tracing, in your mind, the outline of your pinky toe, then your fourth toe, until you have finished the toes. Trace the tendons running from the toes to the heels (try to identify them in your mind), go around your ankle and up the shin, then down the back of the shin, circle your knee (I am sure to make an “x” I front of the knee where the ACLs are), up the front and back of your thigh, around your hip, into your hip joint, out around the back of your sacrum. Then do the same with your other leg. From your hip, move upward to outline your liver, gall bladder, spleen, large intestine, small intestine (I’m getting sleepy just writing all of this), the full length and width of your lungs, your pancreas, you heart and all its chambers, your thyroid gland, thymus, down your throat, around the back of your neck, your shoulder joints, then outline your fingers, wrist, forearm, upper arm on both sides. If you’re not asleep yet, trace the line of the jaw right into the joint, then trace your teeth, outline your tongue, relax your lips, outline your sinuses, honor the pituitary gland, which sits right behind your nose, your eyes, being sure to relax all the little muscles surrounding the eyes, make your eyes into two lakes, the eyebrows, outline the ears, making sure to hit every little nook and cranny. Let your remaining thoughts ascend through the top of your head into the air.
So happy that my website is back and I can post again. I have a few ideas backed up after being away from my own little publishing machine for a few weeks. Several years ago I submitted a long article to a top-flight magazine –start at the top and work your way downward. A publicist friend warned me, “Don’t send it to them. They’ll take the information and assign the article to someone better known than you are. I’ve seen it happen a dozen times.” Hubris overtook me, though. I was sure that the information uncovered in a year of research would be unfamiliar and useful. The subject was the history of abortion, and I wrote the article after a student in one of my classes wrote, “I wish we could go back to the days before Roe v. Wade when there were no abortions.” Being of an age to remember the days before Roe, I knew her assumption was wrong, but it was surprising how small a part of the general conversation dealt with the millennia, or even the decades, preceding Roe. I got a note acknowledging the submission and then heard nothing. Two months later a long article about abortion appeared in that magazine (the first such article I can remember) using swaths of my research and some of my analysis. It was written by a Harvard professor who had an agenda which differed from mine, but my research served her well. Railing against this practice would have been a futile waste of energy. A professional author has to know how to protect herself against this kind of plagiarism, which cannot be proven. There’s a minuscule chance that the Harvard professor never saw my submission, but the pattern of presentation, the nature of the analysis, and the sources perfectly matched it, and it had been sent only two months earlier, about the right amount of time for a busy professor to pull together an article, especially since she just had to rejigger it and add her own ideas. The principle motivation for writing it was to inform others on a subject which affects everyone, not only the one-third of American women who have had an abortion. Ignorance on this subject is skewing the debate. I was glad the information got out there, and I gained confidence. If I could write one article of interest to a major outlet, I could write another, and I learned a business lesson that I won’t soon forget. This is an unethical practice, but the business world is full of unethical practices. It is up to me to figure out a way to circumvent them. I am so grateful to have income from Social Security so I can fail without fear of poverty. Finances aside, it’s hard to swallow a lesson like this one, especially since I had been warned. But it’s never too late to learn a little humility. What should I do with my next good article?
In Daring to Date Again, I write about my own life and other peoples’ lives, thus running into legal or moral issues about what to include in the story. The book is about what happened when I started to date at sixty, and I met most of the men involved through dating sites, so there were hundreds of emails. After exchanging emails, I met some of the men, but most of them I never met in person. I am forever entitled to write about my own experiences, but those men wrote about the regrets and problems of present or past relationships, details about their lives that they would not like others to know about, and in some cases, the very fact that we were in touch would have been compromising. I had to proceed on the premise that a lot of people might read the book; writing with the idea that "nobody will ever read it" would have been crippling. After publication, after a lawsuit has been filed, it’s too late to retract. One of the men I wrote about is a lawyer who treasures his privacy so much that he avoided even writing emails. I took particular care to change all the details about him – what he looked like, where he worked and came from, and so on. On the other hand, some recent memoirs have been discredited because they were partly fiction, so for protection I have an overflowing carton containing printouts of hundreds of emails supporting the authenticity of the facts and people discussed in the book. Since this is the twenty-first century, there was not a single physical letter in an envelope. I couldn't use long excerpts from emails without the writer’s permission, even if I didn’t use the sender’s real name, or if he had died. It was so tempting – the emails gave a whiff of the personality of the sender that was better shown than told about. Emails can be anonymous for as long as the sender wishes. There is no postmark. I didn’t know where my correspondents lived or even if I had their real names. Many used only their first name. Sometimes we only shared a single email. I sent a waiver to the policeman who was my first relationship in twelve years. We had kept in touch by phone even after we both married other people. He said sure he would sign it, but he never did, then apologized for not doing it. I used short quotes from the emails I needed for the story, which is acceptable. In order to use one of my favorite poems, The World Seen By Moonlight, by Jane Hirshfield. I wrote the publisher asking for a waiver. Hirshfield herself responded, saying how delighted she was that I wanted to use more than just a snippet. The publisher sent me a waiver form and wrote that I would have to wait a month or so for a response. They would let me know the cost involved. I used a snippet. With regret. I received a waiver from the daughter of the author of the poem used as an introduction. Some men had lied or behaved badly, and I would have relished using their real names, though the guy from Texas was such an asshole that I doubt his neighbors and family need my book to realize that. The man who said he and his wife had decided to have an open marriage when she had said no such thing will have to find his own hell (which, according to him, was his marriage). People ask me how I found the courage to sally out into the world as I did. They wouldn’t suspect how cowed I was by my own mother. I might not have written it if she had been alive, though I accepted that my children would read it at some point, and the happy ending to the story, my husband Terry, has read it. The book is not as salacious as lots of other books, and those authors have children. They also have mothers, but oh well. In the end, a writer’s obstacles are more within her than in the law or even the rules of civilized behavior. Here’s Annie Dillard’s advice: One of the few things I know about writing is this: Spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Don’t hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The very impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful; it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.