The Sliding Mind (and a bit about what’s in the mail…)

The Sliding Mind

Van Gogh’s “Woman Sitting on a Basket with Head in Hands”

Last week was a very frustrating and frightening week for me because I temporarily lost the ability to write. Any writer will know that writing is not only something we do to pay the bills or entertain our friends, it’s what we do to stay sane–or happy, or fulfilled, or whatever label we want to give it. So most of us write every day… But last week I couldn’t write.

That looks so innocuous sitting there at the end of a paragraph. That last sentence should actually be accompanied by foreboding music: “Last week I couldn’t write.” Dun dun dun!

It wasn’t writer’s block (as far as I know). I didn’t feel like I was banging up against a brick wall. Rather, last week, every time I tried to sit down at my computer to write for business, or with my yellow notepad and pencil to write for pleasure, my mind simply veered off ever so slightly to the side. Trying to write was very much like trying to catch a fish from a river with oily bare hands. I would sit down with a focus in mind and that focus would slip and slide just out of reach while I tried (with more and more fear and desperation) to catch it and make it stick. By the end of the week my mental health was shot. I was hovering somewhere between depression and insanity, trying mightily to look to the outside world like everything was normal.

Obviously (and thankfully) the curse eventually broke, because I’m writing this right now.  But I wish I knew what caused this “Sliding Mind” phenomenon so I could do everything in my power to ensure it never happens again. Is it a result of Google “chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation” as Nicholas Carr writes in his article in The Atlantic? Do I need to give up the internet? Is it some kind of late-onset ADD? Should I be exploring my options with medication? Or is it simply that even my writing mind needs a vacation once in a while?

I have to say that the whole experience had the feel of a virus–a flu of the mind, so to speak. I feel as if I’m still in the early stages of recovery; like my mind is somewhat weak and wobbly, nourishing itself on crackers and soup, and slow to get back into the old routine. Right now I’m just relieved to be writing again, but somewhere in the back of my mind is the fear that maybe this could happen again someday… and then what would I do?

In The Mail…

On a lighter note, this last week wasn’t all fear and trembling, there were a couple delightful surprises as well. This past week I received two packages of books in the mail. I love getting books in the mail. Love!… But I’ve been told it’s unreasonable to expect family and friends to send me books on a weekly basis, so I’ve had to find other ways to keep the books delivered to my door.

The first package, which arrived on Monday, was my regular Powell’s “Indiespensable” subscription delivery, and it contained an autographed copy of Jeffrey Eugenides’ new book The Marriage Plot, as well as a copy of the Penguin Classics Edition of George Eliot’s Silas Marner.  It was somewhat of a surprise to receive the classic novel in the box, because the Indiespensable companion books are usually something new or not-yet-released which will benefit from some unofficial pre-release chatter. (The last box included an uncorrected proof of The Vanishers by Heidi Julavits, due for release March 2012, as a companion to Erin Morgenstern’s amazing The Night Circus.) But George Eliot is one of my enduring favorites, and after reading about why Marner was included in the box I’m more excited than ever to read both books: “Our inclusion of Silas Marner was greatly inspired by Eugenides’ protagonist Madeleine. Madeleine is many things. But at heart she’s a student of literature; the ‘marriage plot’ of the title refers to her work on the role of marriage in 19th-century novels, and she has a special fondness for those of Jane Austen, George Eliot, and Henry James.” This Madeleine sounds like a character to whom I can relate!

The second package arrived later in the week, and contained my LibraryThing Early Reviewers advance copy of The Western Lit Survival Kit by Sandra Newman. I have a fondness for books about books, and have at least one full shelf devoted to academic criticism, so I’m looking forward to reading this one, described as “an irreverent guide to the classics,” and “a side-splitting tour that makes it a blast to read the western literary canon.” I’ve never read any of Newman’s previous books, so I don’t have any solid ideas of what she’s like as an author, but the back of the book claims that Newman is “on a mission to restore the West’s great works to their rightful place (they were intended to be entertaining!)” This is a mission I support wholeheartedly, and already I’m inclined to read Survival Kit with a favorable eye.

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