Doldrums Alert

December 21, 2009 at 4:06 am (Uncategorized)

I started my self-injections last night. It wasn’t too bad, just a small prick of pain as the needle went in and then a tiny degree of discomfort counting out the ten seconds after the dose. No big deal. No wild mood swings so far today, although I did get emotional on Saturday. I felt lonely, and I felt like I’d been doing all this fertility stuff completely by myself. As I said to Llew, it’s impossible knowing whether it’s the drugs talking or not – because I’m on the drugs, so I can’t say how I’d be feeling were I not – but I was definitely feeling pretty blue. He’s had a lot of Christmas things on – team drinks, work drinks, mates’ drinks, a business dinner, a boys’ lunch – and he’s been working really hard all year so naturally wants and deserves to blow off some steam, but that’s left me frequently alone at a time when I am not only unable to make a raft of alternate arrangements for myself – because I’m supposed to be taking it easy and looking after myself – but when I am feeling especially vulnerable. It’s been a bad combination.

And there’s no question I’m more sensitive to perceived slights at the moment than I would otherwise be; in a much more general sense, I’ve been feeling left out, excluded, overlooked, forgotten… pretty sorry for myself, in other words. By Saturday, I honestly couldn’t remember the last time Llew had even asked me how I was feeling (of course now he’s already called twice today, checking up on me), and I could rattle off a list of people who either haven’t responded to sometimes multiple efforts of mine to keep in touch or who seem unable or unwilling to ever go first. It gets tiring, being that person. And it’s enormously deflating seeing who I hear from when I fall silent; most people don’t say another word until they hear from me again. I like to think that most of the time I manage the juggling act between different friendship groups reasonably well; I put a lot of work into it, at any rate, and I try really hard. But having dropped all the balls – which I have done in recent months, just too exhausted and with my own things to worry about – I feel I’ve sort of been dropped too. So I guess I am taking stock of many things – some of this is rank self-pity, I know that, but some of it isn’t – and reflecting on all my relationships, not just the one I share with Llew.  The funny thing is, I suspect many people feel the same way, and might even describe themselves as the ones who are always making the effort with me, so perhaps this is just the way it goes.

Anyway, in keeping with the general stench of failure attending my own work, one of the other Darklings had a disappointment last week when she didn’t place in a short story competition that shall remain nameless. The winning story left her completely underwhelmed, not to mention depressed about her new piece, so I searched for the winner online and read the story myself. Well, it’s no wonder she wasn’t impressed: it’s not very good. Actually, it’s really quite bad. The precise words I used in my email of commiseration were ‘sentimental, clunky and cliched.’  I’m gobsmacked not only that such a mediocre story could have won but that the Darkling’s clearly superior story could be simultaneously overlooked. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s really, really hard coming to terms with the essentially random rather than meritorious nature of competitions such as this one; we place so much stock in them, and expect judges to be better than fair arbiters of literary worth. But a result such as last week’s exposes this faith as a complete fallacy, and there’s enormous liberation in that.

Sometimes prizes go to undeserving winners. Sometimes a terrible story will beat out a field of great ones. Sometimes a mediocre writer will rise and rise and rise, scrambling over far more talented people, kicking them in the head on their way past. It doesn’t make any sense, but it happens. And so I think the lesson for us, the five Darklings as well as other beginner writers, is to recognise now – and never forget – that these forums, these crushing judgements, do not really succeed as a measure of anyone’s work. They’re simply too flawed and strange and subjective for that. We look to these contests to be something they cannot be, which is the unimpeachable answer to our prayers, a kind of Platonic form, a defining yes or no about whether what we have done has truth and beauty and worth. That’s why they’re so utterly devastating, why it’s so crushing when we don’t get anywhere. But now I think we need to embrace the freedom inherent in the system’s flaws and inadequacies. Sometimes they’re wrong. They don’t need to be wrong all the time, and of course they’re not, and often we don’t get anywhere for no other reason than we don’t deserve to, but because they’re wrong sometimes, just sometimes, well, they lose some of their authority, which makes it easier, I think, for any writer to simply accept the verdict and carry on.

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13 Comments

  1. kate4samh said,

    Perspective is a funny thing. I have been struggling a bit myself lately which is one reason I’m a bit quiet, but I’ve also been carefully trying to give you some space. I will try to call you sometime this week, and will definitely do so on Christmas Day. I’ve been thinking of you if that helps? 🙂

  2. doctordi said,

    Kate, darling, you and I generally fall into the ‘regular contact’ basket, there’s no problem there!! But equally, I am sorry to hear you’re struggling – I didn’t know. This is the other side of the coin, of course, in which I am exposed as woefully wrapped up in myself!!

  3. litlove said,

    Wow – I wish I had a sister like Kate! Anyhoo, amen to those sentiments about competitions. I often read ‘winning’ entires and think – eh? For whatever reason was this chosen? Taste in writing is SO subjective. You just keep doing what you do, and there will be people who love it and people who hate it, and every shade in between. Eventually you’ll find someone who loves it in a position to help you out professionally. That’s why persistence is the key.

    I’m really sorry to hear you’ve been feeling down. Of course you need to be held – in arms, in thoughts, in words, while you do something scary like the IVF. But I’ll also bet those drugs are involved in your emotions. I remember the last ones you took had a big effect that stopped as soon as you stopped the dosage. Are you keeping a diary of your feelings (physical and emotional) at the moment? It might help as you track the progress of each month, to notice flash points and patterns. Any way, good luck and give yourself lots of comfort – rest, healthy food, pleasurable occupation. Whatever it takes to keep you feeling right in yourself.

    • doctordi said,

      This short story comp was the PERFECT illustration of that, LL. What was a fairly lame duck to me was moving and convincing to the judge… confounding!!

      That’s a good idea, a diary. I did start one but more along the lines of something to give a little friend one of these days, if he or she ever shows up. Perhaps I need to start one that’s more pragmatic. But yes, I agree, I remember the Clomid Cloud and think these are probably the Synarel Sulks.

    • doctordi said,

      Yes, she’s a good sister, isn’t she?!

  4. Pete said,

    Don’t know if this helps but I think a bit of wallowing is actually good for you right now! It is scary to take IVF drugs and it sounds painful and lonely. Sorry. Sending you lots of good and supportive thoughts in the next few days. I also think a lot of people are quite distracted and a bit frantic this time of year so it’s inevitable that they maybe don’t reach out as much.

    • doctordi said,

      Thanks, Pete, I may wallow at will! But yes, I do think everyone’s feeling it, everyone’s been under the pump professionally all year, and now this is a really intensive personal phase in which family members start giving each other hell as well as holly, and there’s not much energy left over to start fussing over temporarily fragile friends – especially when no one really knows I for one am feeling that way. I’m pretty hardy, generally speaking, so I think people mostly assume I’m dandy.

  5. Charlotte said,

    Prizes are terrible for writers, unless you win them. And even then, I imagine, they have their other weirdnesses and give you a false sense of what your work is.

    A friend of mine told me a couple of years ago why I felt so crap about prize lists, and one’s demeaning hopes to be on them – she said it’s because it puts you back in the school room, with your hand raised with the answer and the teacher picks everyone but you, who have done good work, and all you want is for teacher to recognise you, and give you a star. I felt so relieved after that, having someone actually figure out why it made me feel like crap.

    Apart from that, prizes are anti-literature. I put a sticky note on my window back then – “a book is not a racehorse”. It’s a good thing to remember.

    • doctordi said,

      Yes, Charlotte, someone said to me recently that winning a short story prize right at the start was probably the worst thing that could have happened to them, because everything that followed – being rejected, not being listed, on and on and on – felt like a terrible failure. “Winning” is such an odd concept when it comes to any artistic endeavour, as is “losing.” It’s a shame, really, that the publishing world relies so heavily on both ideas.

  6. Grad said,

    Be good to yourself. Bingle Jells!

    • doctordi said,

      Just how many Christmas drinkies have you had, Graddikins?!

  7. Lilian Nattel said,

    I’m sorry it’s rough now. IVF isn’t a picnic and neither are holidays. Carrying on is good advice. There’s so much around us that says winning is what life’s about but it really isn’t.

  8. doctordi said,

    I agree, Lilian. Ask any winner how they feel about winning and you’ll soon find it’s never that simple.

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