Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

In the wilderness: on death, betrayal and fear

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They say you shouldn’t talk personal stuff on the web, because it’s only going to bring grief, but I don’t care.
So this is going to be a strange post – if I’ll ever post it – but let’s start somewhere good.
Let’s start with Emmylou Harris.
While I can’t say to be a country music lover (I am not), I have always loved Emmylou Harris.
Sometimes in 1990, more or less, I caught on the radio Harris singing “Boulder to Bimingham”, and on the following day I got myself the 1975 records, Elite Hotel and Pieces of the Sky.
What a beautiful voice!

Where is this going?
I’m getting there.

The last 18 months have been hard for all of us.
Let’s pat ourselves on the back for surviving all that we’ve been through.

In the last 18 months, I had to sign a paper that means I will never know what happened to the body of my mother, I have lost a good friend who just decided to ghost me, and I have lived in fear of not being able to pay my bills and provide for myself and my brother (no, you don’t get used to that. Never).

The issue with my mother I’ve discussed before. It was like going through her death a second time.
It was spiritually crushing.
But who am I to speak?
I have friends that have lost fathers or mothers, during the pandemic, the cut fresh and deep and impossible to heal.
I was lucky. I was with my mother the day before she died. We talked, we laughed. And later, fifteen years later, I had to sign a paper.
I was lucky. My friends were denied all that.
So, glass half full here – the whole cemetery shenanigan was no big thing, in the great scheme of things.
But it was tough.

Harder, and more painful, was being dropped from the life of an old friend.
Why?
I have no idea.
No explanation, no fights, no fuck you!, no nothing.
Quite simply, one morning rises as any other morning, and you have become unacceptable.
Why?
Your guess is as good as mine.

Now friends, in what we might call the writer’s community when we take ourselves too seriously, are important.
They are family. Brothers in arms, we support each other, we try and offer a chance for a good laugh in dark moments, we read each other’s manuscripts, we plan strategies, we try to make sense of what’s going about.
It’s a strange form of kinship, that can be purely formal in some cases (the sort of kinship I might feel, say, for my favorite writers of the past), but true affection and “we’re in this mess together pal,” attitude I share with the guys that started at the same time I did, working the same fields.
We share ideas, plots, characters. We know each other’s aliases. We’re part of the same conspiracy.
Being dropped without a fuck you too! hurts.
And more important, it is disorienting. Writers want to know how stories end, want to know the hows and whys of what happens, it’s our genetic makeup, so to speak.
Ceasing to exist, from one minute to the next, leaves a sense of betrayal that is impossible to heal – because there are no explanations. It leaves behind unanswered questions, and to some minds these questions can be a poison.
It can be crushing.
It can impact negatively your productivity.
Because we do not believe in the block, of course, but dropping from 2000 to 100 words a day can be a true tragedy.
An existential threat.
Because words pay for light and food and security, and now they’re down to 5%.

This is where fear comes in.
Fear of not making in.
Fear of the postman, that brings bills to pay.
Fear of the bank account slowly going down.

It can be crippling.

The last time I felt like this
I was in the wilderness

or so Emmylou Harris used to sing – and it is true.
It’s not the first time that this strange cocktail of death and betrayal and fear cripples me.

The last time I felt like this was in my first year of university.
Thirty-five years ago.
In the space of a brief summer all my highschool friends vanished (snaps fingers for effect), and then my best friend died in a motorbiking accident.
And I was so shattered I did not go to his funeral.
Some guilt we carry with us forever.
And upon enrolling in university, I found myself completely alone.
Nobody to talk to, nobody to read my stories.

I was in the wilderness.

I read my books, I listened to music, I wasn’t able to put a single word to paper that was not for test or exams, and I was generally pretty unhappy.
This – incidentally – is the reason why I usually say I do not remember the years between 1993 and 1999. Not really.

So, how did I get out of it?
(because – spoilers! – I did)
I took a long vacation from it all.

And that’s what I did in the last two months – because it was not working anyway, and I had to make the most of the little I could manage to do.
Because if you only have 5% of the old words in yourself, and those must pay the bills, you cannot spend them on a blog post.

So there, I’ve been away for a while.
I still don’t have any answers to those questions.
But I am back.

And right now I am listening to Emmylou Harris, but might switch to Erroll Garner later. Or to J.S. Bach.
Or to Tokyo Jihen.

I’m back.
Expect more posts, and thanks for your patience while I was in the wilderness.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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