From the mind of Megan Arkenberg

August 11, 2010

The View From My Window

Posted by Megan Arkenberg with No comments
I have never been good at _________ honestly.

Fill in that blank with whatever verb you wish. Speaking. Writing. Blogging. Especially blogging. I am by nature a private person, and that’s been reinforced by insecurity in the face of the all-knowing Internet, where your every factual error can be dissected across eight time zones in eight seconds. I have been afraid of offending people, I have been afraid of breaking some unspoken law of blogging—and so I have been vague, two-dimensional. Dishonest.

Four years ago, when I was in high school, I wrote a novelette called “For a Breath of Fresh Air.” It remains one of the most autobiographical things I have written. The opening scene takes place in the study of a mansion overlooking a mental hospital. That mansion is real, and that mental hospital is real. And as I type this, someone I love is in that mental hospital.

I have never been good at talking about mental illness honestly.

Four years ago, putting the words “manic depression” in a notebook, in a piece of fiction, was one of the bravest things I ever did. My understanding of bipolar disorder was—still is—woefully inadequate. All I knew was that it was terrifying to live with, terrifying to talk to, terrifying to watch. It is about unpredictability, about spending every hour of every day in a state of dread because you don’t know what the person you love will do next. It is about throwing yourself into your writing, your make-believe, because that is a place where you have some measure of control. It is about reading a list of panic-attack symptoms when you are sixteen and saying oh, that’s what that is.

It is about learning not to speak honestly. To say “I’m late because of a family emergency” when you mean “I’m late because I’ve been tramping through a swamp for two hours, looking for a missing person.” To say “I guess I didn’t have time to read that chapter” when you mean “I read that chapter three times, but I was thinking about the scary things someone said to me this morning and that’s all I’ve been able to remember.” To say “My life is on hold for a little bit” when you mean “Someone I love attempted suicide.”

So here I am, trying to blog honestly.

I am reading submissions to Mirror Dance and Lacuna as quickly as I can, but some days I can’t get to the computer because I am tramping through a swamp or talking to police or visiting someone in a hospital. I owe stories to several fabulous magazines, but I haven’t written anything decent since April, for the last month I haven’t put pen to paper at all. I have an unedited short story sitting on my hard drive that I can’t look at because it takes place in a mental hospital, and that’s one place I’ve seen too damn much of recently.

So there, all-knowing Internet, is what the inside of my head looks like. I have probably broken several unspoken laws of the internet. I have certainly broken several laws of good writing. I really don’t care. I have done what I set out to do in this post, and now I can get back to work. I feel good right now.


ETA: For those of you worried about my own well being, rest assured that I am not as angry, sad, or scared as this post probably made me seem. I am very, very frustrated, but typing this out--getting the inner monologue out of my brain and onto the page--has helped tremendously. Now, seriously, time to get back to work.

Thank you for listening.


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