Thursday, July 1, 2021

Elena Bentley: My (Small Press) Writing Day Night


If you hadn’t guessed from the title, I’m nocturnal. I exist on what I’ve dubbed “Vampire Time.” I think I’m this way partly because I’m just wired for the night and partly out of habit. The habit aspect started when I was a kid: I’d lie down in bed, then the wasp nest in my gut would start to hum and the invasive thoughts would intrude, and well—there goes any easy fall into sleep. The hive, which is still active today, is fueled by severe anxiety, OCD, and panic disorder (the usual can’t-sleep culprits). About five years ago, I also found out that I have a pineal cyst (Google it, if you’re interested); the pineal gland is known to help regulate melatonin. So whether physiologically or habitually caused, I am a night writer.

Putting the hive and cyst aside, nighttime is simply less distracting. The phone quiets. Texts (mostly) cease. Highway traffic slows down. No one knocks on the door (not that anyone has knocked on the door during the last pandemic year, but still). Save for the appliances’ electric buzzing, and the occasional siren sound coming from the bedroom (from the cheesy WW2 movie that my husband has inevitably fallen asleep watching), I’m alone with my thoughts. And I’m so grateful to have the privilege of this solitude.

Until last September, I worked a day job (surprising, right?). I enjoyed parts of it, but I knew this position wasn’t for me. For my health—both physical and mental—I decided to quit my job. I was born with a degenerative/progressive muscle disease called Charcot Marie Tooth (see Google). Given how much pain, stiffness, or numbness I experience everyday, a full-time job (or grad school before that) meant I didn’t have a lot of spoons left for writing (Google “Spoon Theory”). Quitting to devote myself to writing and editing was one of the best things to come out of 2020.

My writing nights don’t always follow the same pattern. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how or where I sit, or how much I fidget and change positions, some part of me hurts. Or a part of me tingles, and it feels like ants are running all over my back and neck, making it difficult to concentrate. You have to write when you can, you know? And thank goodness for heating bags (the kind made with beans or grains) because getting through the night without one would be rough.

I’ll use the Notes app on my phone in a pinch, but I prefer pencil and paper (a good ol’ Cahier d’exercices—like the ones from grade school). I don’t like loose paper. I want all my words stuck together. My pencil, a mechanical size 0.7 mm (if you’re curious), only seems to work at night. Especially poetry. The best lines come to me when I’m exhausted, and the boundary between awake and asleep is extra blurry.

I do, occasionally, write and work in the daytime. Zoom meetings and Skypes and Facetime poetry workshops with poet friends happen during the day. But for the most part, my writing nights go like this:

·       Sometime between 10:00 p.m. and midnight, I settle in to read and write. I fill my water bottle and probably grab a snack. I used to need silence in order to write, but with the humming in my ears (Tinnitus), I turn on a fan or a Netflix show in the background to drown it out. Then I head to my desk (or the couch, or the kitchen table, or the reclining chair—whichever my body feels best in).

·       First I read and respond to emails, then I check Submittable (which I have likely done at least twice already since waking). If I have impending deadlines, I (try) to work on those projects first; if not, I work on my own writing. (I’m currently in the early stages of writing a collection of poetry, so lately I start my process by reading books by other disabled poets. I pick up whatever’s closest, and read for inspiration. I am thankful for the words of Roxanna Bennett, Therese Estacion, Dominik Parisien, Molly McCully Brown, and Susannah Nevison).

·       After a wee bit of reading, I freewrite. For as long as it feels productive. Or, if I have a poem on the go and it’s begging me to work on it, I will indulge the poem and edit it. I try to freewrite on paper, hands willing, then I transfer my scribbles to a Word doc.

·       If the writing flows, I’ll work right up until the morning light begins to sneak in from behind the curtains. If I’m tired and I’ve finished any deadline work, or the muses have gone silent, I might bead or crochet (I find I often need a wind-down before bed).

·       Depending on pain and anxiety levels (or if I have any meetings or appointments to attend that day), I might get a little sleep (or I might need a lot). I’ll wake up when the sun is shining, just in time to have breakfast with my husband (well, his second lunch as he has an insatiable Hobbit-like appetite). Then, during whatever daylight hours are left, I do any chores I’ve put off, try to go outside for a walk or bike ride, and later, when the moon is high and the world goes quiet, I come alive and my writing night starts all over again.

I used to fight against my body’s natural circadian rhythm. Try to force myself into someone else’s idea of a work schedule, confined to the nine-to-five coffin. Now I listen to my body. To what my body needs. Some nights I can’t physically work or write, which I’m learning is okay. I write when my body and my mind are able. And, I’m pretty sure I’m a vampire… so there’s also that to consider.   





Elena Bentley is a disabled poet, writer, and editor living in Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis Nation. She is of Métis and mixed ancestry. She holds an MA in English from the University of Toronto. Her poetry has been published in Arc Poetry Magazine, Kiiyaanaan Aykwaa: Us Now, and spring magazine, and is forthcoming in the anthology Apart: A Year of Pandemic Poetry and Prose and The Malahat Review. Elena is the poetry editor for untethered magazine. Follow her attempts at making social media posts @_elenabentley_


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