Every year, I stall in the December Doldrums, when moving my pen across the page feels like trudging through wet, ankle deep cement. Instead of climbing out of my chair, I sit at my desk longer than I can be productive – behavior that can trigger a cascade of discontent.
The doldrums refer to the five degrees of latitude on either side of the equator where the wind dies and sailing ships are becalmed, sometimes for weeks. The term has been appropriated into the common language to describe a period of inactivity, listlessness, or stagnation.
I’ve been becalmed here before. As the calendar winds down and the northern hemisphere tilts away from the sun, my thoughts can turn as dark as the day is short.
In early December of this year, I submitted a novel to my agent. Now, I’m waiting. Submission is an act of yielding to another’s judgment, and it often elicits a sense of helplessness in me. I’ve done all I can, and now the fate of my work is in others’ hands.
I wait and I fret. Self doubt perches in my soul.
To wait in the dark of the year only intensifies my feelings of being unsettled, listless, itchy in my own skin.
But I’ve been around this bend before, and I’ve learned that the wind will pick up. In the meantime, there are activities I can do to make waiting for it more bearable. Here are five ways I navigate through the doldrums.
One of my favorite ways to wait out the doldrums is to clear clutter and organize the nests of papers, piles of books, and tangles of string too short to be saved. The number of places in my house where I could apply this organizing energy attests to how infrequently I’m becalmed.
2. Get Outside
I also know that even better than cleaning is getting outdoors. This year, we’ve been blessed with early snow followed by bright, cold days. I’ve skied myself stiff, replacing psychic pain with physical aches.
3. Give Gifts; Volunteer
Last Sunday, I offered Writing to the Light, a free writing workshop. Fifteen people showed up, wrote and shared their stories. They enjoyed stepping out of the holiday circus for reflection, and they all expressed appreciation for my efforts, which made me feel good.
4. Check the Data
It’s easy to see only what’s lacking while in the doldrums. This is why I keep a daily account of my time. All I have to do is look at my records for the year for a solid reality check of the work I’ve produced: weekly posts at Living In Place; bi-weekly posts for Live to Write – Write to Live; and publications for my paying markets, including broadcasts on Vermont Public Radio. I also taught grant funded literature and writing courses; gave a dozen public talks for the Vermont Humanities Council; and hosted the Rosefire Writing Circle throughout the year. This is all in addition to revising one novel; rereading another; and continuing research for a piece of non-fiction. I’ve increased my readership and my income. By all measures, 2017 has been a good year.
5. Have Faith
The sun will turn the corner, and the earth will begin its journey back to the sun. The wind will pick up and I’ll leave the doldrums. This too shall pass.
By engaging in a combination of these five activities, I’ve already caught the wind and started sailing toward the sun.
Wishing all of you light and love to carry you into the New Year.