The Big V

Recently someone shared with me that they’d been told that I like ‘atmosphere’ when I write, I supposedly burn scented candles, keep the lights low, play soft music, drink some wine and a lot of coffee, and get in the mood to write. I don’t know where they heard that, but I was just stunned when they said it. I’m very leery of candles, and extremely careful of them, because I was in a fire at the age of 5. I emerged unscathed, but with a memory of it that has never left me, I have smoke detectors and fire extinguishers in every room. I’ve never liked drinking, and haven’t had a drink since I was l7, I haven’t had real coffee in about 30 years (it jangles me), I can’t write if there are distractions (like noise or music), and I like bright light while I work. It shows that you really can’t believe all that you read. The person who described that scene to me was quite shocked that none of it is true, and the only ‘mood’ I get in when I’m writing is that of discipline, intense concentration, and hard work. I don’t need ‘mood’ to write, I need energy, focus, and concentration, and the discipline to sit there. It’s a pretty stark experience, and a solitary one, and I take it seriously. Writing feels like climbing Mount Everest every time, no place for candles, soft music and wine. Can you imagine someone trekking up Mt. Everest with candles, soft music and wine? Hardly. And sometimes writing feels like climbing a mountain, it’s energizing, exciting and exhausting. And for me, it’s never about ‘mood’, but about perseverance, hard work which I welcome, and discipline (to sit through it, even though you’d rather go out and play. I write first, and play later, much later). And I hate the falsity of that romantic vision, because it is soooooooo far from the truth, about me, and about what writing is all about. I can’t imagine any writer I know setting that ‘mood’. I’m a more practical down to earth person, and a work horse through and through.

And as I think about it, I approach Valentine’s Day in the same way, with a clear head, good lighting, loving the tenderness of it, while knowing that life is far more real. (Although candy and flowers are always nice to receive…especially chocolate!!! Funnily enough, I think some people imagine me and maybe all female writers), floating around in marabou trimmed negligees, draped across the couch, with a glass of champagne in one hand and a box of bonbons in the other, listening to soft music. The reality is so different, as I pound away on my typewriter 20 hours a day, concentrating intensely on what I’m writing. Writing isn’t romantic, it’s hard work.

Actually, my best Valentine’s Day was when my husband John proposed to me, he later became the father of 8 of my 9 children. Now THAT was a fantastic Valentine’s Day. My worst one was when I was the only girl in 3rd grade who didn’t get a Valentine. Traumatic to be sure!!!

And if I were in the throes of a heated, passionate romance, I would definitely approach Valentine’s Day feeling very romantic. Since that’s not the case at the moment, I approach Valentine’s Day with caution, like a bear waiting to eat me. With such high expectations on the that day, for true love and hot romance, it’s hard not to be a little down about it on the off years….no candy, no chocolates, boo hoo.

It’s one of those days when you measure your emotional and relationship success by who’s not there, rather than who is. I should be a pro by now at spending it alone, but I’m not.  It’s one of those days that makes you sad if you’re not careful, if your love life isn’t flourishing. (I’m addressing those who are in that situation, because all you couples who are kissing and cuddling don’t need to worry about Valentine’s Day. The rest of us, with imperfect romantic lives, do worry about it. And if you don’t get flowers and candy, a proposal, a searing kiss, or some very romantic gesture, you feel like a loser, on that one day anyway.

So here we are, it’s that time again. Flowers and candy time. Hearts and flowers time. I told a story on this blog once, of a mass I went to at church on Valentine’s Day. The priest asked everyone in church as a couple to raise their hands. Dozens, maybe hundreds of hands shot up, as the couples looked lovingly at each other, and the rest of us shrank into our seats. Then the priest asked the rest of us to applaud the couples, and asked them to stand up so we could see them better. And on the way out of church, he handed each of them a flower, and nothing for the rest of us. No applause, no special introduction, and no flower. I was sure he was going to reward us in some way, and he didn’t. I complained about it later, and told the priest later that that part of the service that day made everyone alone in that church feel even worse. I don’t think they’ve done that again since. At the end, not only did we the solitary feel lousy and/or lonely, but the entire church knew who we were, since we were not standing there as a couple, no one was applauding us and we got no flower on the way out. It was a sweet gesture to celebrate the couples, but not very well thought out or comforting to the rest of us, who were alone.

I’m going to be working on a book on Valentine’s Day, pounding away on my typewriter, oblivious to what day it is. If I eat chocolates, they’ll come out of my fridge. And I’m not anticipating any grand gestures or secret admirers. And I’m so busy when I’m writing that I won’t notice what I didn’t get. I may never get proposed to again on Valentine’s Day, but it will also never get as bad as it did in third grade, with that horrible feeling of rejection when no Valentines appeared. I got through it, and have had a good life since, and a few great Valentine’s Days. And maybe I’ll have a romantic one again one day, but not this year, unless someone really surprises me.

I wish you candy and flowers today, lots of silly cards that touch your heart, and a happy day. And remember, it is only one day. So if your Valentine’s Day doesn’t turn out quite as you hoped, or not at all, there is always next year. Try not to get discouraged about it. And no one I know is parading around in marabou or eating bonbons. They are going on with their normal lives, and once in a while there is a big surprise on that day, which we remember forever. I hope your Valentine’s Day will be fabulous and romantic. And if it isn’t, just consider it an off year. A lot can happen in a year. And in the meantime, will you be my Valentine? I am happy to be yours!!! Have a great day!!!

Love, Danielle

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10 Comments so far
  1. Stella Ann February 14, 2012 1:42 am

    I’m celebrating alone. Just made a trip to See’s candies. Be my Valentine. Love Stella

  2. Carolina Paton February 14, 2012 6:24 am

    Will be you my Valentine? Of course, your writing is our best Valentine present…Saludos afectuosos.

  3. Pilar de la Peña February 14, 2012 11:03 am

    As the song says “Love is all around”. Is doesn’t need to be a man beside you but lots of friends and people you care about and who care about you. I’ve got lots of those and I’m pretty sure you do too. Have a lovely Valentine’s day!

  4. mike reid February 14, 2012 1:49 pm

    Hi Danny – Happy Valentines Day – Hows that new book coming along? If I were you I’d just relax
    and enjoy Mt. Everest. I have that feeling you will meet your true love with bright lights and shining armor soon!!!Alot can happen in the upcoming year. May you valentines day be filled with happiness, love and romance – sincerely mike

  5. Michael February 14, 2012 2:30 pm

    Hello Danielle,

    having a glass of wine, drinking lots of coffee, kissing the muse, not only on Valentine’s Day – this is often the romantic vision of a non-writer. It’s a kind of childhood dream. It’s quite nice to have these daydreams, now and then, but of course they are just daydreams.
    Every successful artist is first a hard worker, because he has to work out his given talents.
    I believe, that you are a very hard worker, but I believe as well, that you must LIKE/LOVE your work, your figures and their world, because you maybe live in that world at the time of writing. And that makes the difference to a non-writer.
    I say thank you a 1000 times that you share your feelings and figures through your hard work to us all. I’m very shure, your light helps people in dark nights. And that’s great.
    Take care,

  6. Shelley Harris February 16, 2012 3:25 am

    I am somewhat ashamed to say that at the age of 30 and having had a lifelong passion of books I have only just read my first Steel book ; The Ghost. I was enchanted from the first page and having been bedridden with the flu have finished it in just under four days. I cried and rejoiced with the characters and feel I almost became so a part of it I was in the story myself. What does everyone recommend next?

  7. Kimberly February 18, 2012 7:44 pm

    Love to hear any insight that I can into your writing world, completely fascinating… I agree… Soft music and candle light would be too relaxing and distracting while one is trying to focus on writing… I so wish that you would write an autobiography; it would definitely be the greatest book ever written!!!!

    As for no valentine for you, I have every hope and confidence that you will find one!! My mom found a new valentine at age 71 and they’ve been in wonderful bliss for four years now! 🙂 You so deserve that! 🙂

  8. Kimberly February 18, 2012 7:47 pm

    Oh, I also LOVE that you don’t drink alcohol or coffee, but do adore chocolate… a girl after my own heart!!

  9. Deborah Hammond February 20, 2012 12:41 am

    Danielle: I am thrilled to find this blog. I came to visit San Francisco from Indianapolis this month. I wanted to learn more about you…your life and motivations for writing. I lived next to Anne Tyler in Baltimore and was intrigued by her work as a writer and mother. When I first met Anne she said, “I am a writer and I can’t write and talk at the same time. I choose to write.” I visited Pacific Heights today (on a walking tour). Our guide said that you moved to Paris because you thought the people in San Francisco dressed too shabby. Sounds like from your blog, you come back to SF to write and visit your children on a regular basis. I guess one cannot always believe what one hears either! Sort of like the candle thing. I look forward to keeping up with you in any way I can. — Deborah

  10. Montecristo Travels March 2, 2012 11:10 am

    Valentines Day is not about romance but about love. Something that is far too often forgotten. I think that love comes in so many forms we can barely understand it. Some are obvious – couples, parents and their children, but also between humans and their pets. Love is bigger than romance. Love is the emotion poured into a creative process – ask any writer or fashion designer how much they Love their craft. So to all that feel alone on V day. Look around and see … there is Love … and as for romance … well, a rich Italian Hot Chocolate can do the trick just fine! Romancing yourself can be fun and never dissapoints – for after all who knows what you like better than … you?