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!!!