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I’m Not Here

If we write to say to the world, “I am here!” what does it mean if we’re not writing?  That we’re not here?


Where do we even go when we’re not here, wherever that figurative here is?  And if we’re not there, transported elsewhere like the three children following Mrs. Whatsit in a Wrinkle in Time, is there a way back to your here-ness?  How does one drop enough bread crumbs to come back when they’ve taken a period of time to not be in their here-ness?  It’s so hard to come back into being yourself sometimes, as if you’ve locked yourself out of your own house.


I haven’t been here; here being an imaginary me-shaped space that only we can fill.  I haven’t been inside my me-shaped space for a bit.  If I had to define where I was, I would call it a mental martello.

I once visited a friend in Dublin and while I was in the air, flying to him, the transportation workers went on strike.  No buses, no taxis, no public transport of any kind, so we walked around the city for a week, going anywhere we could get to on foot.  He took me out to the strand to a martello.  They are these squat, stone, circular structures built by the British for defense purposes.  They were worried that Napoleon would invade Ireland, so to protect the coast, they built small forts which could hold about 25 people.  They contain no windows — it’s a solid wall of stone — meant to be able to withstand cannon fire.

That’s what I felt like in the not-here-ness.  I felt like I was in a martello constructed out of ideas; the strength of those ideas more powerful than the person inside them, even if they weren’t necessarily true.  That’s sort of the thing about stones: you can’t argue with them.  They hurt if they hit you, and they’re immovable if they’re large enough.  And circular stone ideas feel the same way.  They keep looping, and their circularness is their power: there is much more strength in a seamless structure.

A martello constructed out of stone ideas keeps everyone else out, and it’s fairly lonely inside, as musty old stone structures usually are.  I’ve always wondered if James Joyce saw the martello he lived in with Oliver St. John Gogarty as a cozy space, keeping the elements at bay, or a semi-prison.


There are so many times when you can be somewhere and not really there.


I’ve always written.  Before I could write by myself, I would dictate stories to my mother and she would write them down for me.  And then I went through a phase, like the ChickieNob is in now, where I produced thousands of stapled together stories.  By high school, I wrote an on-going serial — a paper soap opera — that people passed around.  I wrote stories for the literary magazine and articles for the newspaper; I took two writing electives at once.  And then I went to college for a degree in writing and finally graduate school for a degree in writing.  The only time I didn’t write was the first time we were doing treatments, when I was so depressed that I couldn’t type words.

Even now, I write all the time.  I write here, on this blog, and I write on BlogHer.  I write books.  I write short stories.  I jot down ideas on post-it notes or send emails to myself.  I talk out stories into voice memos if I arrive somewhere early, sitting in the car so it looks as if I am just talking on the telephone.  I write during work hours and when I’m starting to fall asleep and even on vacation, working things out longhand.

I’ve written my stories in the margins of other people’s books.  I’m like one of those drummers from high school who always needed to drum on every surface.  And you thought it was just because they were thoughtless or were trying to be annoying.  But maybe the answer is that they had to drum, in the same way I have to write.

The best way I know to hurt myself is to stop putting down words.


If we’re to believe Malcolm Gladwell, we need to plug away at most tasks for 10,000 hours before we get any good at them.  And even then, we can’t really rest once we reach expert level.  We have to keep plugging away lest the hard work done becomes mushy; too ripe and blackened.

I watched the documentary ¡Cuatro! on YouTube, and in it, the lead singer talks about his decision to push ahead with writing more songs despite the band  feeling at the end of their rope with the previous album.  As they took a break, he continued to write during the month off.  “I think sometimes taking time off feels dangerous to me because I just like playing music, it’s just what I do.  I’m addicted to it.  And what I’ve noticed, what happens to bands that quote unquote take time off: they’re not as good when they come back.  For us, it’s just keep that evolution going.  Let your audience grow with you, and grow up with you.  And at some point, grow old with you.”

I could relate to that desire to create, to not want a break from creating.  And part of me agrees with him; when you take time off — really take time off — it’s very hard to get back into that creation mindset.  It doesn’t feel as natural.  It’s like stepping outside after being inside a windowless stone martello for days; the sun feels too bright, unmanageable.

Later in the documentary, they talk about the strength that comes in numbers, of being part of a band instead of working as a solo artist.  Of having that posse behind you, not only for collaborative purposes and the feedback you get bouncing ideas off of one another; two heads are better than one.  But more the sense that when you step out, when you present your ideas to the world, you are presenting them as a team.

Book writing, blog writing, all writing is a lonely process.  I know there are some people who can group write, but I’m not sure how they do it.  Or if I’d even want to.  But overall, it’s a lonely process where you either believe in yourself and your ideas, or you don’t.

You either write, trusting yourself.

Or you don’t write.


The problem, for me, is never the writing.  The writing I can do.  It’s the releasing.

The twins raised caterpillars to butterflies, and they finally needed to let them go after observing them for weeks.  It was hard for some of the kids in the school to watch their hard work fly off.  They caught them in their hand again as they floated around, cupped them, saying they wouldn’t let them go.  The twins were jealous that their butterflies had defied capture and were fluttering off someplace else.  But really, I convinced them, where they were in the process was so much better.  Butterflies are meant to fly away, and holding them in cupped hands doesn’t change the nature of the butterfly or what needs to happen.

Even recognizing our similarities, I gave myself another few days to wallow in how cupping my hands around my creation, my work, my life, my ideas was different.  And then, after making it harder on myself than it needed to be, after crouching inside my mental martello and yelling terrible things at myself there, after feeling disappointment in others and frustration with situations and despondency at the universe, I released all of it.

It took me a little more time to flutter away, by which I mean, return to my here-ness, wherever that may be.


1 Kate (Bee In The Bonnet) { 05.06.13 at 9:10 am }

Yeah. Wow. This cuts to my core. I write and write and write, and I just won’t let any of it go. I can’t even count anymore the number of unpublished posts sitting in my “drafts” folder. I think I really am feeling too vulnerable lately for some reason. My “martello” is protective, though I fear it becoming a jail.

(And I hear you on the writing to live thing– I, too, used to dictate stories to my mother, though she would record them rather than writing them. I am a born storyteller. I also took two writing electives at a time, though poetry was my focus– I’m not good at beginnings or endings, so my narratives always ramble on and on. It was always too much work to make prose conform to the story I was trying to tell. Poetry just came out easier. But then I stopped writing it at some point during college. I got wrapped up in computer science, and foreign languages, and political science, and music, and all the other mind-opening things colleges offer, and it just sucked my creative energy elsewhere. Blogging regularly is probably the first thing that brought that word energy back to me. And now, I fear losing it again. I miss it.)

2 Brid { 05.06.13 at 10:30 am }

Glad you’re back, Mel.
I get that. That sometimes ideas or senses of something that needs to be written chokes out the ability to write it. And, the more it chokes it, the bigger it all gets. I think I live there.

3 Mary { 05.06.13 at 11:33 am }

Oh thank goodness! I’d been checking my reader every few hours getting more and more panicked about why I wasn’t seeing a post from you. I’d actually convinced myself that my Feedler app was broken and that I’d somehow missed your announcement of a break. I may have a codependency

4 Mary { 05.06.13 at 11:34 am }

Problem. Darn slippery thumbs. Anyway. Glad you’re back.

5 Tiara { 05.06.13 at 1:42 pm }

Glad you’re back, I missed you. I have always written but until starting my blog in 2010, never shared anything I wrote…now I get shy about “putting it all out there” & I’m far from putting it all out there!

6 Katie { 05.06.13 at 2:15 pm }

I hear this. I’m having issues lately, because I’m writing and writing (some of it – the surface-level things – I’m posting), but for the most part, all of my writing is sitting in my email. Waiting. Every time I open up my phone or my computer, it’s glaring at me, saying, “Are you going to have the balls to publish me, or not?” And I don’t know if I do.

7 Catwoman73 { 05.06.13 at 2:59 pm }

Welcome back Mel! I was definitely concerned that there was something wrong when we didn’t hear from you for a few days…

I struggle with releasing what I write as well. I think that’s why I didn’t start a blog sooner than I did. The insecure child in me definitely fears that someone may dislike what I write, or judge me for my words. As it stands, I have several blog posts sitting in draft form that I haven’t had the courage to release for this very reason. None of us want to be scrutinized for what is in our hearts. It takes tremendous courage to bear your soul.

8 a { 05.06.13 at 3:13 pm }

In some ways, it’s good to want to cup your hands around your creation and hold it close. That means you still have pride in your work and are concerned about how it will be treated once you let it leave your hands. But, you create things that are strong enough to stand on their own…so while they might enjoy your protection, they don’t really need it. 🙂

9 Mina { 05.06.13 at 4:05 pm }

It seems I am in that martello of ideas and I chose a Groundhog day to spend there. What I find amusing about the word martello is that the Italian meaning (hammer) could so help break the English one.

What I like about the you-shape space is that there is only you who can fill it. Unlike the real space which can be filled by any similar shape, the you-space is sensitive to emotions and ideas, which only you can provide. And one knows which emotions and ideas are the ones to fill that space, because it is like love, one knows it when one meets it.

Your children as fantastic.

10 Pepper { 05.06.13 at 5:12 pm }

Glad you’re back. I look forward to my “Mel” as often as I can get it. 🙂

11 loribeth { 05.06.13 at 7:32 pm }

Glad you are back. I was worried when Saturday morning came & there was no Friday Roundup in my blog reader… I don’t think you’ve missed very many of them. On the other hand, everyone deserves a break now & then. 😉 Hope your time away in the martello was what you needed.

P.S. Kingston, Ontario, where we spent our wedding anniversary last year, has several Martello towers. You can see one of them in the first photo on the blog post I wrote about the weekend: http://theroadlesstravelledlb.blogspot.ca/2012/07/anniversary-weekend.html

12 Kristin { 05.06.13 at 10:14 pm }

Wow, so deep and so touching. Glad you are here.

13 Aerotropolitan Comitissa { 05.07.13 at 9:08 am }

Wow. The break obviously did something. That was very beautiful and very powerful.

14 serenity { 05.07.13 at 5:36 pm }

I am in my martello as well. I didn’t see it as hurting myself. Until now.


15 Peg { 05.07.13 at 7:44 pm }

Oh Mel, what a lovely and honest post.

In my real life (or face to face life–I don’t want to discount the relationships I’ve made online), people think I’ve got it all together. “The kids seem so happy!” “You are amazing!” “I don’t know how you do it!” It drives me crazy.

My blog is where I pull back the curtain to review the crazy wizard who is totally losing her shit.

Not sure why but I’m drawn to blogs similar to mine which reveal their “crap” and blogs that show the glossy perfect parties and children. One type makes me feel not so alone. The other is just enjoyable. More of an aesthetic connection than something that makes me think or pulls at my heart strings.

I also just like good old fashioned good writing and stories.

Thanks for sharing your writing with me and the world. It really does brighten my day…even when you’re just telling me you don’t have your shit together either.

hang in there, Peg

16 Lori Lavender Luz { 05.08.13 at 3:46 pm }

Writing is a way to bring me back into myself. Thank you for helping me to understand this.

And oh, yes, I’d like to become more graceful at the releasing.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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