Screaming Into Water

My friend Jim calls and asks how I am. 

“Ugh,” I respond, I feel very small today.”

“How small?” he asks. “What could you fit yourself into?”

“A thimble,” I say, without hesitating.

“A thimble,” he says back.

He doesn’t ask me to explain, because he knows what I mean, and this is some comfort.


The truth is I’m in the middle place. I’ve pushed off the shore on writing this book, but mostly all I see is a mess of pages and words; I've got no feel for the shape yet, I can't see any land. I don’t know how I will make money or support my daughter or myself in the not-too-distant future. There are many options, but nothing is sure. I’m still learning how to use these limbs. So often I do something easier than writing—which seems to be everything.

My voice feels insignificant and small, and sometimes I feel like I’m just copying other people. I wake up in the middle of the night and check Instagram again, and when I close my eyes, there are bursts of color on the back of my eyelids. My mind spins. What if I can’t write this book? What if all I hear is no? What if someone beats me to it? What if I am just a fraud? What if I never make it?

I turn my face into the pillow and pull the comforter right up over my ear, leaving only a small space to breathe. This is what I used to do when I woke at 3 am with a pounding skull and a body full of cold adrenaline from the booze. I would narrow my consciousness to the tiniest space—just the in-breath and an outbreath—and I would will myself to fade into darkness again, to push off the fresh hell waiting for me with the sun. Breathe in. Breathe out. Fade away.

How easily the feeling comes back.

Today I slept until I couldn’t sleep any longer. I woke up alone, with no daughter or partner or pet to reflect back to me who I am. I got on my knees like I do every morning, and I asked for help—to stay away from a drink or a drug, to guide my thoughts, to show me where to go and what to do and what to say to whom—and even this feels forced and disconnected. As I pour the last bit of coffee grounds into the filter I think of David Whyte’s words:

this is the temple of my adult aloneness

I wait. I listen to the coffee brew. I clean some things from the kitchen counter: school paperwork, junk mail, bits of confetti and dried up glue from an abandoned craft project. I step on a piece of old pasta, and it crunches and sticks to my foot.

Just do the work, Laura. Just sit down and do the work.


Jim asks me what else it feels like.

“Like screaming into water,” I say.

“Okay, he says. “Write about that.”