In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been doing what most authors do after they publish a new book. I’ve been reading at Open Mic Nights, giving author talks, sharing excerpts from my book, and sitting for book signings. My books are displayed on a table like so many pieces of a rainbow puzzle, brightly colored covers, and stories about women—older women as in the case of the new novel And the Memory Returns. The women come to my table and skim what is written on the back, the plot synopsis, and my author bio of being a former reporter and now running a writing group. Often in the last few weeks, I’ve heard, “This sounds interesting. These stories. My problem is that I can no longer focus. I’ll read a few chapters, forget what I’ve read, and then have to go back to the beginning so I don’t read books much at all anymore.” Some admit the inability to concentrate on reading a book has meant resorting to word games, and crossword puzzles, Wordle, in hopes of keeping their minds, if not sharp, at least from becoming more muddled.
I empathize as I have not been writing every day as I once did, and I indulge in my favorite word game on my cell phone far too long each day. My focus wanes and many days I feel the lack of energy that prevents a writer from crisp and thoughtful intent when putting words on the page. What is wrong with me?
Or is it the difficult world in which we live? As the election tomorrow finally comes to a grinding end, I am exhausted. I live outside of Philadelphia, one of those “swing state” areas that apparently can decide the increasingly fragile balance in Congress. I can’t turn on the television or listen to the radio without being bombarded by endless political tirades of one candidate against another, mean-spirited rants that eviscerate the opponent whether for health reasons or for their supposed indifference in stopping crime, even in some cases accusing them of making crime worse, although for what end anyone would do this strains credulity.
Maybe the challenge lies in finding the energy to focus on what matters in your own life, whether it be a day trip or lunch with friends, a stroll through an art museum, or an escape to an other-worldly field of lights. Still, there is nothing that can turn the tide on age. The body is fragile, and the mind is taxed to remember details, storylines, and even the simplest things that once came to mind without effort. “What is the name of that story,” a friend asked me recently. “You know, the one with the sled and the big rock?” It wasn’t until an hour later after we had both scoured our brains that a light went off and I remembered it was Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. “Thank you, thank you,” my friend said, knowing that otherwise she would have had to go home and look it up to get some peace.
So, I will continue to write when I can, where I can …. I like to think I can seek out the quietude to do this away from the frenetic frenzy of a warming planet, screeching politicians, the stripping of women’s rights that held for half a century before a politicized court decided to force their extremism on the rest of us. I just finished reading Tina Brown’s The Palace Papers, a large volume on the last twenty years of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. I can handle court intrigue, why Harry married Meghan, and how Camilla spent her life pursuing Charles and assuaging his fears and his ego. Maybe that’s all I can focus on, some fantasy world in the court of the absurd. My mother stopped reading after my father died. It was too painful she said because it brought back memories of the two of them lying in bed together reading at night before they went to sleep. She was also nearing eighty when he died. I’ve been alone for years now and I hope that doesn’t happen to me because I feel the desire to clear my mind and focus on what matters. I want to keep reading. There’s still so much to learn. I want to keep writing. Yes! Even writing this helps clear away the fog.