Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Of winter, SAD, lists, and writing.

Here's just what a writer doesn't need: Seasonal Affective Disorder – that gloomy, depressive, lethargic feeling that overcomes many people (like me) in northern climates during winter months. Couple it up with the typical isolation of working at home alone and it's a wallop for writers.

Some winters I sail through only slightly scathed; other years I scramble to employ tricks involving sunlight and special lamps. This year I've see-sawed, and on the icky days I've resorted to My Lists. Not my to-do lists (though I have plenty of those), but the lists of good things which I may ordinarily overlook in my writing, career, and family. (A class is fully enrolled, an essay sells, a son performs confidently in a school presentation, my husband cooks two nights in a row, Mom sends just enough folding rectangular green paper in a Thinking of You card to cover the book store bill.)

This positive list-making grew out of a suggestion years ago when a therapist I saw during the "winter of 17 snowstorms," when I was dealing with postpartum depression, SAD, and a high maintenance baby, had me write a daily "good" list each night -- five things which had gone pretty well that day and/or that I was grateful for. Of course, true to my internal pragmatist (some say pessimist), I also kept a "bad" list of all the things I had screwed up that day, and stuff I wasn't grateful for (caused an infection while clipping the baby's nails, colic, burnt cookies).

I still keep both sets of lists, though not daily, and not always on paper. The good lists help me make it through the SAD (or other dismal) days and remind me I'll live to write another day. I've learned to (mostly) think of my bad lists in terms of lessons learned or stuff-I-can't-control-that's-life-shrug-it-off.

But I've also noticed that the "bad" list, especially the one I keep in my head, sometimes suggests interesting and often fun personal essay topics, which I address through humor -- such as when my big mouth got me in trouble with another mom, or when I procrastinated about holiday preparations, and my hatred of television sets in public places boiled over.

I also find other kinds of lists helpful during the writing and revision process, especially when I'm stuck in a piece of writing. I'm going to post about those lists later this week.

Are you a list maker in your writing life?


Dory Adams said...

I'm a list maker, but my lists always seem to be "to do" lists. I like your "good" lists better! I've had bouts with seasonal affective disorder and use a therapy light to help me through the winter months. My flash fiction story "Pittsburgh Skies" in the latest issue of the Santa Fe Review is about a character in the throes of an episode of SADs which has stretched into the summer months.

Kristy Lund said...

Wow, what I timely post (for me at least.) I live in Northern California, and though we have more sun than many places, I finally realized this year that each winter (the end of winter) I'm depressed for seemingly "no good reason." I just spoke with a good friend, my old piano teacher, who said she gets the same way. She recommends taking a sun vacation in Feb, and also during Jan and Feb focusing on the house-cleaning cupboards, drawers, etc., and doing things like writing. Then, when the spring comes, the house is clean and you're ready to go out and enjoy the nice weather.

That all said, as I was driving my son to school today, I thought- hey, I haven't been writing in my gratitude journal lately. Sign noted, time to start again.

Thanks for the post!

Mummy mania said...

i love this idea - i couldn't live without lists - they sort of rule my life. but i love one that focusses on just the good things....

Anonymous said...

You're right, the "bad" lists do make for great personal essays. But I am so thankful to have read this good list idea today. I am starting it tonight. Thanks, Lisa, I really needed this! My Vitamin D tablets have not been doing the trick today.