Every so often, my switch flips.
All of the energy I pour into the world suddenly flips off, and I turn inward. Talking to the kids becomes a chore. The animals and their constant desire for attention becomes an unbearable burden. I am irritable, bitchy, and I can be heard frequently growling and muttering to myself about the stupid world and the stupid people and why can't everybody just leave me the fuck alone!
It doesn't last long--and there is a cure.
When I was teaching, this stage was cyclical--predictable.
The first week after school let out, mom would just disappear in the house, and that was that. The end. Get your own damned sandwich, right?
Now that my life is not so dependent on public education's circadian rhythms, this period of snarling, feral self-protective aggression has become less predictable. Sometimes, it happens when I've been away for too long, on too many trips, and sometimes it happens after a vicious string of deadlines-- ones that I usually miss. Sometimes it's when family obligations have crested in a violent surf over my head.
I've recently dealt with all three, constant and unrelenting, and when my switch flipped, it flipped with a vengeance.
And I picked my favorite drug.
I remember when The Goblet of Fire arrived at my doorstep, after a hideous, heinous school year. Oh, thank you, J.K. Rowling, you have saved my everlovin' life. The year I discovered Laurell K. Hamilton when just the thought of going back to teach made me cry--shotgunning nine books in a row (some would argue the best nine)--and cooking for the kids with a book in my hand got my ass back into the game. There were the early years, when my son wouldn't stop crying, my daughter was on the way, and my mother-in-law's regency romances were everything the world had to offer--and more. Or when I was longing, longing for a third child, and suddenly I plunged into heady, beautiful moment, when I realized J.D. Robb had over twenty (now nearly forty) books under her belt, and I could be Eve Dallas for fuckin' ever.
Oh, blessed Goddess, to not have to be myself for a few hours. To be Harry Potter or Anita Blake or Sookie Stackhouse or Mercy Thompson or Temperance Brennan. To trade in my obligations for theirs, trade in my own demons for those of someone far more capable of handling their own.
To disappear from all of the things pressing on my chest until I can't breathe.
Of course, like all addictions, there is a price to pay. Puzzled children, needing my full attention, a house that tends to collect crap in the corners that is suddenly overflowing, a spouse who is surprised by the emotional needs of the children and who sort of wanders lost without me when I am not wholly present.
But when I crawl out of the cave made by other's words and my imagination, I am always so much more game, so much more able to deal with these things than when I crawled in.
My favorite flavor of drug has changed multiple times over the years--and I'm afraid I'm not very faithful to any one brand. I step off frequently, often as soon as my shotgun run has passed, and I usually regret not being able to continue my indulgence. It's for this reason that I never indulge in books written by people I actually know, a list that is getting smaller by the year, I might add. It is vitally important that I not be answerable to anyone for simply stepping off a series and walking away. I am well aware that my bailing point very rarely has anything to do with the author's skill or with the series itself--this really is a case of "It's NOT YOU, it's DEFINITELY me!"but that's a freedom you don't have when you talk to the writer on a regular basis. There are often hurt feelings involved, ("You didn't like that one? I loved that one. That was MY FAVORITE BOOK IN THE WHOLE SERIES!" Why no, I've never felt like that, why would you think so?) and since I genuinely love all of my writer friends, I'd just as soon not do that to them. It is, in fact, much easier to do this with perfect strangers, so there.
It also can't be canonical fiction. Because there's an obligation there, right? "I am reading IMPORTANT FICTION. I must ENGAGE BOTH LIZARD AND ANGEL BRAINS. I must not, by any means, ENJOY THIS EXPERIENCE." (Or no, Amy, you're the only one who does that. Dork.) So, to me there is an obligation when reading canonical fiction that makes it less…
Less of a drug. Less brain sugar, more brain protein. And I won't lie--I need the damned sugar. I need it. I need to mainline it, straight into the cerebral cortex, no waiting, no hem-hawing about the delicate beauties of language or the overpowering benefit of this piece of writing to the collective unconscious of mankind.
I just need my fucking cookie. I need a box of them. A case. My cookie lets me escape myself long enough to heal. My cookie bandages my psychic booboos and gives me a shot of mental morphine and helps propel my battered ragged ass back into the fray of human existence.
There's a period of withdrawal, of course. A period of sleeping. A long, exhaustive, heartbroken moment of realization: I am NOT Eve Dallas/Harry Potter/Temperance Brennan/Jack Reacher/Anita Blake/Mercy Thompson/Sookie Stackhouse/Number Ten Ox/Betsy Davis/Whoever the flavor of the month is. It's a sad time--I deal with it gracelessly, disillusioned with the world without my word-colored glasses.
But I get over it. And I re-enter my world refreshed, with a new perspective (and usually some new facts, collected like a sixth grader collects trivia learned from How It's Made) and the serene knowledge that me--mere me--can deal with whatever lies outside my fevered brain.
Even if it's picking up kids from school and dealing with the garbage and the laundry and several new deadlines and holy Goddess is it fucking soccer season again?
After being someone else for a period of time, I can be me again, and with the empathy engendered by a full-powered charging, my misanthropy passes, like the storm of stressed neurons it was, and new stories can grow.