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Give the shadows room to speak

April may be the cruelest month, but November is surely the gloomiest, at least in my corner of the world.

As November slides into December, we wait for snow to brighten the short but endlessly dreary days and the long dark nights. Not the little sprinkling of snow that melts during morning rush hour.

We wait for a decent snowfall, snow that stays. For that moment of pristine brilliance before all the salting and the plowing and the noise, that sacred hushed moment of endless diamonds glistening in the lamplight.

[Ed.: Well, I'm posting later than expected, we've had the big snowfall, the glistening moment has come and gone, and so have the plows, and then it rained. Right now December's looking pretty dreary too.]

As the planet moves into the final stretch before the light comes back, I’m aware of great waves of energy pulsing around me and through me, as if the goddess herself were preparing to labour long and hard to bring forth the sun at the Solstice.

There’s something about the feeling of this power flowing quietly through me, with neither fuss nor fanfare, that is a powerful antidote to the voices in my head that chatter and whisper all day, every day, about the various ways I’m wrong—I said the wrong thing, laughed too loud and at the wrong time—and utterly inadequate, never enough.

They say the same things over and over, all of them some variation on “you suck.” They usually start with things like “why can’t you ever…” or “why do you always…” “if only you’d just…” what? Essentially, be someone I’m not.

This internal chorus of criticism extends to all areas of life, but nowhere is it more visible and vicious than in my writing life. For most of my life, I’ve believed the things the chorus says, allowing it to stop me in my tracks over and over again; to nip in the bud any thoughts I might be thinking of having, burying them under a steaming pile of shame.

The things they say sound so reasonable, so “helpful,” it’s no wonder I’ve been sucked in so easily: “Oh look, there’s a much better way to say this!” or “Oooo, this word really belongs over there!” or “That’s not relevant, that’ll have to come out!”

Next thing I know, they’ve graduated from “helping” to berating me: “Who do you think you are anyway?” “Nobody cares what you think.” “You’re a stinky writer anyway, so why would anybody want to read this?”

I’ve spent years and no small effort unhooking myself from these voices. And still, after all that, they can still catch me unawares.

I’ll be tumbling through a first draft when I gradually become aware of a quiet, ever-so-helpful inner editor (who would, if it were up to her, still be rewriting my master’s thesis, which I finished in 1987) (and passed) (with distinction).

She sneaks up on me, slowing me down with a constant stream of “helpful” commentary that causes me to second-guess nearly every word, so quietly and seamlessly that she’s there for a good 10 minutes before I notice what’s going on and put a stop to it.

There. Now I can write my first draft of what I’ve finally figured out after two weeks of trying.

Oh look! Even now, the critical barb buried in the quietly reproachful “finally.”