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This Writer's Life

Ruth Z. Deming

Shortly after my diagnosis of bipolar disorder I took a journalism class by Joan Bastel, managing editor of the Intelligencer newspaper. We typed up news stories on typewriters that clacked and clattered and at the end of the term, she hired me to work at the paper. Although I wrote headlines for the advice columns, she allowed me to write an occasional profile of a fascinating individual. Under a pseudonym - Sarah Daniels (the names of my children) I wrote assignments for other papers, as well.

What I knew about writing could fit on the head of a pin. One way I taught myself to write was to select passages from library books - Malcolm Lowry's "Under the Volcano" - Joan Didion's "Play it as it Lays" - Emily Dickenson's "Complete Book of Poems" - and would type them over and over again. Meanwhile I dodged the arrows of bipolar disorder - the "highs" and the "lows" - and worked as a psychotherapist at two mental health agencies. I arranged my schedule so I had three hours in the morning where I could write.

Light and sound are terribly important when I write. In those early years, my computer faced the next door neighbor's house. Next to my desk was a huge cardboard box, the size of a mini-fridge, that I painted and decorated and used for added space.

Hadn't realized until recently that writing is the cornerstone of my existence. In the early years when I delivered my stories to local papers, I would pray as I drove over, "Please, God, don't let me die until I've ‘filed' this story."

Now I feel that way about two unpublished novels of mine, whose names I would never divulge, and hundreds of poems that must some day appear in a fat paperback with a shiny cover.

My support group for people with depression, bipolar disorder and their loved ones is called New Directions, which is also the name of a publishing company. Every year we publish a magazine called the Compass, which I edit. It costs a pretty penny - gorgeous front and back cover in full cover - but somehow we pay for it. This compendium of true stories, info on new treatment methods and a literary section called The KaleidoScope goes out all across the country. We're famous. Everyone wants to write for the Compass. For free.

Before a big project, like writing this essay, I relax by lying on the couch and watching films on Netflix or YouTube, usually napping a little. In a cowboy movie I just watched there was a "hurricane lamp," and I sat up and wrote down "Elinor's Lamp." My former neighbor had given me the lamp before she went to a nursing home. All ideas get written down, otherwise they will float by like a piece of dandelion fluff.

A box of huge white envelopes resides on the floor of my upstairs office where I do all my writing. On these, I write down every single piece that I've had accepted and date of acceptance.

What do I write about? Events I would like to experience through fiction. "Pandemonium" is about a bus that overturns and kills people. "The Canoe Ride" is about being raped and becoming pregnant, though my nubile years are long gone. While attending a huge gala at a church, I spoke with Bill, who told me about his wife leaving him. Very carefully planned. What a great story! That's how "Jack" was published.

I do not "paper" the walls with rejection notices as did J K Rowling. Instead, I quietly sit shiva for a few moments, before noting it in my document file. One of my best short stories was just rejected - how could they? - but the writer's duty is to submit it somewhere else. These are my children, after all.

As we polish our silver to make it shine, so we polish our stories. Rewrites are the secret to good stories, stories that flow unhampered like tropical fish swimming in a tank.

Am listening to the blues show right now, but have tuned it out. This is how I prepare my mind, just the way I prepare the soil in my flower garden. Many is the time I've fallen asleep at the computer and jolted myself awake.

Rarely do I submit something without having one of my wonderful readers take a look at my work. Does that make me insecure? No, it's called having a fresh pair of eyes.

A word about my name. Since working at a newspaper, I've used "Ruth Z. Deming," though Mr. Deming is no longer my husband. My parents gave me the delightful middle name "Zali," Hungarian for "Sarah," my deceased great-grandmother. Jews, back then. named their children after the dearly departed.

So, Dear Reader, write, do your best, and I wish you a happy life of writing.

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