I just realized I’ve spent practically an entire month away from this blog that I truly do love writing…and I can’t for the life of me remember why I haven’t even stopped by to dust the place off, sweep away some of the cobwebs, and open the windows and let the air in.

Oh, wait. I know. I’ve been in recovery from writing a novel. Rehabbing, as it were. I cleaned the house, started washing dishes again, threw out a bunch of things I was sick of having around me, and did practical things like the taxes and the FAFSA (the student aid application…trust me, you don’t want to know)…and then I went to Florida to visit with my stepmother.

She and I have no right to love each other as much as we do. She was my father’s childhood sweetheart, and he probably would have married her except that one day when he was 21 and she was 20, they had a lovers’ spat. In the only impulsive act he ever did in his life, he packed his suitcase and took off for another city, where he got a job as a civil engineer and waited to see what life was going to serve up to him before he went back to Helen.

But–and in the movie of his life, the ominous music would play here–life had other plans for him. When he rang the doorbell at a boarding house where he hoped to rent a room, the front door was opened by my mother. He later told me that he’d never known anyone who painted her toenails before. She later told me she’d never met anybody so handsome and so lacking in confidence.

They got married five months later, and I was born ten months after THAT.

Thirteen years and three children later, they had a bitter divorce…and after a time, my father found his way back to Helen and spent a very happy twenty years with her, before he died of kidney cancer in 1989.

My mother considered Helen her sworn enemy, and for the rest of her life, I had to hide the fact that Helen and I had long, meandering, wonderful conversations about love, writing, creativity, God, children, politics; that sometimes we would get on the phone and three hours would pass in the blink of a minute. Sometimes, for days after one of these long talks, I walk around speaking to Helen in my head, arguing, showing, explaining.

And so last week I went to see her. She is frail now and has trouble walking. She has Crohn’s disease and there are very few foods she can eat without her stomach (she calls it “The Boss”) giving her fits, so we don’t eat much. We sit on her screened porch, surrounded by azaleas and impatiens and roses, and we talk and talk and talk. We need a flow chart to keep track of all the conversations we are having simultaneously.

We have lost many, many people between us, so many that we think of ourselves as survivors. She tells me about her childhood, I tell her about mine. We talk about love and writing and friendships and the reasons that we stayed friends even though we might never have discovered what was good about each other.

She asked me what it feels like, writing a novel and trying to hold these ideas in my head, and how do I know when it’s right, and what keeps me from going crazy with the sheer uncertainty of it all? And I, having just finished writing my novel–and having just gotten the reassuring news that my editor LOVES it–was so full of myself, saying how FUN it is, and how the words just COME OUT, that they can’t be stopped. I heard myself saying all these things, saw myself forgetting that a video of the last few months would instead show me walking hunched over, brow furrowed, eyes staring blankly in space, spending my days pacing in Starbucks with not a plan in my head, and then jumping out of bed in the middle of the night and feverishly writing until the sun came up.

Isn’t it funny, how one mood doesn’t remember the other? How we go through such times and then say of them, “Oh, it was GREAT. I LOVE writing a novel!”

I didn’t email much while I was in Florida, but a friend sent me this link to a talk given by Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love…and in it, Gilbert says everything I wish I could have said about that state we go through when we create something: the panic, the fear, and the moments of feeling as though we have been touched by something divine, something that we secretly know has nothing whatsoever to do with us.

Take 20 minutes and stretch out and watch it. You’ll be so glad you did. Not only is the message so reassuring, but the quality of her voice alone is enough to calm your nerves.