I’ve always read broadly, and usually have multiple books on the go. I can compartmentalise the different works in my mind, though sometimes blending occurs in magical ways, especially when I am creatively fertile: a sentence in a short story meshes with the theme of an essay and combines with a personal event and suddenly I find a new way to tackle a project or problem. It’s as though the different texts line up, stone by stone, to form a new pathway. Reading has always renewed within me a sense of possibility, and that sense of possibility (for story, for articulation, for form, for art) results in enthusiasm, and, for me, enthusiasm is essential for wellbeing.
I lost it for a while, recently. Another part of me took over, a part that couldn’t make those connections, couldn’t really envision those pathways. Every now and then, a lamp flickered and I caught sight of a few stones. For the most part though, I lost my capacity. It was an effort to believe, to be enthused, to plan. I felt alien to myself. I’ve had symptoms of both anxiety and depression since adolescence, but they have been relatively mild in comparison to what I have seen others go through. And yet, they have shaped my life—manifesting in different ways, and through different behaviours. This time I really sank into it.
It was people who helped, people who supported me but also those who challenged me. How lucky I am to have them. And now I’m at the beginning of a new process, and something has fundamentally shifted. I look at the clothes in my wardrobe and they don’t quite feel like mine anymore. I am growing out my natural hair colour. I will soon be moving house. I recently got a dog. A black dog, funnily enough.
I am devouring books again, and pathways are lighting up.
So am I drawn to different books? There is definitely a sense of further broadening in my tastes. For the first time, I searched through a bunch of self-help literature online. I was still extremely turned off by all the books on capitalistic manifestations of wellbeing and wealth (or that fundamentally tied the two). And the black-and-white books that offered their readers ‘strength’ by encouraging them to de-shackle themselves of all the ‘toxic’ people and ‘unhelpful’ things in their lives. Those books are neither complex, nor generous. I want to explore light and dark within the self; I want to be unafraid to turn myself inside out, and then to be able to be good and feel okay, and to feel love, fully, and to be able to deal with disappointment and with events not going to plan and all the greater tragedies going on in the world. I do not want to manifest wealth. I do not ‘deserve’ more than anyone else.
I found that I was drawn more towards books in the realm of the spiritual. Books with an idea of the presence of good coming from within you, not some idea of a god necessarily.
My friend Donna Ward, who is generous and wise, lent me a book called The Moon and the Virgin, by Nor Hall (1980). I’m not far through it but it’s quite wonderful. The book purports to persuade against women ‘imitating the masculine ignorance of the value of the feminine’, and uses messages of poetry, symbol, fairy-tales, myth and dreams. There’s a Jungian aspect of the collective unconscious. And it’s introduced me to some pretty bad-ass goddesses and feminine figures. There are different schools of feminist thought but this (admittedly old and hippyish) book and the way it talks about the masculine and feminine within all of us (and in such a warm and multilayered way) is really working for me right now, helping me to feel whole and strong and bright again. There’s something about the recognition of binaries and the exploration of their meshing and binding (while retaining unique, complex specificities—arguable as to what they might be) that is incredibly stimulating to me. And that has echoes way out into the world—relationships, family, work, society, politics, culture. I’ve often looked from the outside in (effects of macro on micro) but now I think I’m simultaneously looking from the inside out.
Fiction will always have answers too. Or will at least articulate the questions I didn’t even know I was asking. And one of the books that has meant the most to me during this period, that perhaps even helped light a new path, is one we are publishing at Echo (Bonnier Publishing Australia). It won’t be out until 2018, but it is one of the most moving novels I have read. It’s a ripper of a page-turner, with stunning erotic scenes, but it’s also an important and incredibly beautiful book. The Fortress by S.A. Jones is told from the point of view of a man, Jonathon, who becomes a supplicant in an all-woman society, and in doing so, has his mind and heart challenged and expanded. The book dares you to imagine women who are completely autonomous. It’s incredibly compassionate towards all genders (‘woman’, in the book, does not necessarily mean ‘female’). It’s the kind of book where the reader can only be expanded along with the protagonist.
Publishing is about both knowledge and instinct: years of hard work and hungry reading across a range of genres, knowledge of social currents, respect of the reader (I’ll always remember the varied customers of the bookstore I worked in years ago in regional Australia), and then something quite intangible, subconscious, that you have to be alert to. Again, these binaries: knowledge and instinct. I’m becoming more comfortable to acknowledge the latter, to allow the symbiosis of the two. There’s something about trust in that, and relinquishing control. My anxiety diminishes the more I can do that, to trust.
And so the capacity has returned, and is greater. I am myself. I am reading multiple books at once. I have ideas, many ideas. I have been writing again. I am enthused. Even in this current political climate, I am filled with a sense of possibility. I hope you can find it too.
Angela Meyer is a writer & professional reader (commissioning editor, interviewer, festival chair, former reviewer), based in Melbourne. She is the author of a book of flash fiction, Captives (Inkerman & Blunt) and editor of The Great Unknown (Spineless Wonders).
Her fiction and reviews have been published widely, including in Best Australian Stories, the Australian, The Big Issue, Books+Publishing, The Lifted Brow, Wet Ink, Seizure, The Geek Mook, AntiTHESIS, The Queen’s Head (UK), and Bookslut (US).