Typing. It was all my manic ass did for the past five days. I’d say my disorder was a curse, except for times like these when the creative symptoms just seeped right out of me, like syrup from a maple tree. My fingers couldn’t type fast enough to get the story up on screen.
I was writing a novel—an epic saga about a mental hospital taken over by the patients—kind of like George Orwell’s Animal Farm meets Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It was my best work yet.
I searched for a character’s perfect monologue as I stared out my bedroom window, waiting for an inspiring phrase to pop in my head and get the juices flowing, when a delivery truck parked in front of my house. I didn’t think much of it, focusing my attention on a pair of squirrels flirting.
“Okay, so Sam’s in love with the night janitor, but will he be brave enough to make a move? Maybe he’s too scared he’ll get in trouble—but the patients are in charge now, so why would he? Maybe he confesses his love, and the janitor turns him down—or what if he accepts? Oh, I like that.”
My fingers got back to typing without pause as inspiration struck like a bolt of lightening.
Someone was knocking at my bedroom door. I didn’t stop to see who it was. Maybe if I ignore them, they’ll go away. The typing continued.
“Veronica! You have packages from some art store.”
I knew immediately what it was. I jumped from my seat, squealing, ran and opened the door. My roommate was standing there, eyebrow raised, hand on hip, but with no packages.
“Where are they?”
“If you think I’m carrying those heavy things to your room, you’ve got another think coming. Take one at a time, so you don’t hurt your back.”
“What are you, my mother?” I asked, sneering at Kim before giving her a grin. “Where are my pretties?”
I followed Kim to the front door where a stack of three gigantic boxes of polymer clay sat, with one smaller box perched on top. I brought the boxes to my room, making three trips at Kim’s request.
“Are you gonna come eat? Lunch has been out for an hour now.”
“Stop naggin’. Do you understand how long I’ve been waiting for this?”
“What is it?”
“It’s for making sculptures. I came across how to make them while searching a recipe for the white skin colour I needed for the self-portraits I was painting.”
“Whatever happened to that, anyway? Your painting was improving big time. You’ll be an expert in a year or two, if you stick with it.”
“I plan on continuing. I have a few things I’ve got to finish first—I’ve got to finish writing my book; I’ve got to finish making that toy box for Anna; I’ve got to work all that into my daily schedule while cooking, cleaning and working out. I’m trying to lose a few pounds, so I found this intense work out routine and an amazing site for vegan food.”
“You’re going vegan now?”
“That’s the plan.”
“But Veronica, you barely move around as it is—unless it’s for a project that will never get finished.”
“What do you mean, never get finished? I finish lots of things.”
“Name one. Name one hobby you’ve stuck with.”
I thought for a moment, and sure enough, nothing was coming to me.
“It’s not my fault. It’s the bipolar.”
“You always blame everything on the bipolar,” Kim said, rolling her eyes. “When are you going to take responsibility for your own actions?”
“It is the bipolar! It’s not my fault. I’ll be hypomanic or manic for a while with all this energy and creative ideas. I want to do them all and I don’t know where to start. Then, like always, I crash, and don’t feel like continuing. By the time I’ve got the energy or motivation, I have new ideas and possibilities to try out. It’s like clockwork.”
“That’s just you. It’s still not the illness.”
“It is my disorder, whether you like it or not. There are tons of people out there with bipolar who go through the same thing.”
My blood was rising in temperature. I could feel my face heat up, my chest squeeze, and my jaw clench.
“I was in a good mood, Kim. Please, don’t get me down. I might dip and I have a lot of stuff to do. I got to get working on making a sculpture for my mom’s birthday.”
“But I thought you were writing a book?”
“Oh, I am. I’m just going to play with this for a bit. Don’t look at me like that. I’ll finish my book—I have to. It’s my top priority.”
“If it were your top priority, you’d set the clay aside and finish your damn book.”
“Talk to you later, Kim.”
“I’m just trying to help.”
I gave her a tight smile, a quick nod, and slowly closed the door.
Clapping my hands together, I rushed over to the boxes. I opened the smaller box first. It had a clay machine that flattened the clay into even sheets, metal wiring of different lengths and widths, and a complete set of sculpting tools. The second box contained 50 blocks of polymer clay in various colours, while the third and fourth boxes contained larger blocks of the same clay in a beige colour.
I set everything out on my bed, my heart swelling at my purchase, and the possibilities of what I could create.
“First things first.”
I snuck into the kitchen, avoiding Kim at all costs, and gathered tin foil and several masking tapes I’d been collecting. I skipped back to the room, forgetting my need to be stealthy, tossing the tin foil and tape on the bed.
My first project was going to be a cat for my mother, so I took some wiring, shaped it into the skeleton of a cat, and crammed tin foil inside the skeleton. I wrapped it around the tail, shaped the head, legs, body, even the whiskers. Once the shape satisfied me, I covered it with the tape until there was no silver left, making it look like a mummified pharaoh’s cat.
It was time for the real fun. The texture of the clay surprised me. It was rock hard, so I squeezed and I squeezed. Slowly, but surely, the clay softened up. Heat from my hands helped. I kneaded the clay until it was soft enough to feed through the clay machine—it took quite some time. Before I knew it, the sun was going down and Kim was pestering me to eat supper. I ignored her.
I covered the taped cat with a layer of beige clay for the base coat, pressing down gently but firmly, while being careful not to put nail indents. My fingers left their mark, anyway. I chewed at the inside of my cheek, rolling my tongue along my teeth. How am I going to fix that? I don’t want fingerprints all over it. I sat and stared for what seemed like hours.
An idea came to me, but a nagging ball of nerves sat at the pit of my stomach about how long it was going to take.
“I can do it. All I gotta do is make individual hairs, so no one sees the fingerprints.”
Brushing the hair out of my eyes, I smiled to myself as I got back to work.
I broke off tiny pieces of black, brown, orange and white clay, layering them one on top of the other until his face emerged and I covered over half of the cat’s back and chest when Kim came knocking.
“Veronica, you need to stop.”
“What? I can’t stop. Look at how good it’s turning out.”
“Veronica, it’s gorgeous, but you need to eat and sleep. When’s the last time you showered?”
“What are you talking about?”
“You’ve barely slept, ate, or showered all week. All you’ve been doing is painting and writing and now sculpting. I think you’re manic.”
I rolled my eyes. Kim narrowed hers.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I may be hypomanic, but it’s not to the point where it’s an issue.”
“Fine. Then clean off your bed and go to sleep,” Kim said as she passed me a cup of soup. “Eat this. Just so you have something in your system.”
“But the sculpture…”
“It’ll still be there in the morning. If you don’t want me to hassle you about the hospital, or call your mom, then promise me you’ll sleep at least six to eight hours tonight. Promise?”
“I want to finish it first.”
“It’s going to take you forever to finish that. At least another day. Come on. Time for bed.”
Kim picked up a few sculpting tools, placing them in a box, encouraging me to do the same. I sighed. What she’s saying is true. I haven’t been taking the best care of myself lately. I took the sheets of prepared clay and wrapped them in plastic. Then I picked up the slab of wood I’d been working on, careful not to drop the cat, and placed it on my bureau.
Once everything was set aside for the morning, I jumped in the shower, reheated the soup, took my medication, including a sleeping pill, and went to bed. The vintage clock’s hands ticked with each passing second, making my eye twitch.
I still need to finish my book. Maybe I can work on a chapter when I’m done with the cat.
“But I gotta get to decluttering the closet and get to the gym. Where can I find the time?”
The Sandman took his sweet-ass time putting me in the land of slumber, but once he came I slept for a whole seven hours. Seven hours. It was the longest I had slept in a few months.
I sat up. My head spun. Grogginess struck me like a bat in an amateur baseball game. I groaned, put on mild music on my cell phone, and lay my head down on the pillow. Sleep came and went for another four hours before I forced myself awake. My shoulders slumped as I sat there, rubbing gunk from my eyes.
“I feel like shit.”
Looking around the room, my eyes lingered on the laptop, stopping on the partially made cat.
“I’ll finish you later today.”
But later today turned into later that week, then later that month—month after month.
“But what happened?” Kim asked, perplexed one summer afternoon.
“I don’t want to do it.”
“You don’t want to do what? Write? Sculpt? Paint? Work out? What?”
“I don’t feel like doing anything right now. I’ve lost interest.”
Kim raised her eyebrow, wrinkled her forehead.
“Veronica, look around. Last year you were going to build your own desk—you still haven’t installed any drawers or painted it yet; last winter you joined an acting class—you dropped out before the big play; two months ago you started a garden, which I have to take care of.”
“Kim, don’t you think I know? I will get to them. It’s my mental illness—you just don’t want to see it.”
“So, what, you’ll get to it when you’re in the mood?” Kim smiled.
“Not in a mood, but out of one. I’m crashing. That’s why I’m losing interest. It’s a regular question I get asked by my psychiatrist every month. ‘Have you lost interest in things you normally love doing?’ Without fail. So, please, don’t joke or tell me it’s in my head. I’ve met many other patients who have tons of unfinished projects. It’s a part of life for many of us. We don’t like it—it just is.”
Kim lowered her gaze, letting my speech sink in.
“Are you ever going to finish any of them?”
“I was thinking of finishing my story. I have to read over what I wrote, though.”
“What about the cat?”
“The clay’s crumbling. I have to take off all the clay that’s on it and start all over. It’s going to take forever. I don’t know if I feel like doing it now.”
“How about I help?”
“I can help. It’s not too hard making the little pieces of fur. Just roll a piece between my fingers. A three-year-old could do that.”
I sat up straighter.
“That sounds like fun.”
“Okay, you prepare it, and I’ll go make us some sandwiches and coffee for the job.”
I watched her as she left the room with determination. I matched it, excited to get to work on the cat again, certain I would finish it with Kim’s help.
“At least I’ll finish one project this year,” I said, peeling and wiping the clay off the cat’s masking tape. I examined how much work there was to do, and my heart dipped in protest. “Maybe.”
“Most definitely,” Kim said as she entered the room, food tray in hand, grin plastered on her lips.
Her energy was exactly what I needed. I felt myself crawling out of the dark, ready to get to work. I took the sandwich, studying the food tray. Kim sipped at one of her custom-made glasses filled with milk. The set of rainbow colours and various patterns swirled on the glass hypnotizing me.
“Have you ever tried glassblowing?”