|This is both my fantasy and my nightmare.|
This is not a personal journal. I write about writing, not about my chosen family or my love life or my friends. While a careful reader will be able to identify the trajectory of my life--like what conventions I'm likely to attend or if I had a good time during a given weekend, and someone willing to untangle certain magical realism metaphors (like the presence of two identical girlfriends with antithetical temperament or a house filled with more super heroes than The Justice League) might be able to figure out a few personal details, generally I stick to the writing. However, there are unavoidable overlaps of those worlds in certain places. This is a little free form--a little stream of consciousness...maybe even a little messy.
Apologies all around for that.
But I think it's important that writers see the foibles in their colleagues--that they see the times we fall on our face. They see the things that don't work. They don't compare their own behind-the-scenes to other writers' highlight reels. And they witness other writer's failures not just as sound bites after the accolades of success roll in, but as living and breathing moments of true setback. This is one reason I love Anne Lammot so very hard. She has never pulled a punch in describing her own difficulties with writing. And if anyone thinks I'm breezing this blog out without some pretty epic stumbling, I want them to know how wrong they are.
If I could fight one demon on the storm-soaked rooftops of a metropolitan skyline, our dramatic moments highlighted by flashes of lightning, that demon would be Time. Or I guess time would be some aloof personification that couldn't be concerned with the meddling of mortals, and the actual demon I would fight would be my perception of time.
Or maybe Unsupportive Girlfriend. But I don't think she's actually the problem...this time. Not really.
Me and time just don't get along. We never have. If I don't take some time to myself, I feel stressed out and pressurized. If I do take time to myself, I feel lazy and neglectful of other obligations. If I take care of everything I want to do, I have no time to write. If I make myself write, some aspect of my life suffers. When I am nailing my writing goals, I watch the dishes in the sink metastasize and my waistline do horrifying stretching exercises. If I take care of everything, I notice that I haven't really had quality time with my loved ones in days. Something is always behind, and I'm always playing a shell game trying to pretend that sacrificing the four to six hours a day I spend writing wouldn't be the solution to all my problems.
And pretty much every day I think to myself "I need to be reading more!" Seriously the amount I'm (not) reading is shameful, really.
There is a lot being written lately about how the balanced life is a myth when it comes to art. People with obsessions make it in art and entertainment and those with balance in their lives end up with a nice hobby. To a certain degree, I am always willing to deal with this as a motif in my life. You just can't go off and do something that isn't work or sleep for hours and hours and not have every other thing in your life suffer. (Everyone who's ever gotten addicted to World of Warcraft can tell you that.) But some days my need to write causes more tensions than others.
I can sit and write at any time because I take daily writing seriously, and I've been doing it for twenty years. But we all have times that work best for us. Mine, unfortunately is in the deep stillness of the late night and early morning. Unfortunately, that time is completely impossible logistically.
My roommates don't really get the idea of working at night. I mean they theoretically understand that it means I work when they go to bed, but the corollary parts about me sleeping during the day seem to be tougher to grasp. In this old Victorian with it's hardwood floors, they sound like a herd of thundering bison in the morning when they get ready in the morning. If they don't wake me inadvertently they will sometimes stop to have loud conversations outside my door to make sure. I have a white noise maker that helps me sleep, but Unsupportive Girlfriend doesn't like sleeping with it--pretty much guaranteeing that any night she sleeps in my bed, I am going to be waking up when Uberdude starts his morning expenditure of decibles, to say nothing of the fact that his nickname on the Serengeti was Thunderhoof, and most of the time he can make more noise than the noisemaker can drown out. And if my waking doesn't happen organically, Unsupportive Girlfriend will help the process along by playing Noisotronics Blaster on her iPad next to me. Then when my crusty, bloodshot eye cracks open and I stir with a low grumble, she says something like, "Oh, is this bothering you?"
Usually what happens next involves one of those squishy stress balls, and I end up saying, "That little sucker just saved your life."
So invariably I regret ever trying to adjust my schedule. I start losing sleep, and I end up going back to the house schedule just to stay sane. Turns out homicidal rages are frowned upon around here.
There are other problems that sort of follow a similar trajectory. They aren't really anyone's fault--they just sort of exist. I don't really have "A Room of One's Own" so I constantly deal with interruptions unless I have the house to myself. It's not like the din of a public place, but actual interruptions aimed at me or the television in the next room playing something that is hard to tune out. Four days of the week I am not alone in the house during the day, nor do the "see-above" problems really make it feasible to write after everyone has gone to bed. Leaving the house is a possibility, but it tends to add time to an already overcrowded schedule of three jobs.
Unsupportive Girlfriend loves to knit, and she usually watches TV while she knits since reading isn't really feasible. She always invites me to sit and watch with her, usually tempting me with the prospect of turning off the forgettable sit-com reruns she happens to have on at the time for something she know's I'm into watching with her. It's not that she is trying to derail me or wants to tempt me. She just likes spending time with me. I sit down and suddenly one episode of Downton Abby has turned into half a season.
(And yeah, I know that last one is really on me.)
You can kind of see how some of these difficulties combine. Apart they are minor annoyances that probably have solutions, but they sort of join forces like the Wonder Twins and end up being the metaphorical ice javelin shoved by the metaphorical gorilla into my metaphorical face.
I end up looking at a game like Skyrim with hundreds of hours of play time, and of which I really want to do a literary review, and feeling a bit like I just took on some chore of Sisyphus. And when you're feeling frustrated that you "have" to play Skyrim, you know something has gone very, very wrong.
And the problem, believe it or not, isn't that I don't have enough time. The college where I work is constantly on some break or another. I just end up wasting more time. My difficulties swell or shrink to fill whatever container they are in--which is why I know the problem is with me and relative rather than absolute.
So here I am...I've lost all my "lead time" on articles. I blew a weekend and though the kitchen looks clean, I feel like I've wasted it. I woke up to morning noises after five hours of sleep (about three fewer hours than I need and the last straw in a weekend of not being able to sleep in). And I have a gnawing at the pit of my stomach about needing to go to work, clean the house, weed, and that I'm going to lose pretty much an entire day of productivity tomorrow because date day with Unsupportive Girlfriend suffers no productivity to live. I have a gnawing at the pit of my stomach. I feel like a failure.
I'm not saying any of this this to complain. My first world, artist problems don't hold a candle to things like "I can't make rent" or "I've just gotten terminal diagnosis." I've got no one to complain to about my time management but a mirror. If I said no a little more often (especially to myself), had some better boundaries (especially with myself), and wrote more efficiently in a shorter time instead of doing the post-college life equivalent of turning everything in at the last minute, I'd probably watch half these problems go away.
I'm saying it so that people know I struggle. I'm not perfect at this--I'm not really even that great. I love writing and want to write and manage to prioritize it, but everything else is just a cavalcade of failures, mistakes, and character flaws. I don't always succeed. In fact, most days, I'm just trying to fail with some style. I get (very) frustrated. This doesn't come in some effortless wind to me.
The fact that I am able to put out an article at all some days is an act of defiance, will, and resilience as much as it is inspiration, creativity, and unicorn burps. Some days I look up at the time and I just want to beat the shit out of the clock or something. I am constantly running out of time or falling behind on whole chunks of life. (Most recently, I discovered I had gained about 15 stealth pounds since the last time I checked.) I am constantly trying to make new schedules, keep up with things, and failing miserably. I am constantly confronting the fact that I might manage to get an entry up once a day (.....usually) (....sort of), but it is often at the price of so much other stuff that's going on. I'm often frustrated with life and myself because I'm not better with time and writing is basically messing up the rest of my life.
Worth it? Oh absolutely. But effortless or painless? Not even a little.
I think that's an important thing for every writer to know about every other. You might not see what happens "backstage" but you probably shouldn't imagine it's all the ecstasy of creation and problem-free logistics.