I’ve become detached from the strict flow of a business day and a work week.
I am fulling rested, regularly, I think for the first time in my life. I stay up late, I wake without an alarm, work and chores get done at various times. It matters less and less what particular day it is. It’s colder or warmer, the sun is up early or late. Most days are good – filled with music and books and shows and work.
I’m trying to lean into that rhythm, to make choices based on what impulses arise, not to let the clock dictate the activity whenever it can be avoided. Eat when hungry, sleep when tired. If you must work, take a break for food and a walk and even chores, if it breaks up the drudgery or resets the mental focus. Watch the birds, water the plants, walk the neighborhood, then back to the tasks that earn the roof over my head and food in my kitchen. The work is not unpleasant, the numbers line up clean and true, the cycle predictable and mastered and returning again to be conquered, coworkers to share the work and the perspective, mutual support in face of all else.
I can almost see what it would be, to have a life that was dictated by the needs of the body and the mind, not by the machine of industry. A tiny glimpse, since the work always comes back around to interrupt the flow of time, imposing the fiction of calendars and economies on an existence that requires neither to be getting on with. The web of thoughts and desires and inclinations overwritten by the requirements of deadlines and meetings and the unspoken threat of the loss of all that is necessary to support the body, while stripping the mind and soul of pieces of itself. Losses I wasn’t even aware of for most of my life and now resented mightily – now that it’s a smaller loss than ever before.
I don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer. Much like I don’t really remember a time when I didn’t read voraciously. Any class that required writing – Reading, English, any humanities class – I did well in. I can structure an argument, I can write a story, I used to think my poems were deep and meaningful (those junior high school poems, ouch!). I was taking a class in how retirement IRAs work and I joked that my earnings would be royalties from my books. I got a bachelor’s degree in English and swore I’d write the defining thesis of the 21st century. I’ve written book reviews for (very little) money. I’ve edited several (self-published) books. I’ve written some short stories and 12,000 words on a middle-grade novel I haven’t finished. I write (very irregularly) on this blog.
So when I quit my job and ran away, one of the things I meant to do was get on that whole writing thing. I’d have all that free time – I’d totally finish that novel, write up all those cool ideas for feminist magazines and pop-culture websites. At a minimum, I’d make hardly any money generating crappy content for the endless machine that is the internet. I bought a Writers Almanac and planned to pitch and write stories for various outlets until someone accepted one.
Maybe y’all didn’t notice, but… none of that happened. I wrote almost nothing on the novel. I wrote in my journal a lot, and a few blog posts, but not much else. I applied and tested for a few writing/editing jobs and got none of them. I didn’t pitch a single essay to a single website.
I have a million reasons/ excuses for why that is – some more valid than others – but ultimately I just… didn’t.
So the real question is: Do I want to write, or do I just want to think of myself as a writer?
Well, I really can’t stand the idea that my whole life I’ve basically been a fraud, pretending to be someone who would be a writer “if only I had the time.” So I guess I better get on that shit.
After being called on my bullshit excuses by my best friend (whose job it is to do that for me), I’ve decided that what I have to do – if I want to make this fantasy of writing a reality – is hack my writing process. I follow dozens of writers and editors on Twitter and they are constantly talking about the processes that work for them, with lots of options for me to choose from. So the next step is PUTTING SOME OF THOSE IN PLACE! Trying them out, see what works. Recognize the excuses for what they are and not allowing them to stand unchallenged. My biggest (mental, self-imposed) hurdles are as follows.
Problem 1: I am lazy. Please don’t try to tell me I’m not. Y’all have no idea how much free time I spend doing stupid shit – in addition to all the free time I spend doing good things like reading and crocheting and stuff. I.AM. LAZY. Not up for discussion.
Rule to Solve Problem 1: Stare that bitch right in the face. Stop accepting my own lame excuses. Let my friends hold me accountable. I’m usually opposed to people hassling me about stuff, but I’m putting this out there for all of you (if you’re interested). Go ahead and ask me if I’ve done any writing lately. I’m officially committing to writing frequently and regularly, and I may need help sticking to it.
Problem 2: Focusing the brain on writing. Writing requires that I harness most/ all of the simultaneous trains of thought in my head to focus on this one thing with a minimum of tangents. I don’t know if everyone else’s brain works like this, but there are at least four things happening in my head every minute I’m awake. This is why I insist on listening to music while at work, because it keeps one of them happy. Chatting with people while working is also good, so two tracks are occupied and work is likely to go well. In order for the serious writing to happen – and for me to stick to it – I can’t be distracted by looking up that book I wanted to reference, or thinking about how I first heard this song on vacation, or getting angry at the current state of the world.
Rule to Solve Problem 2: I made a playlist with mostly instrumentals and songs in languages I do not speak. Turn off the internet if I’m using my laptop. Make notes on research TO BE DONE LATER. Put phone out of reach with all social media notifications turned off. Stay off Twitter until after the writing is done.
Problem 3: I get lots of ideas (those fucking trains never stop running, people) but don’t do anything with them.
Rule to Solve Problem 3: WRITE THEM DOWN IMMEDIATELY. The kernel of a new idea is tough to hold onto, even if you aren’t past 40 and losing the sharpness of your memory. They won’t all be winners, but I’ll never know if I can’t remember any of them. Jot down those ideas when they come. Develop them – soon – instead of just thinking about them while watching TV.
Problem 4: Editing brain and writing brain are very different. Editing is much easier, it actually benefits from all those tracks in my head. And it’s basically just reading and getting to feel like I’m smart because I can see the mistakes and fix them, so that’s two things that make me happy. But I can’t edit a blank page (that is one of those things writers and editors are always saying). So as soon as I do have something written, I’m quite happy to jump to the editing process, which derails the writing process. The idea that all writing needs to be published/ posted goes right along with this, and so I prioritize editing the words instead of making the words. But I know I can edit and post blogs, that is not a skill I need to work on or a process I need to improve.
Rule to Solve Problem 4: FOCUS ON THE WRITING. Don’t fix the typos. Ignore the editing and posting – at least for now. Of course as I write this current thing here – clearly intended to be posted on my blog – I realize I have to ignore it in order for anyone to read this. The world is full of contradictions.
Last weekend I tried all of these rules. I made a writing playlist. I stopped getting on Twitter at breakfast. I re-read books that inspired me. And I wrote more than 2000 words, made three or four notes on other ideas I wanted to explore, even dictated notes into my phone while I was out walking. It’s clear that I can do this. Whether or not anyone but my friends wants to read any of it IS NOT THE POINT OF WRITING IT. That is publishing.
I’ve been back in a place of my own for three months now. It is so nice to have a place that is mine – where the things are mine and the choices and the messes and the books are all mine. Where alone time is always an option and sleeping in a matter of course.
I wake to a view of UW and birds on my deck eating the seed/bribes I’ve put out. There’s a drawbridge nearby that blasts a foghorn when it’s going to lift – sometimes waking me, sometimes drawing me to the window to see what’s coming through. Dozens of bird species in the air and in the water, and all manner of water-craft, including the occasional float plane or floating hot tub.
I’m back at a real job – a thing I thought maybe I’d never have again. But it’s not as painful as I imagined it would be. I’m actually enjoying it – that is the most surprising part, really. I got everything I wished for – challenging work that stretches my capabilities, good compensation, good people to work with, a casual office atmosphere with a bit of flex in the schedule that allows for a slow morning, and two blocks from home.
You would think it would be hard to go back to all of this, having abandoned it for life on the road. But the truth is that it’s all too easy to fall back into the groove you’ve lived in for most of your life. It takes very little effort to live like you always did, to live like everyone around you.
You get up and do what you did yesterday, how hard is that? Wondering where you’ll be next week and how you’ll get there? That is difficult and often exhausting, even while being amazing and awesome. Who would have guessed that a regular job would be restful?!
But I’m definitely not the same person I was two years ago, in that wonderful office in Portland. And there’s no chance I’ll decide that I just want to stay here forever. A regular schedule has always been something I hated, and that hasn’t changed. Lately I’ve been changing it up by working more, not less, which is at least a new twist.
But I still yearn for turquoise oceans and tropical breezes on a daily basis. And the lack of time to travel is annoying, though the regular cash flow is a welcome change.
I’ve gotten lucky and already had visits (both intentional and ‘hey, I’m in Seattle for work, let’s do dinner’) from five people I adore, and more on the way in the next few weeks. My bank accounts are back in the black and savings starting to build again. I’m going to Alaska this June for my class reunion and other visits (hello, child of my loins).