Tuesday, October 23, 2012


It happens to everyone sometimes – those weeks when everything is work and free moments are few and far between.  In fact, that’s been my exact status recently.

Lately my life has been too full of teaching stuff like this...
Did I manage to get any writing done during this time?  No, I did not.  Also, I’m not ashamed to admit it.

You see, usually when I am suddenly plunged into a whirlwind of activity, I feel panicky and wonder if life will ever calm down again.  The ideas in my head and the stack of editing papers on my desk alternatively shriek or glare at me accusingly.  I become very antsy.

This time, though, I’m proud to say that I managed to keep my cool – more or less.  (I did get extremely tired, but that’s only to be expected!)  So I thought to myself, ‘What’s different this time?  How did I manage to stave off the writing withdrawals I usually go through?’  Of course I came up with a few reasons and of course I thought it was high time to use them for a blog post. 

First of all, let me set the scene.  My second niece was born at the beginning of this month.  About a week and a half later, my mom visited my brother’s family to help out.  This was necessary because Niece One is a bundle of inexhaustible energy.  Niece Two, on the other hand, is very calm and sweet and desires sleep above all things, but still – new babies take a lot of focus, and so do two-year-old toddlers.  Hence Mom’s trip. 

Now this would be fine and dandy, except that Mom has so devotedly taken care of my dad during the thirty-three years of their marriage that he is a bit helpless in the kitchen.  He can grow vegetables; he can grill a mean steak, but for the rest, he leaves it happily to Mom.  The danger, therefore, was that he would spend a week subsisting on take-out and pizza – not a very healthy diet.  Instead, I volunteered to take care of his dinners during the week. 

I did cook yummy meals, though!
Usually my schedule is busy, but still incorporates plenty of leisure in the evening: there’s work, plus some dinner, some exercise, some school prep, some editing and some television.  That pleasant balance suddenly changed to rushing wildly home after work, unloading dishwashers, running loads of laundry, cleaning so that Mom wouldn’t return to a pigsty, preparing dinner, cooking, eating, cleaning up, mopping, getting ready for the next day’s meals.  I usually didn’t finish until 8:30, and then I still had to shower and face school preparations.  You see why I was tired.

Granted, I had some free time.  I squeezed in a tv-show or even a movie every night, as a way to wind down before bedtime.  The hard-core writer might therefore sniff superciliously and wonder why I didn’t get some editing done.  My unabashed answer would be that writing is lovely, but it’s still work.  It’s hardly effective to relax from a superlatively busy day by taking on yet more business.  Common sense, therefore, was one element in my success at pushing away guilt. 

There's only one palm tree, but who's complaining?
The other, more pleasant one is that I’m rapidly approaching my fall break.  The school where I work takes a week off at the end of October, so that the students – but more importantly the teachers – can catch their breath after 8 weeks of uninterrupted classes.  That means that I have a writing oasis approaching me.  Like a weary traveler in a vast desert, I see before me the fabled palm trees and fresh springs of vacation.  I'll use my week off to edit as much as humanly possible. 

This second element of success was, I think, the real thing that kept me calm during a hectic month.  It appears that when I suddenly wake up to find myself swimming in a sea of duties (or should I stick with the desert analogy?), my main life support is to find a goal somewhere on the horizon. 

I’ve said before that we need patience and we need to forgive ourselves if we're writers or hobbyists or creators or artist who suddenly have no time to work on our projects.  However, I think that we also need something a bit more tangible to survive.  Everyone has busy times, but almost always down the line we can see some opportunity to escape the grind and take a breath and do what we want.  Even if we only foresee such a chance a year away, I recommend that you still cling to the hope of reaching that chance.  Make extravagant plans for how you will then use every second to create the great American novel! 

The thing is, if we have no hope of an eventual break, even far in the future, there’s also no hope of keeping the creative mind awake We might start pushing away our little thoughts about this character or that plot twist or such-and-such a timeline.  What’s the point of thinking about something which will never be realized, after all?  It’s just a cruel tantalization. 

However, when we feel tired and dispirited and worry that perhaps nothing creative will ever emerge from us again, we can remember that in fact there'll soon be an opportunity to break out of the rut.  That in itself gives us a reason to indulge those little flashes of inspiration. 

If you’re like me, inspiration – even the tiniest – is one of the great pleasures of being a writer.  Finding a reason to be receptive to that pleasure, then anticipating when we can at last explore and develop it: that’s the way to make the busy times less burdensome, more a part of our writing life.  

1 comment:

  1. We take care of ourselves, lives and families in different ways. I like though how you put it into perspective - in a way that anyone, not just writers can glean important insight. That one single palm ...could be just one of many if I ever do get back to Hawaii. I spent a week in Maui several years ago. Which reminds me that somewhere I still have some film or photos to sort out...of that time. Anyway I'd like to get back to some warm beach to fall into the sunsets, rise up to the stars and maybe one day hold a book in my hand contains mountains of inspired works that everyone can enjoy...

    The horizon changes with every footfall - perhaps it will get closer if I stop procrastinating...I guess it might just be time to put an effort into sorting out the horizons I can control...like the kitchen sink, which *sigh* is full again. :)

    If you are anywhere around 'Sandy' the Hurricane - be safe!