Thursday, January 8, 2015

Writing, Warts, and the Atlas Complex

What I thought being A Real Writer in the Slow Winter Months would be like:

Waking up in the morning while the house is quiet, grabbing a cup of tea and cozying up by the wood stove with my laptop and a purring cat at hand. Excited because I woke up with the greatest idea for the next part of my new book, I write 500 words before the first of the children plods down the stairs asking about breakfast. We eat, do their lessons, eat again, do a craft, I write another 500 words and spend an hour promoting my book online before dinner, after which I respond to email and relax with Denny.

Er… Yeah. Well, it’s not the above, let’s just say that.

Just like you, I’m sure, I dream of a day, just one day, that goes according to plan. Or even a day where I can get the head space to make a plan to stick to. But the hours go zooming by and it takes life right along with it. Half the time, like Bilbo Baggins, I feel, “thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread."

I suspect it comes from some combination of my perfectionist nature and the sheer quantity of lovely things in life to enjoy. I can’t do it all. If I do one or two things well on any given day, I must be neglecting other things. There’s no winning. Some days this doesn’t bother me and some days it does. You ever have those days where you end up just spinning your wheels because you can’t settle on a direction? Last week I met myself coming and going. One afternoon I realized I had fixed myself an iced cappuccino, drank half of it and then, 15 minutes later, popped it in the microwave because I thought I might enjoy it better hot. I just didn’t know where my head was or what I wanted.

I wrote about writing and Denny and getting it all sorted in a recent post. I suppose I needn’t repeat myself, tempting as it is because the same thoughts still zigzag through my brain. Denny and I are still trying to find our groove, with both of us working and schooling the kids at home.

So what’s new? Well, today I’m sitting in our small public library. I’ve found a study desk where I can set up. I have headphones on so I can listen to music and tune out the goings-on around me. I’ve set myself a time limit; three, maybe four hours. No distractions. Whatever I get done, I get done. Going to try to do this one day a week. I have the most difficult time setting aside other things and making writing a priority. I want to write; I love to write, but it takes head space. My head is often crowded with other things all screaming for attention. I foolishly think that if I just get the other things done, I’ll be able to write. The other things are never done, at least not for long. Getting out of the house for a few hours narrows my focus only by a small margin, but it helps sometimes.

I really don’t know how other writing mothers do this. I want to be a good mom, an engaged mom, and for me that also means being a good teacher, raising my own children and giving them a better foundation for life than they would receive anywhere else. I want to be a good partner to Denny, spending time with him, making sure his needs are met, enjoying him, his interests, and the life we are building. I want to learn new things, to study and explore my corner of the world, as well as a few other places. I want to eat right, feed my family nutritious and delicious meals, exercise, get enough sleep, take truly relaxing breaks, keep a clean house (or at least get it clean a couple times a week), and build and enjoy worthwhile friendships. I want to express myself creatively, to write for myself and others, while making a small profit to help support my family.

Lofty goals. Maybe not so different from yours. Do you spend too much time feeling like you can’t keep up? Like time is getting away from you? And do you, like me, know full well that you’d be way more productive and happy if you stopped tripping on the idea of being productive and happy? Let’s see if I can summarize and share the great advice that I don’t always follow:

Let it go. 

There, that was easy enough. And you learned that much watching Frozen.


Okay, the point is, both for your benefit and mine, that we’re not perfect. Agggghhh! I know! How many times do I have to say it before it sinks in? I’m not perfect, you’re not, no one is. That’s right, no one. Nope, not even Supermom on that charming blog you always read. I guarantee you that her kids bicker from me to time and that she, too, has to decide between cleaning her house and writing or something else she wants to do. And she occasionally cheats and buys bread from the store instead of baking her own. Let’s cut ourselves a little slack.

I wonder if folks had a better perspective when we lived next door to each other in small communities like our grandparents did? Or intentional communities like some do these days. What are we missing by not living and working beside each other daily, sharing our ups, downs, bumps, bruises, laughter and tears, unable to hide our imperfections? Has our ability to realistically see each other altered our ability to realistically see ourselves? To what effect?
How close does your best friend live to you? How far away is your family? How often do you visit? Who else do you relate to? How much of the honest lives of others are you able to witness on a regular basis? Do you only see the things they present on the phone? Their blogs? On Facebook? In the occasional email?

“Oh yes, the kids are all doing well. We spent two hours studying Native American Indians this morning and we ate a traditional Indian meal,” says your friend in an email. While she’s typing, the children have just finished watching Disney’s Pocahontas and are now grumbling about who’s turn it is to wash dishes. For lunch they devoured four bags of microwaved popcorn and cold canned pumpkin drizzled with Mrs. Butterworth’s. Not sayin’ all of your friends are lying to you, but each of us can definitely present things in such a way as to make us feel better about our lives. We might not be comfortable letting people see our warts. Though, admittedly, sometimes we are honest--painfully so--but because of where others are in their lives they just can’t see that you struggle, too. Instead of comforting them, your realness threatens them. (I had a recent reviewer suggest that my account of my life in Free to Be is dishonest. I had rather a good chuckle over that. Bad reviews always seem to say more about the reviewer than about the item being reviewed, have you noticed?)

For me, taking my writing seriously has involved an honest examination of my ideals and my perceived failures. It has involved hours of self-doubt as well as a certain amount of neglect in other areas of my life, no matter how smooth it looks from your end. It’s true I spend too much time comparing my accomplishments with my ideals. I make more progress when I put my head down and barrel through, oblivious to the inner doubts as well as everything others are saying, positive or negative. When it’s just me, just doing what I do, that’s when I shine. A bit of self-acceptance goes a long way toward shining.

But someone has to bake the bread, make sure the house gets cleaned, plan meals, juggle appointments, remember birthdays, comfort the sick, teach English, read Dr. Seuss…  Oh well. I’ll do what I can and will try not to beat myself up over it, instead enjoying the moments because they’re all worthwhile. And I will learn to lean on the ever-willing and lovingly supportive Denny, who is quite capable of doing many of the above practical things, as well as knowing how to boost my morale. I spent entirely too many years doing it all myself with nary a pat on the back and old habits die hard. He’s a good one, that Denster. They don’t get any better.

Well, whatever the case, I reckon there will eventually be some balance of life and acceptance. It’ll all come out in the wash. Speaking of which...

1 comment:

  1. This brought tears to my eyes. It's so *hard*! And so much of it is all on our own. How I wish we had that neighbor that was on the same journey and could work together for the common good. Sometimes an extra hand, sometimes an ear that gets it.


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