May was a tough month. I had a heavy work schedule and a certification and training class over 2 subsequent weekends that entailed classroom work as well as long, cold hours in a YMCA pool. My schedule left me with little time to write and no time to relax and catch up to myself.
I successfully passed the class and am now recertified to teach Red Cross swimming lessons, and I earned a couple of very helpful paychecks, but I’m exhausted and dissatisfied because I haven’t been writing much.
Work is an excellent distraction from my life. It always has been. I like to work. I like having concrete and specific expectations in a work setting. I like making a contribution to others. I like the social aspect of work, and I love being part of a team.
I also like the paychecks.
I could increase my hours to full time and enjoy the benefits and increased income. I could continue adding to my education and certifications and take on teaching more classes and aquatic programs. I’d enjoy it and I’m confident I’d do well.
I tell myself that’s what a normal, responsible, adult person would do.
I tell myself I should be grateful for work opportunities and take full advantage of them.
I tell myself I need the money.
But all the while there’s a voice in my head saying, “But what about writing?”
What about the blog, the books, that query letter I need to write and that submission process I promised myself I would tackle this year? What about that activity that guarantees no income, demands all my passion and creativity, requires long stretches of quiet solitude and combines my greatest joy with my most vivid hopes and fears?
It’s time to fish or cut bait, shit or get off the pot. It’s time to reassess my time, energy and priorities and make conscious choices. It’s time for recommitment.
All my life I’ve worn efficiency and effectiveness like a suit of armor. People remark on my poise, my strength, my confidence and competence. All my life I’ve felt like a fraud and an imposter.
I’m not motivated by the desire to compete or win applause. All I’m trying to do is stay safe. I hide my vulnerability behind my ability to be organized and willingness to take on responsibility.
A job is something I can do well and the world calls me successful.
A writer is something I am, and I must define my own success.
A job is a description, a list of competencies met and skills demonstrated, a time card, a schedule, policies and procedures.
Writing is intuitive, illogical, timeless, messy, infuriating, captivating and uncertain. It’s risky and vulnerable.
My job requires professionalism.
Writing requires absolute authenticity, sloppy, smelly and sticky.
I master a job.
Writing masters me.
I’d like to make an easy black-and-white decision here—live like a normal working person or find an old cabin in the woods and do nothing but write, but that’s ridiculous. Life consists of many threads woven together: Family, friends, home, our own self-care, community and work.
I can work and write too. I can’t take advantage of every opportunity at work, have a perfectly organized private life and be a perfect friend, family member and partner, all the while crouching behind my projections of competence, control and strength, and step into my full power as a writer.
Perfectionism will smother my life if I allow it to.
I may need to settle for being good enough, or even (God help us) average at work, at home and in my relationships. Maybe I don’t need to take advantage of every opportunity that comes my way, whether at work or in the course of daily life. Maybe staying safe is not such a life-or-death matter as I’ve always thought.
In the midst of all this rumination, Memorial Day weekend arrived. Saturday was the day we cleared out my storage unit after it flooded over the winter. We recruited some generous friends with a truck and trailer and made a date. At breakfast I wrote a short list of what to take. Then, instead of loading up the car, checking the list several times and getting ready hours in advance, I sat down and wrote a query letter and subscribed to an online site for locating publishers and agents who are currently accepting submissions.
Delighted and satisfied with my morning, my partner and I got in the car at the appointed time and headed to the storage facility.
I forgot to take the key to the padlock on the unit door. I also forgot the broom and the tape measure. I hadn’t taken time to check my list as we left.
Shit. Shit. Shit.
I left my partner there to wait for our friends and came back home.
For the first five minutes of the 20-minute drive I berated myself. Wasting gas, mileage and time. Worse—wasting my friends’ time! Rude, tardy, irresponsible, disorganized, incompetent …
Wait, I said to myself, hang on.
Isn’t this the choice I made, to settle for being less perfect in favor of writing? I failed to be properly organized in order to empty the storage unit, but I wrote a query letter, a project that’s been pending for seven months!
I had to smile at myself.
I slowed down and started enjoying the spring day. I stopped yelling at myself. I had been imperfect in front of God and everybody. My cover was blown and I felt uncomfortably exposed. I didn’t like it.
(My partner, as he reads this for the first time, informs me nobody else noticed or cared.)
So be it. The writing requires my unconditional best. The rest of my life can have whatever is left.
Normal, perfectionism and maybe even safety are overrated.
We got the storage unit emptied out and swept.
Then I came home and wrote this post.
My daily crime.
(See poem below)
“Leave the dishes.
Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator
and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.
Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.
Throw the cracked bowl out and don’t patch the cup.
Don’t patch anything. Don’t mend. Buy safety pins.
Don’t even sew on a button.
Let the wind have its way, then the earth
that invades as dust and then the dead
foaming up in gray rolls underneath the couch.
Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome.
Don’t keep all the pieces of the puzzles
or the doll’s tiny shoes in pairs, don’t worry
who uses whose toothbrush or if anything
matches, at all.
Except one word to another. Or a thought.
Pursue the authentic-decide first
what is authentic,
then go after it with all your heart.
Your heart, that place
you don’t even think of cleaning out.
That closet stuffed with savage mementos.
Don’t sort the paper clips from screws from saved baby teeth
or worry if we’re all eating cereal for dinner
again. Don’t answer the telephone, ever,
or weep over anything at all that breaks.
Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons
in the refrigerator. Accept new forms of life
and talk to the dead
who drift in through the screened windows, who collect
patiently on the tops of food jars and books.
Recycle the mail, don’t read it, don’t read anything
except what destroys
the insulation between yourself and your experience
or what pulls down or what strikes at or what shatters
this ruse you call necessity.”