And from my front porch. It’s been six weeks since I finished the A to Z Blogging challenge and I’ve only just mentally recovered. I had a blast blogging (almost) every day for the entire month of April…but it took a toll on my introverted nature. So I withdrew for a little while.
In the interim, I finished up another year of work at my other job (I’m on the academic calendar), took a road trip with my kids (we survived!) and asked myself a lot of questions about what I’m doing and why.
My life is less complicated than many, yet I still feel that if I can get to the end of the day without completely sinking, I’m doing okay. Hanging on has become the new goal. Parenting takes a ton of time, not to mention emotional and creative energy. My other job contains its (un)fair share of mental and emotional drains. Then there are the basic tasks of life – food to be bought and prepared, schedules to maintain, workouts and adequate sleep and even time for relaxation.
There’s always just a little too much to do and not quite enough time. For a few brief days in May, I seriously considered dropping the writing bit for awhile. It would free up time and be one less thing to worry about.
I said as much to my husband somewhere along the endless corridors of Indiana and Ohio. “You can’t do that,” he said. “You have stories to tell and the world needs to hear them.” He confirmed a decision I had already come to on my own – nothing (aside from the ones I love) is more important to me than writing.
I may never make a full time living as a writer. I may never publish a novel. (Heck, I may never finish either of the novels I’m currently writing.) I may never earn more than a “oh, that’s nice,” comment and a look of vague concern when I tell people I’m a writer. But writing is important to me. It’s what I’m here on this earth to do.
So what matters is that I do it. I will orient my life around my writing. (I already do this, actually, but sometimes I need a little reminder.) There will always be interruptions and setbacks and things that look like setbacks but aren’t. It will never be perfect, but that’s okay. If nothing else, I’ll have even more fodder for stories and blog posts like this one.
Okay, off to write!
While I was on sabbatical – and especially after I returned to work – I started saying no a lot. No to excessive service commitments, no to a stack of research ideas, no to projects that eat into time when I’m not under contract. I wanted to set up patterns that were different that the ones I had prior to tenure. The pre-tenure blitz can be overwhelming. You’re trying to do all you can in order to build a record for tenure. You worry that if you say no to something, it might hurt your chances.
After you get to the place where you can pretty much only be fired if the institution is going under or for “moral turpitude” (I love that phrase), there’s an opportunity to focus. In my case, I’m most interested in issues of discernment, diversity and helping students develop sophisticated research habits of mind. Whenever I’m asked to take on a new commitment, I evaluate it in terms of my priorities and then decide whether or not to pursue it.
I did this a little bit before tenure, but I’m doing it more now. I’m also evaluating my obligations in terms of time. I didn’t do this very well before tenure. I kept adding things – in part because I was interested in them and also in part because I wanted to make sure I had as strong a case as possible for tenure. I was never particularly honest with myself about how much time various commitments would take, so I’d end up frazzled and tired.
I now have practices and priorities in place for deciding when to say no. I also have a sense of how much is enough for me to do at this stage in my career and in light of my contractual obligations. I am not interested in shorting my institution or “getting away” with doing less work. But why am I saying no?
I say no in order to say yes. I say yes for the sake of my mental, emotional and physical health. I say yes so I have a more flexible schedule that can adapt better to changes (like accommodating occasional sick kid days or extra swim lessons). I say yes so I have more time to reflect on life. And let’s be honest – I say no so I can say yes to my writing. As often and as much as possible.
My very wise friend Sara wrote a line in an email that has stuck with me. We’ve been talking about careers and choices and vocation a lot. She wrote that at this stage in her life, she knows the kind of life she wants and it’s more about the bigger picture, rather than “what am I doing to make money.” I think about her words every day – the bigger picture is what’s important to me, too. I have a good job that I like. I have a writing career that I love. I say no in order to say yes to a life I enjoy.
This may (or may not) be a real word and I know it because I found it on the internet. Since I work in a library, I got fancy and looked it up in the Oxford English Dictionary. No go. It wasn’t in the online edition or the massive print volumes we have, either. Still , Merriam Webster online lists this as a word, with either the word itself or just the sentence containing it (it’s hard to tell) submitted by Anonymous on November 2, 2005:
xeroflulogitis: (noun) : When translated literally from Greek/Latin roots, this word means ” the condition of a dry flow of words”. Therefore, this describes that often cliched phrase of being “lost for words” or ” the lack of word-flow”.
The fact that it may not be a recognized word doesn’t really matter, in part because I make up words all the time (this is why my spouse won’t play Scrabble with me) and also because finding words starting with x is, as expected, hard.
Plus I’m tickled by the definition – the condition of being at a loss for words. It seemed appropriate for my A to Z Challenge theme: the things that support my writing. I haven’t talked much about writer’s block on the blog. I’ve certainly had times when the words don’t flow. Usually those times arise when specific conditions are in place. When I’m smart and paying attention, I notice the conditions and try to adjust to them as necessary.
Here are a few of the big conditions that lead to my occasional xeroflulogitis:
- Lack of sleep – This is the main cause of creative blocks for me. It’s also the easiest to fix (well, easier than the others, at least). If I’m not well-rested, my creativity suffers.
- Sensory overload – This relates to lack of sleep and perhaps is a condition best known to introverts. When I have days where I’m running around – even when those days aren’t filled with crises – I come home mentally blitzed. My mind is too overwhelmed to quiet down and focus on writing.
- Doubts – The hardest one to fix. There are times when I sit down to write and am beset by all those crazy voices telling me this is stupid and a waste of time. That I’m deluding myself to think I can make this work, that I’ll never produce anything worth reading.
To address these conditions, I pay attention. If I need sleep, I try to get to bed earlier (easier said than done – I am posting this at 11:15pm, after all). When I’m overwhelmed, I shut down social media, turn off the TV and read a book. Or sometimes I lay on the couch (if it’s winter) or front porch (if it’s not) and stare into the distance. And when I am beset by doubt, I remind myself that in the end, the bad things I say about myself aren’t true. They’re nothing more than a story.