As the Universe is wont to do, this past week the answer to a problem I’ve long grappled with crossed my path, not once but several times. The problem, though it may just be my inner editor screwing with me, is this:
I’ll admit that being a writer has been helpful during the pandemic. I’ve always got something to read, or a story to work on, so I’m rarely bored. As an introvert, I’m content on my own, and Zoom is always there when I do need to contact my writing peeps. To be honest, I kind of dig not having to dress up and rush all over the place all the time. I’m much more relaxed and find it easier to muster the energy to attend writing functions because they no longer include having to leave my house.
And yet, that horrible little voice whispers in my head, reminding me of all my shortcomings. Pointing out I have “real” work to do, for example, cleaning out the freezer, taking the dogs for a walk, or scrolling Pinterest for lesson ideas. Useful things that won’t “waste” my time, like writing does. Usually, I’m able to tell that bitch to back off and continue writing, anyway. It takes far less energy to sit at my desk to write, and it’s much more fun than scrubbing my walk-in shower.
For NaNoWriMo, to help me reach my goal of writing for fifteen minutes every day for the month of November, I’ve put a cheery check mark on the calendar next to my desk, to inspire me to keep working toward my goal.
As I forced myself to sit down after a long day of teaching last week, I realized my calendar is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it’s satisfying to put that check mark on the page and feel like I’m accomplishing something. On the other, there is the fear and guilt that grips me when I think about not putting the check mark up.
A Little Help from a Friend
My writing friend, Katherine, shared a tweet that crystallized the struggle for me.
I attach too much of my worth as a person to what I do in life, rather than what I am. It’s a common affliction in our North American capitalist culture. We are valuable when we are working, making things, consuming things. Creating capital. It isn’t enough that we are beautiful souls caring for ourselves and others. We must do rather than be.
It’s no coincidence that I love a good to-do list.
My writing has become another thing I must do. A product I must produce. Given the competition in the world of traditional publishing and the challenge of becoming a self-published author, publishing a work of fiction seems like a pipe- dream. Why can’t I just enjoy my writing for the joy and creativity it brings to my life? Why must I force it to prove its worth?
The Universe sent me the answer to that question twice, because evidently, I really needed the message.
Kurt Vonnegut to the Rescue
Author Kurt Vonnegut shares a story about meeting someone as a teenager and in the introductory conversation, ends up admitting that even though he (Vonnegut) sang in a choir, acted, took art lessons and was learning violin, that he was “no good” at any of them, mostly because he hadn’t achieved greatness in any of the pursuits. What the other person said to him changed Vonnegut’s perspective on his life.
“I don’t think being good at things is the point of doing them. I think you’ve got all these wonderful experiences with different skills, and that teaches you things and makes you an interesting person, no matter how well you do them.”
This was life changing for Vonnegut because he went from being a “failure” at theatre, music and art, to being someone who did these things because he enjoyed them. What a shocking concept! We live in this achievement oriented culture and are fed the myth of Talent- you either have it, or you don’t- and consequently feel like we’re failing if we’re not on the bestsellers list, or the podium, or an awards list.
It’s so much bullshit.
If writing makes me happy, that’s enough. I don’t have to have anything to show for it, except joy and something cool to talk about at social functions post-pandemic, if that is what I choose. I can keep adding my check marks, not because I must, but because I want to (I mean, there is a pair of Fluevog shoes on the line, after all). If Vonnegut is any example, there is success waiting for those who follow their passions and find joy in their work, instead of slogging their way to the word mines every day because of some misguided cultural belief.
I don’t have to be the sum of my to-do list, I can be the sum of a life lived joyously, doing the things I love.
What a revolutionary concept.