Over the last few years, I’ve written blog post after blog post about making changes with a mind towards writing. I quit paid work. I quit volunteering. I set up my study, surrounded by books, many of them about writing. I am supported by the people in my life. I talk about writing. I read about writing. I write about writing. On occasion, I even write things that aren’t about writing.
The only person in my life who doesn’t take me seriously as a writer is me.
The door is open wide and I look desperately out of windows, jumping at anything that is not writing. It’s an odd compulsion that I’m at a loss to explain. I read somewhere that writing is hardest for writers. This makes no sense to me. When I’m in my writing groove, I’m so damned happy. But I’m a dilettante, without rigor or discipline. And the time for lying to myself is over.
I’ve been a consummate caregiver. But my child needs less from me. My mother-in-law is moving into a nursing home. I’m becoming increasingly less employable and less relevant to others as each moment passes. The closer I get to unfettered time, the more conflicted and lost I feel. But the cost to my psyche of not writing is starting to outweigh everything else.
If you daydream about a day when you didn’t have to work and could devote yourself full-time to writing…if you wished that those around you supported and encouraged you…if you wished that you had the perfect writing space…if – if – if.
Real writers know this is a shell game. I have met all my “if” conditions and I am no more a writer than I was at the height of activity – working, volunteering, caregiving. For me, calling myself a writer was just a lie to make all that other shit worth it. I could feel that I had a higher purpose, even when kissing someone’s ass in an office or getting barfed on by my child. I could always tell myself that when I had more time, I’d be awesome.
Well, it turns out I’m not awesome. I’m a procrastinator, a hustler trying to put up a good front. I remember watching a commencement speech by Neil Gaiman. He talked about how he got jobs by lying about where he’d been published and then made it a point of honor to get published later at the places about which he lied. Like him, I’m going to call myself “chronologically challenged”. My talk has preceded my walk.
There are many people who write/blog/create memes about writing. I know – I’ve read or seen many of them, because it was something that I could do instead of write. I don’t experience muses or inspiration or manic writing. I lost the poetry of my adolescent years and the sentimentality of my twenties. My thirties were dominated by marriage and child-rearing. And here I am, wrapping up my forties in a clusterfuck of unresolved personal issues and middle-aged angst.
Here’s the thing about inner conflict: it’s the heart of everything. It’s the recognition that you are your best friend and your worst enemy. It’s the battle between what was, what is and what will be. It’s the ultimate choosing of right and wrong, of what feeds you or what sucks your soul dry. It’s grabbing your childhood by the throat and saying “enough already!” It’s learning how to take all those chronic character flaws and turn them in your favor. It’s recognizing that there are certain things that you will never change about yourself.
I’ve been struggling the last couple of years, swinging wildly between determination and defeat. These last four months were a long finishing punch. It turns out that I do have a muse. An insistent, rather violent one who favors tankards of coffee, swear words and surprise hook punches. Okay, okay, I get it. I’m tapping out. You can stop now.
I’m putting a spin on my forties, when I decided I’d become a martial artist, super mom, Japanese ink painter, personal trainer, officer of the law, marathoner, web genius, everywhere volunteer and organic vegan superfreak. It was all research for writing. It sounds so much better than a midlife panic.
That’s a little embarrassing, considering the very real obstacles a lot of artists encounter. But so is getting kicked in the face by a 12 year old in taekwondo, painting bamboo 5,000 times and having it still look like a tulip, running so slow that I get lapped by the senior walkers, farting while bench pressing, nearly passing out during public speaking and offending people in the regular course of my life just by being me. What’s being a failed writer going to do? Humiliate me? Hell, I got this.
So I’m taking the best writing advice I’ve ever read and running with it: write. Set hours, set commitment, failure possibly imminent. I can always become an origami instructor if it doesn’t work out.