I’m exhausted by all the striving I see online.
—Patti Digh, in fear.less (which you really should read)
* * * * *
I have been having a spot of difficulty lately with my writing.
By “writing,” I mean “posting anything to outward-facing places like email or the Internet,” and by “a spot,” I mean “fucktons.”
Privately, I have written a great deal over these past several weeks—as much as (if not more than) I ever write. Pretty much every day, I write at least three pages, longhand, in a spiral notebook. Most days, I also sit down to one or another of my now TWO computers—whichever feels luckiest—and write quite a bit more in various text editors and/or word-processing programs.
Even more than writing, I have been reading lately: magazines, of course—no shortage of these had piled up during my little birthday project. And the Google Wave with Dave™ (aka the Greatest Blog in the World Written Just for Me).
But mostly, I have been reading books. Delicious, delightful, glorious books. I have three books going in the bedroom, three as part of my morning crank-up routine, one for the bathroom, and a few more on the Kindle, as I’ve been on the lam from my L.A. life these past several weeks, and carrying even one’s most beloved books becomes burdensome when it must be done on the back of an psychically exhausted, physically out-of-shape, middle-aged body. (Restoration work is underway here as well, but it will be some time before I am in, you’ll excuse my political incorrectness, Sherpa-shape.)
If my math is correct (and Lord knows, it frequently isn’t), I have read four times as many books in the three months since 50-for-50 ended as I did during the two months the project ran full-steam.1 Putting aside the unnatural competitiveness that would have me exceed last year’s final book total or feel a failure regardless of what other accomplishments I’d accrued, this much reading-of-books speaks to a deep need for filling the well back up in a particular way. Rest is great, but rest-plus-reading really does the trick.
Besides, one can only sit in a hot tub watching Midsomer Murders for so many hours per day. Although I have also astonished myself these past few months by how many “so many” can be. Also, how many episodes of Midsomer Murders exist.
* * * * *
For future reference, here’s a list of things not to do (in no particular order) when you are already feeling pretty darned bad about yourself:
- Hold your breath
- Sit with your legs crossed
- Lift your shoulders up until they are just below your ears
- Keep them there
- Quit exercising
- Eat a pound of dairy products
- Refuse to leave the house, except to purchase more dairy products
- Go on Twitter or Tumblr
- Read any blogs except this, this, this, or possibly this
- Wear your tight pants
- Refuse to turn on the heat in your apartment because while you live in Southern California, you grew up in the Midwest where they have REAL winters, and besides, you are horrible and don’t deserve heat
- Execute any items from the backlog of your to-do list
- Look at your to-do list
- Look at reminders of previous accomplishments
- Wait to post something to blog until it is Significant
* * * * *
For a time in my early 20s, I lived in New York City—two years in what is probably still an unfashionable part of then-barely-fashionable Park Slope, and then, to reduce the possibility that I might lose my shit on the “F” train and do harm to myself or others in a sweaty fit of claustrophobia-induced rage, a final year in Midtown Manhattan. (Never underestimate the change of attitude to be gained by getting to work as one’s ancestors did, by rolling out of bed and walking a brisk 12 blocks to Madison and 41st. Also, corn muffins!)
I was conflicted from the moment my college roommate dropped me off at my new, temp-to-perm apartment. New York was awesome in both the yo, bra! and traditional senses of the word: there were those rare days where everything clicked and it was like riding one big, long, beautiful, lazy wave in my own private music video; mostly, there were long stretches where New York’s indifferent magnificence and seismic power kept my shoulders stooped and my sense of self in some kind of check. Ultimately, though, you either make your peace with the energy of New York, accepting that it is always-on and that you, spindly human creature, must lower your sights, or you leave. (Or, I guess, you harden parts of yourself and/or die, but these seemed unacceptable options to a headstrong young American lady of 25 years.)
I left—ostensibly, for a boy, but really, so I would not fry my delicate circuits—and moved back (back!, most awesome-in-the-old-way of all words next to “forward”) to Chicago. For my first year there, friends would have to all but snatch a handful of coat to slow me down as we walked. Even when we weren’t walking with much of a destination in mind. I received a new nickname—“the White Tornado”—which, I’m not proud to admit, I secretly adored. I ground my teeth and smoked my face off and moved to probably the only apartment in Chicago without an actual kitchen you could cook meals in, subsisting almost entirely on takeout, black coffee, and the bitter rinds of dwindling dreams; I lived, in other words, like I was still in New York, only with colder winters and much more closet space. I hated my job but refused to leave, I loved my boyfriend but refused to make time for the relationship, I hated myself but refused to consider doing even the tiniest thing differently. Magical change! That’s what I wanted!
Eventually, I found a new job, my boyfriend wised up and dumped me, and I got into therapy—not quite in that order, but close—and things did change, mostly because (hel-lo!) I changed them. Astonishing, right? To find one is not, in fact, locked in a dungeon in 17th-Century London, but that one has agency. Of course, humans being what they are and me being an especially human sort of human, my upwards trajectory from there was not without its backsliding and dips. But I never did slip back to that nadir of despair I felt before I walked into my first-shrink-slash-astrologer’s office and took the red pill. Can’t un-ring a bell, I guess.
What has eluded me, however—and rather astonishingly, when you consider how many times the Universe has been called upon to serve up the lesson in yet another shape—is how to slow the fuck down. How to grab the back of my own coat, if you will, and ratchet things back to a sprint. Every time I find myself here—Wile E. Colleen, blinking in midair, breaking the fourth wall to share with an unseen audience a woeful acknowledgment of my dumbass-ness in chasing a Road Runner (who will never, ever be caught) to the wrong side of the cliff—I wonder if there will ever come a day when I don’t find myself picking my broken self up and putting myself back together, just to repeat the sequence in the next reel.
* * * * *
They say, whoever “they” are, that you should never apologize for not updating your blog, the implication being that to do so is either presumptuous or tedious (or both). But even putting aside my very genuine feelings of sorrow over letting my public-facing work languish (and my worry that you will no longer love me, really love me), I am sorry: I’m sorry I caused some people to worry (and thank you for your emails, dear worriers); I’m sorry I requested attention by showing up regularly, only to throw it over when I couldn’t. With great privilege comes great responsibility, and don’t think for a minute I do not understand what an enormous privilege it is to have anyone’s attention for any amount of time in this day and age, much less for the amount of time these long-winded and mineral-dense essay-lets require.2
What I must give up, though I fear it will be neither simple nor easy, is being sorry that I cannot do it all. That I cannot fight New York and win, that I will never be always-on. How can I be? There are 8 million people in New York and just the one here at communicatrix HQ.
This goes double for the Internet, where everyone—no, really, everyone—is trying so hard all the time, and where, at least once per day, someone somewhere is posting the results of some extraordinary accomplishment. Both of these things are deadly to individual human beings: the striving for attention is, as Patti Digh says, exhausting; and comparison, as those smarty-pants Sufis know, is from the Devil (although the saying comes to me via that great and gentle Virgo, Mark Silver).
* * * * *
Repeat after me: “I will receive no awards for the things that mean the most to me.” Rewards? Certainly, and plenty of ’em, although if you are like me, Speedy Gonzales, it can take a while to recognize them as such.3 All I can say, from my privileged vantage point of 50, is “be patient” (and, though it should go without saying, “stay awake”). I am rewarded for going to bed at a reasonable hour with a rested mind capable of a productive day. I am rewarded for exercising some restraint around cheese with, among other things, comfortably-fitting pants. I am rewarded for the time actually spent exercising with a more cheerful outlook. And so on.
Awards add a frisson of awesome, both big and bra, and have their place. The ritual around them is nice, as is the occasional bit of formality, and coming together for a shared moment. But that is what they are, these outward-facing, peak experiences—frissons, blips on a long, and (let’s face it) often dull radar trail of a life. A sane mind and a peaceful heart in a healthy body is pretty much the trifecta. For as much as I like my big-and-bra awesomes, I live for those bits of peace I’m able to string together in longer and longer increments. Hallelujah for getting older, I guess.
And so I will sign off by paraphrasing a few more words from my wonderful friend, Patti Digh4: while I was busy doing one thing, and a thing I very much loved doing, I did not realize how much I had gotten away from doing another thing, and a thing I very much love, for all that. Without recognizing it, I let things fall a bit out of balance a bit too long; I have been taking, and will continue to take, steps to bring myself back to balance. (And oh, holy cow, do I ever hope that my own returning to balance allows for a site redesign sometime in the coming year. We are overdue!)
I am back, albeit as a slightly different “I.” I shall proceed with the moving-forward in an awesome-in-both-ways way. Big and scary (most of the time)! Big and super-fun (some of the time, or I’m ditching it entirely)! The newsletter will be back on Wednesday; the posting will resume with more regularity here. Those of you awaiting writing in the form of various perks from the big shindig will not, I am hopeful, have to be a-waiting forever. I will continue to do more of this talking stuff, and I will resume shaping the book version of the talked-about stuff.
And if you see me barreling ahead of you, for the love of all that’s holy, grab the back of my coat, remind me of this post, and gently but firmly suggest slowing my pace.
I may growl at first, but not loudly, and certainly not for long.
1Five books finished from 7/15 – 9/13 vs. twenty from 9/21 – 12/12. That’s four times, right? Or did I lose even that tiny, already-withered part of my brain, too?
2I am also sorry that I cannot always be there to engage with you, and to talk to you about your Thing, whatever that Thing may be, on Twitter or Tumblr or what-have-you. I am even sorrier that I cannot always support you in your Thing as vocally or renumeratively as I might like. At some point, I will give up this crazy notion of a quid pro quo world and really, truly make my peace with the excellent twin notions of from-each-to-each and Paying It Forward; for now, I mostly feel guilty and failure-ish. But if it is your Thing and you love it, you must do it anyway, and hate me as you like. Because each of us must work as hard as we can—although only as hard as we can—to get our Thing out of us and into the world. However, I am also pretty sure we should be very judicious about how many Things we throw our weight behind, or put out there. (Cf. Patti Digh in that excellent fear.less piece, which you really should read.)
3That’s two Warner Bros. cartoon references in one post. What do I win?
4Words which (I swear to you) I found only at the tail end of writing this piece. Is there something in the water, or is this a ladies-turning-50 thing, or what?