Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Taking a Sick Day from My Life

So yesterday I ended up being a total crabapple (at first I wrote crapapple, which is maybe more accurate) to Tot, at least during the first half of the day. He's going through a phase now where there are just so many ways in which for him to be annoying or hurt himself. He's started some tantrum-like behavior and then there's the screaming. Oh god, the screaming. And he wants to go outside to the patio every three seconds. As in, he goes in of his own accord, then wants to go right back out again. I don't know what he's thinking. Why not just stay outside?

Absurdist Lover said last night he thought he was fighting something off, and AT had some dreadful cough this morning, but otherwise was fine. I was totally set to go the farm -- sunscreen on and everything (I have forgotten in the past and ended up all red), not feeling particularly well and trying to prop myself up with coffee (not the Corporation because we're scant on funds) -- and then, my stomach started gurgling. I swear, I was on my way, 10 more minutes and I would have been there. I had to turn around. I called in sick. So now I'm at home, trying to figure out what to do with myself. This is the first day in a while when I haven't had that grading hanging over my head. Of course, I know I could work on the thingamajig and my research. But I wonder if I should be doing something else, like figuring out some magical elixir of balance-making so I can be healthier and more balanced for my family and myself. But exactly what would that be? Reading a book because I can? Watching a movie without interruption? Taking a bath? A shower? Truth be told, I don't feel like doing any of that, anything really.

Here's something I want to focus on right now. Once upon a time, I was a creative writer. I focused on creative writing in undergrad and Grad School Part 1. For my doctoral work, I started out with that purpose, but I wasn't happy with what was going on in the creative writing courses. I wanted more. . .meat to the discussions. Intellectual meat. Not just "this works" or "try this." Not all creative writers are intellectuals. Some are amazing artists or craftspeople. In fact, creative writing is an art, not an intellectual pursuit (which is not to say that there aren't very intellectual approaches and intellectuals who are also artists/writers). I felt there was something wrong with their approach for me and began to look elsewhere for meatier stuff and ended up in the field I'm in now. With very few regrets. I have always been wary about staking my survival on my creative writing. Which maybe has always been the problem. I'm too scared or not romantic enough to put it all on the line to write that novel and be poor until I'm rescued by an agent or publisher. Or maybe I just have so many other related interests that trying to put it all in my creative writing is a problem. Really, I want to be one of those writers who ends up writing fabulous op-ed pieces and belles lettres about the issues of the day because people want to hear my opinion about such things. A certain version of public writing. So I have some interest in nonfiction anyway (though when I was a kid, the dream was always about writing novels and it's SO hard to let that dream go, even as I have failed at it a number of times and am probably tempermentally unsuited to writing something that long). But really, I'm sad to have lost creative writing from my life.

I feel it most when I see what my colleagues are up to, when I see my Grad City colleagues publish another book. (Okay, I like it when my friends do it, but when those people who were real stinkers publish another book, I just want to imagine that they have really awful personal lives to balance out that good fortune.) And I wonder: am I just upset because I wish I had published a book by now? Is it about the publication or do I miss the writing, that particular discovery process, the way those finished writings become encapsulations of a particular event or thought or time in my life?

It's also because I feel like I don't know how to write, in some ways. Obviously I know you have to show up, apply butt to chair, and get the pen moving. Not that. But I sometimes feel I have no idea what makes a piece of creative writing good. What's the magic formula? How can I do that? What do I have to make sure to have? How can I get better?

While there is some craft talk in the creative writing world (and I've been out of it for several years so I may not know what I'm talking about anymore), there's a huge strain of creative writing talk that is about the *mystery* of writing, the *inspiration* of it, the muse striking. That doesn't give me much to work on. I realize that there's no guaranteed path to becoming a better creative writer, but I would like to work on it -- and I'm kind of sick of the idea that working on it just entails showing up, applying butt to chair, and getting the pen moving until the muse rolls in. There's got to be more than that. Any ideas? Please?

But no matter how I end up working on it, I need to start writing again. (See how creative writing is really what *writing* means to me? I *work* on scholarship. But *writing* is creative writing.) Absurdist Lover agrees that I need to write; he likes to see me even writing longhand in a journal. What a sweetie.

I don't know how to fit creative writing in. My life already feels so scheduled, so determined. In fact, I don't have time to do the things I need to do -- I feel like I'm constantly giving short shrift to my job because I take care of Absurdist Tot and work on the farm. I don't work out or do yoga, both totally necessary to my brain chemistry, either because I can't figure out how to smoosh it in there. But I've got to figure out how to get these things into my teaching life -- and soon, because summer courses are going to start almost immediately.

And I'm nowhere on prepping for those courses I'm teaching. But I think that taking a sick day means thinking about those things that got me sick in the first place, especially if I'm not going to be able to do the one thing that really most feeds my brain chemistry. (Though I said I'd go to the farm tomorrow or Friday.) So I think I need to think about how to make time for writing and working out/yoga at least twice per week.

And then, of course, there's the report and the research. Ugh. Can I go take a nap now?


Calee said...

I just found your blog and I totally understand the desire to balance work (do scholarship), write (creatively) and do all of the other things that are required to maintain a life. Have you seen Laura Vanderkam's new book "168 Hours: You have more time that you think"? Her blog is at and I've found her strategies have helped me do more with each week. Still not writing creatively as often as I would like, but now I'm making the most of a maternity leave by reading and doing a few projects while making time for things I really enjoy, when last time around those months just disappeared somewhere...

Renaissance Girl said...

there's a huge strain of creative writing talk that is about the *mystery* of writing, the *inspiration* of it, the muse striking.

Dude. I hear you. I HATE that shit. The big newspaper AWP journal is all about the mystery and I so don't have time for that kind of nonsense.

I can offer you only my own, very anecdotal, perspective: critical writing happens when the butt is applied to the chair. Creative stuff takes reflection, running, good food, gardening, and happens very, very slowly. And I've made my peace with it, in part because if I force the creative stuff, it becomes heavy-handed and artless. But then, my creative stuff is poetry, and it lends itself to slow progress; and I don't know nothin' about no creative prose writing, so I don't know whether that, too, requires the kind of butt-in-chair stamina that critical prose does for me.

I have a friend who, in his late 30s, as a father of 3 and a community college dean, took up cello. He wakes every morning at 5 to practice for 2 hours. He's pretty amazing. I said, "I'd have loved to learn cello, but I think I no longer have the time to learn." And he said, "You make time for what you want to, and you choose to dump some things in sacrifice." I'm not waking up at 5 for anything, but I include the things that I MUST do every day (critical writing, cooking, playing with kids, running and its attendant creative writing), and have stopped worrying about all the stuff I could/should be doing.

Don't know how helpful that perspective is, but I feel some power knowing that I get to call the shots on my day.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I just have the creative writing mojo and sometimes I don't. When I feel the mojo, though, I tend to drop everything else and devote myself to the new project for awhile. Not sure that's a good approach, but I don't know how else to do it. What I do know is that I feel better when I make the time to write, even if it's just a little here and a little there...