Write On

I am sitting at my desk for the first time in a long time. At least to sit and write. I’ve sat a few times to check email or Facebook, but haven’t sat here in a long time for its meaning and purpose.

As I sorted piles of dirty clothes by color in preparation for laundering last night, I saw the top of my writing cabinet rolled back just enough to reveal the rocks I’ve placed there as talismans. The ones chosen for memories: one thrown by a dear friend barely missing my head, one from a bright, beautiful day at the beach, others for their touch and feel. All within smelling distance of dirty laundry. All untouched, robbed of their potential for healing or inspiration.

During these last few cold months, I’ve set up camp by the wood stove. A stack of books on my daughter’s miniature rocking chair on one side, a stool with a mug of tea on the other, computer in lap, feet on ottoman, aimed at the stove. Not bad, I must say.

But – if I sat at my desk on my ergonomic chair, I might not exacerbate that crick in my neck. I might not strain the shoulders I tweaked in frenzied shoveling yesterday. I might not draw the ire of said daughter for thieving her miniature rocking chair. I might stick to the task at hand. And – AND – I might be inspired by the lovely things around me.

Since it’s been awhile, things other than my work have inevitably piled up on my desk. My daughter’s outgrown ducky slippers. A pair of fleece pajamas I’ve yet to exchange for the right size. My middle daughter’s class portrait grasped from her little sister’s tight fist at just the last second. There’s a colored pencil that doesn’t belong to me. A bathing suit I still haven’t decided if I want to return. There’s the goody bag from my friend’s burgeoning business of skin care products I’ve yet to put away – but this is a lovely procrastination; for the smell of sea foam has provided the most uplifting aromatherapy.

While putting off and getting away from routines or rituals can be detrimental, it can also give the chance to come back with new eyes. Had I sat here every writing session, every week of every month, perhaps I wouldn’t appreciate the little corner I’ve carved out for myself. Perhaps I wouldn’t remember to hold that solid hunk of earth in my hand, wrap my fingers around but one chunk of the infinite space around us.

Does that mean I will sit here each time I write now and be incredibly prolific? Probably not. But the space is readied. For now, the mind is readied. My spirit is ready.

Process of Procrastination

This is how I spent the better part of my afternoon yesterday.

Photo by Jennifer Butler Basile

Actually, it’s how I spent the better part of the last few years. Or should have.

If you are the one person who happens to notice the bottom corner of my blog, where I post which book is currently on my bedside table, you might have been wondering what the hell was taking me so long to read The Process of Sculpture by Anthony Padovano. I’ve actually been reading it longer than I’ve been advertising it.

This highly informative tome of the processes of sculpture was loaned to me by an artist generous of her time and talent – and trust. My aunt took me to meet her friend, Sarah Blair, years ago, at the origin point of the trajectory I’m still on to write the young adult novel of Dmitri, the seventeen year old who desires to eschew the family tradition of plastering for sculpture. This sculptor was the subject of my very first interview as an author. I felt so official, doing research, for my novel. She happily answered all my questions, showed me her work, and sent me out the door with a text she’d studied in art school.

I wonder if she knew how long it would be before her book came home?

The book sat, pregnant with possibility and inspiration, in my rolling writing office at my old house, and on the writing desk I’d graduated to after we moved. It held the scratching and scribblings of my interview notes and beginnings of detailed notes on its contents. It waited when I’d lost forward motion on the project. It taunted when I picked the project back up and had no excuse not to crack its cover. It inspired me with its epiphanies that could be applied to sculpture and life. It lulled me to sleep at night. It awoke new insights into Dmitri and his story.

After mining its surfeit of information, I blessedly, rejoicedly finished it!

And yet, I couldn’t take it off my bedside table. I had yet to transcribe the nuggets marked by myriad sticky tags, rippling their rainbow tongues at me from the edges of the pages. I should be moved on to the next book. I should be typing a new title into the little corner of my blog. Alas, I had unfinished business.

After days of putting off the seemingly tedious task of transcribing quotes and notes about the practical and procedural side of sculpture, I sat down and realized Anthony Padovano spoke about a lot more than just sculpture. He spoke of artistic process. He spoke of life philosophy. Of beauty. Of meaning. Of right and wrong. Of finding one’s voice and when and when not one should use it. Of how to use it.

Yes, he and Sarah Blair taught me what Dmitri needs to know as a sculptor, what I might find him doing on any day in his studio, but also about the artistic process all around me. Of the importance of art and the valuing of it, in our world. How it shapes and defines our lives.

The book’s rainbow tongues had transformed into technicolor teeth on my computer, as I filled the edges of the screen with each completed point. Light from the windows behind transfused even the opaque white parts of the tags with a brilliance. Soft, gentle, but brilliant. The sense of accomplishment I felt upon closing that book with a solid thunk was brilliant. A job well-done. Finally.

Now I can write my book, armed to the technicolor teeth with sculpturing knowledge and a better understanding of what makes Dmitri tick. I could, in theory, build an armature with materials from the hardware store and mix my own plaster with which to mold it into life. I definitely can return Sarah’s book to her in good conscience and thank her wholeheartedly for sharing the process and molding the shape of my book.

Eat the Frog

I’ve been doing a lot of that lately.

Suffering through those things I don’t want to do in order to get to the ones I want.

Problem is, by the time I eat said frogs, I’m usually too damn tired to do the things I want, which never really were obligatory anyway.  Or, I take so long staring down the frog or pretending I don’t hear him croaking that I have just enough time to gulp him down hurriedly before the sun goes down; it’s time for dinner; time to pick up the girls from the bus stop.

Procrastination and perfectionism are not mutually exclusive.

When, pre-move, I described how I was failing to meet my goal of packing five boxes per day, an acquaintance pointed out how I couldn’t possibly be an overachiever and a procrastinator.  Luckily, another such duality came to my defense.  She concurred, that, oh yes, it is possible to be so worried about doing something perfectly that it stops you from attempting it at all.

In college, I grabbed a pamphlet from the career center on procrastination.  I’ve since thrown it out – though it took me quite some time ; ) – but it laid out similar terms.  I didn’t necessarily agree with it.  I am not one obsessed with the pursuit of perfection.  At least not overtly.  I understand the human condition and all its frailty.  I like to think I empathize and can forgive our various faults.

But do I refuse to start projects until I have sufficient time to complete the entire task?  Yes.  Will I stay at that task far into the night or despite my husband’s repeated attempts to beckon me to the dinner table until it is finished?  Yes.  Will I avoid beginning a task until I know exactly how to execute it?  Yes.  Do I fail to commit to a task until I know I can fulfill all the obligations that go along with it?  Yes.  And regardless of all reasons not to start, do I place an unrelenting sense of guilt heavy upon my breastbone until I do start?  Yes.

Hmmm . . . maybe I threw out that pamphlet because I was not ready to see myself in its words.

What is it with these freakin’ frogs?  And why do they all float on lily pads obscuring what murky depths really cause all this angst: ANXIETY.

Because that’s what it really is, isn’t it?  I worry about getting things right because I’m anxious.  I put things off because they make me nervous.  Or I’m worried about getting it all done.  Or I’m worried I’ll run out of time.  Or it’s an unpleasant task.  Or it’s out of my comfort zone.  Whatever hue or size these amphibian friends and foes come in, they’re all from the same frog mother.  And what a mother-f*&%$#@ she is.

The more I learn about myself, my reactions, feelings, and disposition, the more I realize how much of my life has been colored by anxiety.  I don’t know if I’ve ever known what it is to live without it.  There was a time when I didn’t know I was living with it, but looking back, now I can name it unequivocally.

A very talented writer friend of mine just shared a story wherein a character and her mother try to pinpoint the exact origin of the mother’s obsessive-compulsive disorder.  They realize that not only is it impossible, but it is a form of obsession in and of itself.  What does it matter where it began?  One must learn coping mechanisms to take forward with her.  I find myself doing this repeatedly with my anxiety.  But why?  When did it start?  How?  What purpose does that serve beyond making me more anxious?  Why roll back the reels over those years over and done – and with a pretty good measure of success?  Why create suffering where there may have been none?  Or where there was some, but where I had the wherewithal to function despite it?

Maybe it’s the perfectionist in me, but I feel that the fact that I’ve reached a point in my life where I can’t hack it when I previously could makes me a failure on some level.  I know this is my masochistic overachiever unrealistic hair shirt-wearing self, but it is still part of me and I can’t turn it off no matter how hard I try to push with my rational self.  And all that croaking just reminds me of it.  Why do I get a mental block when I assess my to-do list?  Why can I not complete tasks that I know will reap rewards?

Guess the only way around it is to choke the frogs down before they choke me.

Back to the Future

When I was a kid, particularly a teenager, the only time I would clean my room was when I had a report to do. Might seem like faulty logic, but the crippling thought of sitting down and starting a report actually made cleaning my room look like a fun endeavor. I had to clear off the desk before I could sit at it to write, no? And Mom had been after to me to clean for some time now. It needed to be done!

By the time it was apparent I could not put off said report-writing any longer, I would become a conglomeration of the many phrases my mother often used to describe me: running around like a chicken with its head cut off, burning the candle at both ends, pulling through in the eleventh hour. And while it was undoubtedly stressful and quite a haphazard way of doing things, I would always finish the report – and usually quite well. I’d get some inspiration at the last minute and write like a fiend until I’d proven my point – much to my mother’s chagrin. While she did not want to see me fail in school, she frowned upon my methods. Clean room or no, I think I made her more nervous than I did myself.

Procrastination and spontaneous ‘Hail Mary’s have always been my way. Being out of college for over a decade now (ugh – how did that happen?), the phenomenon hasn’t been as apparent, but it still exists. Knowing I have a week until my daughter’s birthday party, I’ll putz around the house all week and stay up until 2 AM the night before scrubbing toilets and baking cakes (not at the same time). Well aware that the parade that runs close to our house happens the second Saturday of June every year, I’ll be planting containers with patriotic-colored flowers at dusk the night before. I’ve just shifted the focus from class work to housework. Though maybe if I had more papers to write, my house would be cleaner – ha!

But I am writer. As a writer not under contract, I use self-imposed deadlines to keep me active and productive. I follow my writers’ group guidelines of submitting a week before our meeting. I post to my blog at least once a week, every Thursday. Except for weeks like this. I’ve fallen off the wagon, people. And because, as far as I can tell, most cases of procrastination are born of crippling ideas of perfectionism, I am paying for it. Oh, the guilt.

I’m in the middle of revising my young adult novel. I’ve heard a lot of writers say they love the revision process, struggling through the draft process just to get to it. As someone who loves to wait till the last minute and work off an epiphany and has problems with spatial relations (chapter reorganization, wha?), it’s trying to say the least. So instead of figuring out how to fix the problem in the chapters I was due to submit to my group, I went into cleaning mode. Luckily, I had the perfect excuse for rationalization. My friend was coming over with her baby and he needed a clean floor to frolic on, no?

We had a lovely visit, and spirits buoyed by my ordered surroundings, I even strapped myself to the computer after they left and fixed the problem (I think – we’ll see how next week’s meeting goes!). But, like a game of dominoes, my cleaning pushed the writing tile back a day, which pushed the blog tile back. Hence, today’s post should have been yesterday’s.

But no sense living in the past with its failed promises and rumpled to-do lists. I may relive my bad behavior patterns from time to time, but it’s a waste of time to punish myself for them. Trying to change them bit by bit would be good, but being aware of them is a start, right? I also need to acknowledge what such behaviors say about me. I do work best under pressure. And while it’s starting to make me as crazy as it used to make my mother, it still does offer a certain level of success. And all of us really are just stuck between past and future. I guess it works to operate within some combination of the two.

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