I’ve been thinking a lot about life changes lately. A few personal and work-related events had conspired to unfold within the span of a few weeks to take me by surprise and upend a few long term plans I’d had in mind.
Without going into much detail, there may be a change in Day Job situation that, at first, bothered the hell out of me. And rightfully so, considering I’m worried about the time lost when commuting or going to an office. I treasure my writing time and fiercely defend it any way I can. At the time of these personal events, I’d been thinking seriously about a long-term plan to make all that happen.
The personal events had upended all that. Still…I never give up when it comes to my writing. I’m fiercely protective of it. It’s gotten me through a lot worse over the years. It’s not just a lifeline but a spiritual release. And it gives me clarity and drive.
But it wasn’t just about the writing; it was also about making important changes to my life and who I am. After a day or so of flushing the resulting emotional freak-out from my system, I came to the conclusion: It’s time for me to do something about all of this.
It’s time for me to be true to myself again. Far past time.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working out how to make this happen. First off: have a positive outlook. I might not be able to work from home, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a loss of writing time. It just means a shift in schedule. It means perhaps heading to the gym later than usual. It means sneaking in some writing time during breaks and lunch times and bus commutes. And continuing with this longer-term plan of changing and improving my life, despite any distractions.
And most importantly, it means not giving up on my dreams and goals. Ever.
It’s time for me to be true to myself again. Far past time.
My original plan to take the week off from blogging was simple: I had a lot on my plate, my energy was tapped, and I’d run out of things to blog about. I’d earned it, considering I’ve had a solid updating schedule over the last five months. Just a week off to focus on Day Job and personal deadlines, and not feel guilty about it.
It seems I chose to get all philosophical instead.
The week before, I’d been using my daily 750 Words to type up a sort of 90s version of my Walk in Silence riff — just writing about the various things that had gone on in a rollercoaster of a decade for me personally. As with the 80s riff I’d posted over at the WiS blog, this was partly about the music but mostly about me purging things out of my system once and for all. By purging, I mean this: writing it out for the final time, coming to peace with it, learning from it. And then moving forward.
I finished up that riff on Monday and briefly thought: what am I going to write about for my daily 750 Words now? I thought about it some and realized that the overall lesson I had to learn from my life in the 90s was this: stop trying to fit in where you so obviously can’t and don’t want to belong.
It’s a general statement to be sure, but the reasoning behind it makes sense. It started way back in my senior year in high school, actually; there’s a reason I half-joked to one of my friends with the following: “It’s hard to be a nonconformist when there’s no one else to be nonconformist with.”
I said that knowing full well how oxymoronic (and moronic) that sounded. The reason I’d said it was because my closest friends at the time, who were all a year ahead of me, had all left for college. They’d all been on my wavelength, something I hadn’t been able to find with anyone else, to such a degree.
I started riffing on that with my Daily Words. It reminded me of something one of that group had written sometime in 1989 along the same lines. He’d talked about being a nonconformist — not so much in a political sense but as a personal decision — and what it took for that kind of mindset to thrive. Like me, he grew up in a somewhat conservative small town where rebelling against the mainstream didn’t take all that much effort: listening to college radio, liking weird things, wearing odd clothes, and giving up all intentions at trying to fit in with everyone else. No mohawk, piercing or tattoo necessary, unless you wanted to go that far. [To my knowledge, none of us did at the time.]
One of his points kind of resonated with me after all these years: it’s kind of hard to be a nonconformist in a vacuum, because the energy behind that mindset tends to dissipate. Why rebel against the mainstream when the mainstream doesn’t care about you either way? And on the other end of the spectrum: if the only reason you’re rebelling is to be among your own kind — other nonconformists — you’re kind of missing the point.
My mistake in the 90s was that I was trying so hard to achieve the latter. I was looking for a surrogate crowd to take place of my old circle of friends. [Remember, this is well before the Age of Social Media, so the only way we could remain in contact was by phone (too expensive), by weekends off (too iffy due to different schedules), or by letter writing (too much of a pain in the arse and a super slow turnaround).] That itself was a dismal failure, and while I did end up finding a great group of friends a short time later, it wasn’t exactly the same. I always felt a bit out of place. And would continue to feel this way throughout the rest of the 90s.
So. What’s the point of this current riff? What’s with the sudden resurgence in fascination with nonconformity? Well, I would be lying if I didn’t say it might have a little to do with the current presidential administration. In an odd way, too me, he and his cronies are a shocking parallel to the jocks and the popular kids at school. They weren’t always causing harm, but they certainly knew how to fuck with people’s heads, and they could not deal with the square peg. Or they’re the eager followers, willingly ignoring reality and/or other people while desperately trying to claim their role as part of The Gang.
Part of it is also me revisiting my fascination with nonconformity, but on a more stable, creative and positive level. It’s no longer about rebellion just for the sake of it (“What are you rebelling against?” “Whadda ya got?”); nor is it about achieving a reactive response. As I’ve said before, I’m trying to avoid falling into the reactionary trap; I’ve wasted far too much time and energy playing that game.
The nonconformity I started riffing on, and what I’ve been contemplating lately, is really about relearning how to ignore outside influence that I don’t need or want. This is more about shedding all the extraneous bullshit in my life, the distractions and the irritations that derail me from what and who I am, and who I want and need to be. I’ve already figured out who I am at this point; I just need to make a more concerted effort to be that person.
This is why I’m the kind of writer that I am, writing stories in the way that makes sense to me creatively, publishing them in the way that makes sense to me creatively. I’m the kind of writer who will hear certain ‘don’t do this’ writing advice and immediately think, well, why not? And then follow up with an attempt at proving it wrong. I go with what my soul sings to me.
In the end, with this bit of recent insight and clarity, my long-game plan is to regenerate a bit (to borrow a Whovian term) and return to that True Self I’d had in my head for years but hadn’t been able to achieve.
“When you think about it, we’re all different people all through our lives, and that’s okay, that’s good, you gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be.” – Doctor Who (11th Doctor, Matt Smith)
I think it’s time I readjusted my attitude about my day-to-day. It needs it.
I know many writers who write part-time — that is, they balance their writing time with their current day job and/or parenting duties. It can be a frustrating attempt at balance, especially when your Day Job Brain functions much differently from your Writing Brain. I play with numbers and emails all day, and I’m extremely well versed in business-speak. That job entails a lot of logical, linear thinking. Nine times out of ten, point A and point B should lead to point C. [That tenth time is the exception setup, what I often refer to as “it goes like this…except when it doesn’t.”] It’s not exactly a tough job — okay, it is in its own way, but I’ve been at it for seven-plus years and I’ve gotten used to it. I don’t let it stress me out all that much anymore.
My writing, on the other hand, includes a lot of nonlinear plotting, multiple points of view (not just in narration but in character personality), and a lot of leaps of faith, in hopes that it’ll all make sense at the end. It’s the dreamland I always look forward to, where I can play with words and images, make up fantastical things, and tell fun stories.
Just as logical, but completely different frames of mind. I’ve been doing both for so long I can easily switch between the two when need be.
Lately I’ve been in a rut, however. By the time 4pm rolls around and I log off, I just want the day to be done already.
Okay, maybe the situation’s not quite that dire…but after eight hours of the Day Job, sometimes the last thing I want to do is work on something else. I want to be lazy and goof off! I don’t even want to go out at night…I just want to sit around and whittle the time away. Thankfully my ingrained guilt receptors kick in soon enough and I get to slog away for a few more hours doing whatever it is I need to do creatively.
How did I get this way? And don’t tell me “you’re getting old.” I may have just recently turned 44, but I’ll be damned if age is going to be an excuse for being a lazy bum.
I started thinking…what was it that got me excited about writing previously, anyway? Or excited about going out to do something?
As always, I thought back to a time where I was truly excited about my writing time. I thought about my Yankee Candle days — I had a half-hour commute each way, I moved hundreds of boxes all day long, and yet I still managed to make a weekly habit out of doing a comic book and new cd run in Amherst. I was also able to spend two solid hours writing at least a thousand words every night. My personal best in terms of word count that I’ve been trying to reach for ever since.* Or my days at HMV, where I’d drive 50 miles to the mall I work at, slog through the day, drive 50 miles back home (or the 70 miles to Amherst for the occasional comic book run, then an additional 30 back home!)…but still balance that with the hour before work writing longhand, and the hour or so at home, transcribing to the computer.
Point being: I know I can do it. There’s no doubt about that.
So why am I complaining that I can’t, or don’t want to? It’s not as if I’m particularly exhausted, mentally or physically, or can’t stand the project I’m currently working on.
I mean, I’ll be heading over to Amoeba over on Haight tonight to see The Church, one of my favorite bands, play an in-store show. The store is only a few miles away, and I’ll probably be home before 8pm anyway. And yet, why do I feel lazy enough to want to come up with an excuse for not going? I mean, come on. It’s the freakin’ CHURCH, for pete’s sake! They only sing my favorite song ever! Why the hell am I feeling so damned lazy??
Finally it dawned on me, just today: I was looking at this current schedule from the wrong angle.
I work at home, so it’s not as if I have to deal with a commute; I wake up at 6am, have breakfast, read some webcomics and catch up on the Twitter feed, and log on at 7:30. I take two fifteen minute breaks and a half hour lunch. I log off at 4pm and we head over to the YMCA soon after to get our exercise. Dinner is usually around 5:30-ish and I’m writing by 6:30pm, all the way to about 8pm. I get my daily words and my project words done at that time…and if the work day is particularly slow, I sneak in some personal writing, such as this particular blog entry. The day’s packed to a reasonable degree, but I’m not draining myself in the process.
All the same, I’ve been suffering from a terrible case of the Don’t Wanna’s.
And that’s the issue right there! It’s not the schedule or the work/writing balance that needs fixing: it’s my attitude.
So I submit this: let’s return to my YC-era work mindset — my day job is my paycheck, but my writing is my career. But don’t forget to have fun as well.
I’ll still dedicate the same time and brain power to the day job, of course. But let’s also look forward to logging off at the end of the day.
Let’s remind ourselves throughout the work day that, once I’m off the clock, it’s time to go and have some fun! Let’s look forward to walking around the neighborhood after work. Let’s look forward to playing in that imagined world for a few hours. Let’s look forward to having fun with what I love doing the most.
It’s not about trying to do everything at once. It’s simply a change of attitude. Look forward to life. Look forward to that bit of entertainment. Look forward to that writing time at the end of the day, because you know and I know it’s a hell of a lot of fun, even when it does get frustrating.
Chances are, the payoff will be worth it.
* Mind you, I’m not trying to force a thousand words on a nightly basis, because it depends on the project. I’m working on Walk in Silence but not logging any new words because most of the work has been what I call ‘framing’ the flow of the book. My sort-of daily 750 Words have been consistently over 750 and flowing quickly, so I can safely say I’m counting the words where they really do count.