For many years I said, “I want to be a writer.” Or sometimes it was, “I want to publish a book before I die.” I dreamed of having the time and opportunity to put my ideas on the page, and how wonderful it would be to do what I was meant to be doing. I would have jobs that took me away from home and my computer and think longingly about being cocooned in my room with a cup of tea and my words.
I read about how some writers wrote through the nights after finishing their day jobs. Franz Kafka worked in a post office and then came home to write, while drinking gallons of coffee. His stories of men who dream of becoming cockroaches and wake to find themselves living the nightmare, or men trapped in the maze of bureaucratic justice systems don’t seem so hard to imagine when I think of the lunacy of my own overworked mind on little sleep. I suppose it’s not surprising that he died young and exhausted.
Or other writers who woke at five a.m. to write in the silent predawn hours, no matter how late they had been up. I’d think of them, and then guiltily turn back over to my pillow. I wanted to be a writer, yes, but at the moment sleep seemed much more inviting. Actually, at every moment sleep usually seems more inviting than anything.
When my husband and I moved to Texas from the east coast I asked if I could take a few months off so I could write. We moved in September, not a great time to find a teaching job at a college, and so I thought I’d get a part time job, and write while I waited for the next semester to begin. And I did write, but I also panicked about finding work, and about finishing a master’s degree only to be a freeloading housewife to my poor husband. I baked a lot of desserts and cooked a lot of elaborate meals that fall while watching Mary Tyler Moore handle being Dick Van Dyck’s housewife with such grace.
During the past two school years I was so busy keeping my head above my workload and spending time with my neglected husband (the man went from having a home cooked meal daily to eating by himself most nights) that I didn’t feel too guilty about not squeezing in writing time. I could do it during the summers! After all, what was the point of having a low paying job with summers off, if not to pursue your passions?
And I did write, at least most days. I created a routine for myself that made it a habit rather than a flight of inspiration. But, this fall I didn’t return to the daily grind of the classroom. I began teaching two days a week in the mornings, and spending my afternoons at an art program. Suddenly, I had three mornings a week I could dedicate to writing! It isn’t a lot of time, but it’s a habit and it’s all mine!
But then, money, and all of the tentacles of anxiety that come with money, raised its head. My poor, ancient, paid off Toyota broke down and had to be replaced with a newer model and a monthly loan payment. My husband’s company cut back on hours and I started to worry that my current jobs weren’t going to be enough. I told a preschool I substitute for I could work some more hours a few weeks ago. And there went my three lovely free mornings.
You see, I have a hereditary problem. My mother is a carrier, and she passed it on to me and my sisters. If you ask me something to my face and catch me off guard I CANNOT TELL A LIE. So, if you happen to be the manager of a preschool who needs a substitute and you ask me via text message if I can work I can easily tell you that I am busy. But if you ask me to my face as I’m about to leave for the day then all of a sudden I forget that I promised myself I’d write in the mornings and instead I’m telling you that I would gladly work for you! Whatever you need! I’m flexible! Never mind the fact that I’m giving up my dreams of actually being able to write! I’ll take the measly paycheck instead!
Somehow, the fact that I want to use that time for myself does not seem valuable to myself. It could be going to the gym time, or massage time, or spending it with my husband time, but if it’s “me” time then it is somehow less valuable time. I’ve seen my mother do this for years, and other women I know too. It seems to be a common enough problem among women. They will sacrifice whatever they have to, as long as they don’t say NO and look like a bitch for not being free to do whatever you need.
And I have slowly come to the realization that this is me causing myself to give up on my dreams. This is me looking at my future self and saying, “I wish I had done that” and this is me looking at my younger self and saying “those dreams you thought were so important are meaningless compared to this quotidian chore that I will probably forget I ever did in a few hours”. Emma O’Donoghue said in an interview that she has an amazing capacity for ignoring dirty dishes so that she can get to her writing. Well, I already have an amazing capacity for ignoring them. I might as well use the excuse that I was writing as a way to keep ignoring them.
So, I have at last given myself a good hard shake and have decided that I cannot continue to sacrifice my passions and my goals, simply because they are MY passions and MY goals. If it is important enough for me to want to quit my full time job and take the pay cut, if it is important enough for me to think about it for all these years, and dream of it, then it is important enough for me to take seriously. And if I don’t take my writing seriously, then how can I expect someone else to? I’m standing up for ME today by saying, “after next week I will not be able to work any more hours. I do not have the time.”
But, I did do it by text. Baby steps, people! Baby steps.