Fear and Pressure

It’s nearly time to write again. By Thursday this week, I will run out of my officially sanctioned excuse, “I don’t have time to write because I’m too busy with my grad coursework.”  The big question is what happens when I get two months of free evenings.

Whenever I stop writing for a period of time, a mysterious pressure chamber appears within me. The pressure keeps building in my “you should be writing” space, until I feel a nearly explosive tension in my ribs. I’m a talented procrastinator, so I am able to ignore a great deal of internal pressure and pretend everything is all right. But when I have the leisure to stop and think about it, I am afraid.

Here I am, on the cusp of free time. It’s a huge opportunity and of course opportunity is a burden of sorts. I desperately want to write, but I don’t know that I will. I’m feeling un-practiced and anxious and I have a zillion fragments of ideas, but no big concepts I want to pursue. Of course, there’s always the option to edit and polish existing pieces. Editing is important, but I would like to write something new. There’s also submitting, and I’ve realized that submitting is hugely important, and I enjoy the process and the volumes of rejection and the occasional sliver of encouragement. I could turn my attention in that direction. However, the insecure part of me wants to know that I can still create from nothing–that I can make a fragment of a new world in my head.

My idealized version of myself would set aside time every day to write or revise. My actual self is an anxious little pony. The page is blank. The page is waiting. The threat of the blank page trumps any passing feeling of accomplishment about wrapping up my first year in my grad program. (Why are feelings of accomplishment always so fleeting? I guess the answer is fear and pressure. They have their uses. They either immobilize me or they push me forward.) Onward with the battle!

Undiscouraged

Now that I’m more diligent about sending pieces out, I’m getting volumes of rejections–several a week in fact. Most don’t say much, but a few say things like, “We enjoyed reading and discussing your work; in fact, it made it to the final tier of the editorial process. Although we are going to have to pass this time around, please don’t let that discourage you.”

Relative to the typical rejection letter, this note is great. But what’s missing is the information I need as a writer. What did my story do or fail to do? How can I make it better? (Okay, I’ll concede that making my work better is my job, but still, I thought I had it worked out or I wouldn’t have sent it–obviously, outside help is needed!)

In fact, I’m getting so many rejections that my tape-rejections-to-the-wall project had to be discontinued because the sheer weight of the paper was making the pile crumble down the wall onto my printer.

I’m full of hope though. I still haven’t heard from 40% of the places I sent the piece–this means my story still has a shot. I’m also learning, again and again, that the editorial review process needs must occur at geological speeds. I’m hearing in late June about stories I sent out in early January.  Imagine how many life changes I could make in six to ten months! I could have mastered a new hobby, like knitting, by the time the last rejection for my January submission gets to me.

I remain, yours, undiscouraged. (Furthermore, nine days from now my summer classes will have ended and I will finally take up writing again.)

The Death of Procrastination

I have finally killed procrastination for good. Allow me to qualify this statement by adding some specificity.

I have finally mastered a student’s enemy: schoolwork-related procrastination. I’m still quite the procrastinator when it comes to several other important life arenas (cleaning, you know who you are and i curse you), but I feel that as a student, I’m making rapid headway.

Here’s my trick. I love being done with assignments ahead of schedule and not having to worry anymore far more than I love goofing off until the last possible second. I rather be calm. I rather feel a bit smug and have a cool summery beverage. I rather watch TV with lovely boyfriend in state of relaxed joy and indulgence.

It’s kind of amazing how different I am as an adult student compared to how I was as an undergrad. I think this is due to several factors. The most important factor being: I know exactly what I’m giving up in order to pursue my studies: All that time with friends and family. All that time at the movies. All those Center City Sips outings I’m not going on. All those story slams I can’t participate in. All the Free Library author events I can’t attend. They have a price. So I’m going to be as responsible to myself as I can be, and I’m going to try to reduce the stress on myself and all those I love as best I can by getting ahead whenever I can. Plus, it’s kind of fun. Yes, I also happen to be a total nerd.

Reality Smackdown

It’s getting to be that time when I get antsy at not writing anything more creative than student papers–student papers, as far as I can tell, require sourcing good information and then organizing and explaining that information coherently. It’s a skill set for sure, but it doesn’t give me a buzz. Okay, it does give me a buzz, but it’s not a creative buzz, it’s a “look at how well I can follow guidelines” buzz. Reasonable Girl thrives in the academic setting, she’s so reasonable it’s amazing. But Reasonable Girl secretly craves the ultra-rare big sexy rush of creative writing.

Meanwhile, I hear some gurgling in the background, and it’s not my tummy digesting cake (at least not today)–my creative wellspring is gurgling. It’s not an angry gurgle yet, but it could be, soon! The spring is telling me I have a whole backlog of weird half lived fantasies and notions that need some kind of funneling, or my dreams are going to keep getting weirder, and I’m not even taking anti malaria drugs anymore.

I’m doing the multi-identity juggling again. The worker, student, girlfriend, wannabe author smack down is in full force, plus there’s the added pressure of the holidays: I have to be a good family member in a variety of settings as well. In the next 30 days, I’ll hang out with a 5 month old. I’ll also hang out with a 91 and 90 year old. I will be flexible; I will be kind; I will be tired.

The good news is that I only have two more school papers to go. I’ve got pretty much all the pieces I need to complete my generative, academic oeuvres. And then, one blessed month from now, I will have one blessed month to goof off. That month of will be chock full of a ridiculous lack of things to do at night. I will unveil my other superhero identity yet again, the one with the small cape, the writer person who right now has been closet-ted and ignored for a bit too long. Yay small cape. I see you hanging. You’ll be dusted off in no time.

The Business of Writing: A New Hope

I’ve been quite the bee tonight. I sent off my query letter and memoir excerpt to several agents. I also finished a short, 12-page, book proposal to accompany my query, should an agent require this.

I’m expecting a flurry of thanks but no thanks, which is as it should be. But I have to start somewhere, and I’m starting to look for that place tonight.

I should be a) reading about the New Deal for class, or b) packing for my one week work trip to New Delhi, but instead I am c) blogging, while what I really wish I were doing is d) watching a new episode of the BBC’s Sherlock.

No wonder I feel so tired.

PS: yes, the Star Wars reference in my title is totally deliberate. My geek credentials are Platinum.

PPS: Reasonable Girl demands that I get my act together and read. While Grad School doesn’t worry about me, I must worry a bit about Grad School.

Reasonable Girl Vs. Buzzee Bee

So I have a new alter ego in my life: busy bee, or for marketing purposes, Buzzee Bee. Buzzee Bee is frantically roaming the world, going from project to project, trying to suck up all the inspiration before the season’s up.

Reasonable Girl, who would like to take a measured, polite assessment of what’s doable and get a good night’s sleep, is still in there, but she’s getting shouted over by Buzzee Bee.

I was trying to embrace Reasonable Girl, but I find myself staying up later and later, pushing myself to get more and more done, and constantly feeling preoccupied, slightly overwhelmed, and often (and most lethally): unfocused.

I’m hoping that my assuming the guise of Buzzee Bee for Halloween will somehow be an act of healing exorcism and that on November 1, I can cut off my wings, put my Reasonable Girl cape back on and get a bit more sleep.

The Ren Faire

After I wrote my third paper of the semester’s seven, we took off for the PA Renaissance Faire. I’m always intrigued by what gets acted out at the Renaissance Faire. I like that the space embraces misfits and curiosity seekers of all stripes. I always wonder at the elaborate costumes some wear. I wonder at the meaning of the costumes, the getting of the costumes, how often the costume gets worn and under what circumstances and in what company. Is it a special occasion, a Halloween of sorts, a once yearly occurrence? Or is this just another day in a specially constructed alternate reality? I enjoy costumes. I love the freedom people can feel when they slightly change their garb. I respect the need to redefine the self, enlarge the possibilities, look in the mirror and see someone new. All those things I get and love and have practiced myself in different ways over different ages.

After all, my memoir is about redefining parts of my self, repeatedly, over the years. Certain accessories and experiences have made me feel full of possibility and possibility is exciting.

What I came to understand after some experimentation with different costumes and styles was that all clothes are costumes of one type or another–we are constantly sending a message out into the world. In this period of my life I resort to reasonable girl costuming–totally unremarkable–because I see it as an all access pass. I threaten no one, I’m not very splashy, this lets me fade in and out of environments at will. Nothing is jarred in my passage and that gives me freedom to observe the world. I am un-aligned, unmarked, and in this simplicity I feel free.

Between Done and 25 pages of comments

I was reading the done manifesto, which encourages you (me) to wrap things up and move on, in acceptance that everything is a draft, and mistakes will naturally creep into the process if you’re highly productive (paraphrasing). I like the idea of getting things done, of course, and maybe I should embrace the 20 minute productivity burst ethos that led to the creation of the manifesto to begin with.

I am however in possession of four thoughtful people’s comments on my memoir draft, which adds up to 25 pages of feedback. That’s 25 pages of editing suggestions to synthesize. I’m excited and pleased and slightly dismayed because I agree with most of the comments and they represent a huge amount of potential work. If I try really hard, I might just get to squeeze in 20 minutes a day of manuscript editing.

That’s like being told to build a highrise during your regular job smoke breaks.

I guess my new approach is to aim to get one story edited a week, and in half a year or so, I’ll have my next memoir draft. I better start carrying the weekly story to edit with me at all times. Commitment requires sacrifice, overcommitment requires sacrifice And sustained strategies.

This week, my sustained strategy was to declare an all out war on stress. I had several tactics: get homework that was making me feel bad done, throw some acupuncture at my back to keep it from seizing up from all the sitting, get a massage to remind myself what feeling good feels like, get a haircut because honestly I’m getting quite scraggly, and have a support session with a new school friend so we can compare coping techniques in the flood of new responsibilities. But what really needs to get done: learning to let go, and learning to be where I am, without the racing monkey mind of guilt and confusion.

I want to get things done, but to do it with grace, and in a happy way. That’s the trick.

Tonight’s reward

Tonight I get to read. What I want: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.
I figure I don’t have to be perfectly structured and achieving at all times. (Right?) I’ve got homework covered for the week. I’ve updated my blog site. I’ve submitted memoir chapters to nine literary venues in two days. I’ve done laundry and dishes. I’ve attended class. I’ve napped and tried to take it easy so I can return to work. Tonight, I made miso soup so I could finally drink something other than tea and juice. I’m coughing pretty badly, and feeling sorry for my sick self. So I get to read. There. More interesting blogs to follow in the ripeness of time.
(PS: I’m trying to be Reasonable Girl, because I don’t have a choice. I sound like an old smoker when I hack and cough. I’m all mucus and viscous across multiple facial orifices. It’s pity party and distraction time.)

Reasonable Girl Is Born

Last night was our last night in Montreal. We were at bar with awesome live music–watching by far the most enthusiastic rock organ player ever. The bar wouldn’t close until 3am. My instinct was to enjoy the band for an hour, get a feel for the place and the music, but get home early-ish. I wanted a good night’s sleep so we weren’t miserable on our long trip home.

I only need a taste of things. I am much happier going out every night for a few hours and getting a good night’s sleep than I am staying up all night and being shattered and off kilter for the next 24 hours. Quality of life and sustainability are my key concerns.

Lovely boyfriend likes to splurge and have adventures. Last night, our tendencies had a slight clash. We both made concessions. However, it has become apparent that my superhero alter ego is “Reasonable Girl.” And thus I have a new nickname.

(It’s fun to identify and name a mode of being that has been operational for a long while now. I’d guess five or more years.)