Wednesday, July 16, 2014

"But, if you try, sometimes..." Rolling Stones

Well, you may have noticed that I have not been posting as frequently. I have not been writing everyday. I have pieces of things that I could post, but I had to think hard about their relevance. After much thought, I have come to understand that everything I write is about being a teen parent. The way I think about myself, the way I interact with other people, the kinds of jobs I have taken, the ways in which I perform my jobs.

Alongside the thinking I have done about the relevance of some of the pieces I want to post but haven't, I have been giving a lot of thought to the reality that I cannot make myself believe that writing is a job. I have this idea that a job is something that is tied to receiving a paycheck, and job evaluations from people who don't really care who sits in the chair across from them.

This is honestly a struggle. I am a one book wonder. I have published one book based on my dissertation, 3 book chapters and 2 peer reviewed articles. I have written more book reviews than I can count, for professional journals. At a tier three school that would get me tenure and promotion to full professor, which it did. At a tier one school that would have gotten me tenure without promotion but I would have worked even harder to publish not because I love to write, which I do, but to get the promotions that prove that my job performance is excellent.

How do I do that for myself? How do I become the person in the chair across from me thinking, "what has she done for me lately"? How much effort have I seen her make? How much initiative does she demonstrate? I have to admit that if I were that person I would give myself a very low performance score. That is crazy. It is crazy not just because I started from a place that was free from expectation. It is crazy not just because I am in a surprisingly small percentage of the American population who has a Ph.D. and publications (I know it seems like every other person you meet has a Ph.D. and is working at a Starbucks). I looked it up, I am part of something like 15% of the American population and no one knows how many people in the category began as teenage unwed mothers. It is crazy because I love stories. I love reading them, telling them and writing them. Why isn't it okay for me to just spend time each day doing something I enjoy while I am still on this planet? These are not rhetorical questions. I really want to know why I am having this difficulty and don't tell me I am afraid. I know I am afraid. I never give myself permission to not do something because it scares me, except for riding roller coasters. Those things are death machines.

So, I have spent 20 minutes writing. I could easily spend 20 more but I won't because I have to get up early and do something that someone else expects me to do. There are people out there who do what they love come what may. Tell me - you people - how do you tell yourself everyday that what you want to do is more important than what anyone else wants you to do? Maybe I am so far off base about this that I am not even asking the right question.

Odd segue, I walked to the beach today, for exercise. To the water and back  - no lallygagging. But, there was a guy trying to sail surf, or whatever it was called. He looked about 28, buff, tan, confident even though that sail was kicking his ass. It was a beautiful sail. A black background with a red splash that arced from the bottom left corner to the upper middle part of the sail and then a white splash immediately below that began to follow the red arc but then crossed over it to end closer to but not quite in the upper right hand corner.

It was a strong wind and a stronger rip tide. I was having trouble standing at the edge of the surf. The cross current kept trying to move my feet into something that felt like the steps of a tango. At one point this guy got close enough to me that I could see his green eyes. The sail had almost beached him. I said, "watch out for the riptide." But, he was already back at work moving the sail, his face a study in concentration, as though he willed that sail to honor his demands. And, it did. In no time really, maybe 2 minutes, he was half a mile out. I thought he must be scared to death. What if he can't get back to shore. That wind could have taken him to Cuba. But he continued to focus on the sail. He began to synchronize the movement of the sail with the approach of a breaking wave and even did a few cool wave hopping moves. He was clearly doing something he loved. He was doing something that I enjoyed watching, along with several other folks sitting in the sand, but I am fairly certain that he did not have that in mind when he decided to buy the flashy yet sophisticated sail or when he loaded it on the top of his car, or when he dragged it down to the water where he was dunked over and over again. I imagine that he was thinking, "I want to learn how to sail surf." And, he did. He spent an entire day folding and loading the sail, driving to the beach, maybe trying one or two before he settled on the beach I was at. He spent at least 20 minutes getting water boarded by the sail and the rip tide. I left before he made it back to shore - things to do for other people. I walked away thinking that he spent a whole day devoted to doing exactly what he wanted to do.

Honestly, what is it about a person that allows them to spend their lives doing what they want to do, maybe not everyday but on most days?

Because I did not post this until now, I got no answers to my questions from those who seemingly effortlessly do what they want, when they want and how they want. I would still like to get some responses. This is what I came up with (sorta) on my own. Tell me if I am getting closer.

I read, somewhere, that my favorite author (in the top 5), Louise Erdrich, actually tied herself to a chair to make herself write. I think that is brilliant. I certainly know the feeling of wanting to write, of needing to write, of needing to empty my brain onto a blank page or screen, so badly that to do anything else felt like refusing to vomit up a poison. Walking around cramped and miserable, feeling the tide of bile lap at the back of my throat, so close to the back of my teeth that if I opened my mouth to speak it would pour out in a torrent drowning me and anyone near me.  Why would anyone put themselves through that? Maybe those people, like the guy on the sail surfboard, or Erdrich tied to a chair, are addressing an irrepressible demand that for reasons unclear to anyone including themselves refuse to be ignored. What if they aren't doing what they want to do? What if they are doing what they need to do?