Writing and Not Writing

supposed to be
from Shit Academics Say (@academicssay)

I don’t know if I share this with all writers or just the super-neurotic ones (although, is there any other kind?), but I have this pretty much constant voice in the back of my head at all times saying “Shouldn’t you be writing?”

A few weeks ago, I got some good news: in one week, three of my short essays were accepted for publication at three different places. For a brief glorious moment, the voice was silenced, and I began to consider myself a Real Writer. But soon it was back again. “Those short pieces represent the sum total of your work for the past year—you need to generate more content!” [cracks whip]

Voice, you are a jerk.

I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts in my car lately, ever since the election made NPR too traumatizing, and one of them is a series of Tara Brach‘s Buddhism and mindfulness lectures. One thing she talks about is how we think we’ll be happy when—when x, y, or z happens. Then if it somehow happens, we raise the bar and think, “I’ll be happy when…” and come up with something else.

And so our lives go by.

So I’m really trying to be happy with the present moment. Yes, happy with acceptances when they arrive, but happy when I’m rejected because it is a triumph to submit at all, happy when I can peck out a few sentences on my phone late at night, or happy even in the fact of not having time to write, what with my job and two small children Hoovering up every spare moment. Happy in particular when I am able to enjoy other people’s writing or other artistic efforts—they provide stimulation and variety during a time in my life that can seem limited in its horizons: work, home, work, home.

Some art I’m grateful to have experienced lately:

  • Went to see a Mountain Goats show. Normally I agree with Nabokov’s sentiment: “Music, I regret to say, affects me merely as an arbitrary succession of more or less irritating sounds.” But when I am dragged to a performance by my music-fan partner, I often like it, sometimes love it. John Darnielle’s lyrics are intriguing, and they’re often memoiristic—they engage me as writing. And he has a riveting stage presence.
  • The podcast Terrible, Thanks for Asking. It goes straight for the hard stories, the hard feelings. But somehow pulls humor out of them as well. I feel similarly about The Hilarious World of Depression.
  • Books. I recently finished Bohumil Hrabal’s Too Loud a Solitude and Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine and just started Roxane Gay’s Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body. The last two I’ve been listening to on CD in my car (you may notice a trend here—driving around is when I have the most spare time), and it changes the experience—for Honeyman’s book because of all the delightful Scottish accents, and for Gay’s because she reads it herself, adding another dimension of embodiment to a book that is all about the body.

So yes, I should be writing, but I’m also learning to accept when I’m not writing.


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