On Writing

Work – Heeding the Call(ing) Even When I’m Scared.

Lately I’ve been having a difficult time sitting down to work. Any sort of work. Creative work. Administrative work. Work work. It all feels a bit like cracking teeth and not pulling them (which I’m pretty sure is worse than pulling them).

What I mean by work is any of the following:

…housework (cooking, cleaning, laundry), administrative work (emails, tweets, facebook, posts), work work (at Suede or Black Moss Press), creative work (writing – poetry, articles, letters, etc.), exercise…and everything seems to have that ‘must do’ feel of ‘work’ to it, even when that’s not the truth (example, I don’t have to do laundry…at least not every day!).

Although the sun does her best shine on me (us), the cold still seeps into everything. And even when the cold steps back a bit, what the sun melts reveals a dirty underneath.

I feel heavy. I feel thick. I feel over…indulgent, over-slept, over-myself, quite frankly. And yet I cannot move past myself to get the work done in a way that isn’t painful.

Even in my gratefulness, I will admit that it doesn’t reach deeply inside me – the gratefulness. For nothing can really reach down that deep except this seething heaviness.

Perhaps it is simply the weather. This droning on and on of a confused mother nature, of a reflectively tired earth too busy trying to mend and bend that she is as dark inside as we are. After all, we are doing our part in causing her grief.

I want to be honest here, as that is often my goal. I want to tell you that I have days of work to do – but not before days of work to catch up. And here I sit. Alone. At my dining room table. Tea by my side. My bracelets scraping on the face of my laptop. With hours of time to work. And I cannot. I have not. I watched two episodes of Downton Abbey. I ate a bowl of chilli covered in sour cream followed by chips, five Starburst and a chocolate bar. I couldn’t stop shoving food into my mouth. Now I’m at least attempting a clean out with the hot green tea in my cup.

I’m flip-flopping all around in my mind. Hoping for alone-time to work, then being gifted it (both kids are out at sleepovers – a small miracle, and the hubby is on his way home from a location hours away), and being completely unable to get to it. I feel the most motivated around 4pm when my ‘work’ day is ending and I must don my mother’s hat and be a mother for the night. This type of ‘work’ doesn’t make the lists nor does it get checked off. It’s the constant work that mostly feels great – except when the other types of work overflow…

I promise myself to get up early – to rise with the sun  or before – and work then. Only to groan in lazy warmth beneath  my blanket and sleep for just one…more…minute. I can’t get up a minute earlier than I must.

I don’t feel my ‘self’. But the truth is – this is me. This happens. This inability to delve into the work, into the joy of accomplishing tasks, into the positive happenings that fill my life – I get bloated with fear of it all.

And it’s not always in tune with the weather, my friends. Which is why I want to write about it.

I make lists. Mad lists. Lists that are pages long. In an effort to visualize it all – ‘it’ being the work. And I am able to inhale when I look at these lists. But the effort of making the lists renders me unable to do any more. It’s like I have to psych myself up to do the things that the lists are demanding I do.

I should rephrase. It’s not ‘the lists’ that are demanding. It is me.

I say yes to things because my heart wants to do them. And I have done well, I believe, to be in the moments when I am doing things – to enjoy them as they are experienced – except with the work. With the work, I am a pie made of fear, dread and broken self-confidence.

And you’d never know.

Yesterday I had the honour of guest speaking to a group of students getting their doctorate in Literacy. I was nervous leading up to the day. And nervous leading up to the classroom door. But when I lay (laid?) my books before me on the table. When I looked at my cue cards for guidance and strength – I felt peace.

I felt my calling – floating beneath me like a whale cloud, nudging me on. I don’t mean to be poetic or metaphorical, but I can’t quite explain it any other way. I felt my self sitting on my dream. And I was at home.

And my kids weren’t with me. And my hubby wasn’t with me. It was just me and the words. And that’s hard for me to admit. Because I want so much to be the best mother and wife (and friend) I can be – but I cannot be all this at once. And when I read my poems about what it feels like to be a mother in these days – it is clear I, still very much,  am afraid to be the woman I am.

I feel as though I can work and not stop. I can tweet, facebook, talk on the phone, send emails, write an article, update a website, plan a launch, make dinner, clean the house…sweet deity, I am the energizer bunny’s worst nightmare. I feel as though I can work  (and there is enough of it to make this so) straight through this life. I see people doing it around me all the time.

We needn’t look far to see that many of us have a hard time not filling our time. It feels bizarre to me to want to tweet, and yet I do it. Give precious moments to coming up with clever words to catch someone’s attention. Anyone’s attention. Or maybe a very clear, specific person’s attention: Jian Ghomeshi. I mean, there are so many ways now that we try and communicate something to someone, and yet it mostly feels like there are more ways to miscommunicate. Things are forced. Rushed. Where is the organic in a tweet? Perhaps somewhere in hope as we hit the ‘share with the world’ buttons…but why have we become so carried away with trying to ‘reach’ people? Because the downside of all this reaching is the letting go when we can’t quite connect.

It’s been months since I started my ‘mission’ to get on Jian’s show. And I’ve had no response from him. And why should he respond? And why am I putting pressure on him to do so? The nature of the speed in which we can reach out garners an expectation for a response of the same speed. And that’s bunk. And that’s a terrible pressure – on the reacher and the reach-ee.

I feel as though I am at the beck and call of so many expectations that I cannot react or respond to quickly enough – even though I try. I feel badly if I don’t answer an email right away. Leave someone waiting. Especially another writer. I know how our worlds are filled with waiting already. And this pressure gets so bad that I just have to step away from it all. Put my phone down. Close the computer. Step away from the devices that keep me connected because sometimes I just can’t connect.

Once again, I find myself making lists. Psyching myself up for the load of work that needs to be done. And deadlines get closer. Real deadlines that I’ve committed to hitting. I ask myself: How did you get here again?

And my dreams whisper: Why won’t you just write?

These questions plague me.

I want to be successful as a writer, as mother, as a wife, as a friend. And I know that I am. Yet this incessant need to make myself do more, work harder, work faster – and ‘fit’ my writing in – makes it difficult for me to enjoy the process. And I’ve always been this way.

I am a mad romantic. Holding that image of a beachfront cottage, with a massive window overlooking the water, a long, strong wood desk housing my computer and paper and books, and time…so much time…hours and hours in a row…to write…

…remember the writing space in ‘Something’s Gotta Give’…(one of my favourite films!)…or…

…this dreamy writer’s place in Love Actually…?

Places like this are my third eye. They furnish my dreams and as much as I know they are ‘in the movies’, I know that they are attainable…at some point.

I can’t be alone and write for hours. Not yet.

So this constant ‘not yet-ting’ of dreams makes me tired and romantically wounded. But it’s not real. Because I have amazing writing spaces…

like this…

and sometimes this…

and always this…

…and the truth is…when I’m in these space…I’m not really watching the water or drinking the tea or admiring the books on the shelves, I’m looking at the screen or the paper. I’m looking at the words. And the words don’t care where they land, they only care that they get out of my head and heart and onto a page or a screen.

It is all a bit of a grand illusion, a Charlotte Bronte-esque story, a wolf dressed in a procrastination sheep-suit, that I offer myself in an attempt to avoid the work.

Even when the work is the writing. The creative kind. The kind that matters most to my soul and being. The kind that heeds the calling that is my life as a writer. The kind that revives and revitalizes and challenges me like nothing else can.

And this can’t exist in a comparative world. I can’t beat myself up for needing to write. Even though I do. I can’t compare my time writing to my time mothering. It’s not fair. And it’s not realistic because I don’t stop being one to be the other. And that’s the key. I can’t separate my ‘selves’. That’s what makes it so hard. And that’s what makes it so human. And that’s what the response to the ‘callings’ so very important.

I am called to love. And my expression of this love is in the people around me. In the flesh or on the page. Is that high-falutin’ or arrogant or self-indulgent?

I don’t know. I don’t want to label it. It is what it is and you don’t have to understand even though I think you do. You don’t have to agree even though I think you can relate.

We work because we need to and we work because we have to. Both give us gifts that make us feel confused and challenged and tired and terrified.

I don’t know why it terrifies me to stare a list of emails in the face or pull a pile of research off my desk – and turn them into answers, stories, poetry or dreams.

I do know that I can’t not dream.

And today…these past days…my dreams are more brick than blanket.

Perhaps it’s all a test of strength for what is to come. Or what is already here.

I feel better. And my tea is cold. And mind is quiet.

Thanks for listening. Keep dreaming. Keep heeding your calling(s).

7 thoughts on “Work – Heeding the Call(ing) Even When I’m Scared.

  1. Beautifully written. Found myself nodding throughout. Whenever I’m decorating or redecorating my writing space, the film Something’s Gotta Give is always in my mind’s eye. Faulkner said, “Writing a first draft is like trying to build a house in a strong wind.” But it is King’s words on likening writing to magic, the water of life, that come to mind after reading your entry: “The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up.” And so we shall be filled up, one syllable, one word, one phrase at a time. R


  2. my Franny….so nice to see I am not alone in this wicked feeling of depression…..I agree with you…we certainly need Ms. Golden sun to shine down on us…..love u so much…..mammy


  3. This all seems perfectly natural to me, Vanessa. Just a few months ago, you gave birth to a book – an awesome feat of creativity! Then there was the glorious launch and all the promotional work that goes with it, including the quest for Q. It was a positive energy investment, no doubt, but it’s drained you, and now is the time for self-care and self-nurturing. The inclination is to sleep and eat and pull everything you love close to you. Your spirit doesn’t want to write now, but to indulge, rest and enjoy. Why not honour that? Another burst of creativity will be coming up, and you will be able to meet it with greater enthusiasm if you give yourself a little downtime now. You deserve it, and what’s more, you need it.


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