I’ve been in a really funny headspace lately. It’s one that did more damage than good, but I think one we all go through from time to time, to one degree or another (or maybe I’m only saying that so I don’t feel crazy). But in truth, life happens—it’s just that sometimes, it’s full of giant elephants blocking your way between the landmines that can blow your path to smithereens.
So let’s see. Where do I start?
I’ve been working on this book. It’s an exciting one for me, a standalone story that I started as what I’d intended to be a quick detour before I sat down to draft the sequel of the book my agent is currently shopping around. This baby’s got a lot of elements going for it that have my engines revved…first, there’s a bunch of exhibitionism (as I’ve said before, I am a bit of an exhibitionist). Then, there are a few relationships happening for my darling lead female—not in a poly way, but in a super complicated way I’m enjoying navigating. And then, there’s said lead character—a woman who definitely doesn’t fit the current mold of female protagonists (read: naïve virgins), and who is instead a highly educated divorcée ready to break free of her troubled old life. Score!
But here’s the thing: this poor book has been taking a beating from day one.
It took seven weeks to draft my last book, but this one has had a perilous path, interrupted in more ways than I can count. There was the one-month break. Then the two-month break. Then that other break. Then the rewriting that had to happen since I kept trying to write while I wasn’t sleeping much, or while I was sick. Or…well, you get the picture. It’s just that, for some reason, I can’t seem to get my time and focus into the game on this one.
Okay, truth be told, I laughed as I typed “for some reason”—because my life has been a hot mess for a few months now. For the last five I’ve been contending with an oil-leaking car (finally fixed…I think) and the HOA waiving threats of fines about for the spot I “took too long to clean” (too long was a week, guys, a week) and now the manner in which I’ve cleaned it (because “soap is bad for the environment”). I’ve still been running Jade’s Cat Hospice, which strangely sucks up a lot of time when you consider chasing cats down and medicating them multiple times a day, with one of them using the litter box as her hiding spot when she’s on to me (oh my god STOP that, kitty, stop!), and twice weekly email correspondence with the vet tech. Then there was the cold from hell that completely knocked me out, ironically, for the few days I took off from work to get some editing in on the damn book. I can’t seem to solve my plantar fasciitis problem, and spend a surprisingly large amount of time working on that (stretching, icing, ordering new shoes, returning crappy shoes, wondering if I’ll ever run again, stretching, icing…). My sleep is fortunately not as bad as it was during my 6-week chronic insomnia run last year, but my trick of moving to the couch if I can’t fall asleep and waking up there with a messed up back in the morning is getting kind of old. Then there’s family drama happening that’s kind of boggling my mind, and on top of that, some shit went down at my day job that was serious enough I might need to consider legal help, but I’m not sure if—with my tendency towards insane stress levels—this is the route to go yet.
But all this is neither here nor there. There are children starving in Africa, right? This is what I learned growing up: my problems are not real problems because there are children starving in Africa. It’s a mantra I repeated to myself for decades, one that left me unable to acknowledge until way later that witnessing my parents’ terribly messy divorce when I was a child actually did have an impact. It was a mantra that prevented me from realizing that raising my sister for two years while I was 11 and my parent worked graveyard did force me to play the grown-up when what I needed was to be a little girl and cry. It was the same mantra that had me putting on my game face after a series of emotional and physical traumas in my teens and twenties, because it was easier to just smile, laugh it all away, and keep it quiet than handle it for what would be about a decade. And later, it would be this very same mantra that, when I was performing aerial circus stunts as I mentioned in my interview with Molly Moore, would lead me to break myself in the middle of a performance because I didn’t believe pain could stop me—or should stop me. Ps-shaw. Hell no. I didn’t do pain. I was a superhero and had no time for pain, relaxation, feeling hurt, any of that.
There were children starving in Africa, for fuck’s sake.
Well, the good news is now that I’m 35 and oh-so-wise (did you hear me chuckle just now?), I am less inclined to resort to the children starving in Africa mantra when I’m hurting. I totally feel pain, and I cry; heck, I even have meltdowns that could, I suppose, be hormonal, but holy shit. They happen. It’s rather bizarre, having been the levelheaded one in the family for so many years [decades], that now I actually cry and have to lay boundaries and stuff.
But that relaxation thing? That part where, when I see a big brick wall—or, say, a field full of elephants and landmines blocking every clear route—I know that I need to slow down and accept that this might be trickier than expected and that’s okay, because sometimes tricky things take time?
Yeah, that part I’m still working on.
So I think you might be wondering where the fuck I’m going with all this. Let’s cut back to the cold/chasing cats/work thing/family drama/limping on my foot on the way out to scrub more oil off the goddamn pavement moment: I finally had a whole day free to write and I simply couldn’t. I froze. I cried. I got myself caught in this loop over the fact that I was wasting my productive time to mull over all this bullshit that shouldn’t be stalling me. It was Meltdown City, and I kept wondering if I was PMSing, or worse, bipolar—because hell, that runs in the family—and before you know it, I’m on the internet taking a quiz to determine if maybe I am (who fucking does that?).
I suddenly felt like I did once upon a time, even without the Africa mantra, but damn—was I being hard on myself!
Then three magical things happened.
First, I put a call in to the wonderful and lovely Malin James. Many of you know I adore this woman—she’s like my long lost twin separated at birth—so she felt like the right person to call. She needed a few minutes to call me back, and that was okay. While I waited, I texted my other friend—a non-writer with whom I share other similarities (including some astrological traits, if you’re into that). As she texted me back, I randomly found this article by James Clear about not striving so fucking hard for goals and instead reaching for the process and savoring that. Because that’s attainable. That you can’t fuck up, or bemoan not reaching. Because it’s all about the journey, remember?
So about the time I’d gotten the gist of Mr. Clear’s very clear point, my phone went off with a text and a phone call all at once. My two dearies had come to the rescue. The texter hit me with some sweet words telling me I was going to do just fine with the book, and then some encouragement to go on a long walk and drink more (she’s an exercise fiend and a wine connoisseur) and remember we’re Geminis (and thus naturally a tad bipolar). Meanwhile, the fabulous Malin chimed in with her extraordinarily calming and logical approach to tackling huge missions while circumventing bitchy elephants and dangerous landmines in a way that made sense to me (the twin thing again).
And I’ve got to say—between these three events, I was suddenly okay with putting my story down for the day. I took a deep breath. I closed the browser telling me I was potentially bipolar. I calmly enjoyed the rest of my afternoon. I even went karaoking with another great friend (my version of the walk and drinking…instead I danced and drank) until something like 2 in the morning.
Because you know what? There are children starving in Africa. And elephants are awfully big to walk around. Also, landmines can be treacherous.
So sometimes you’ve just got to slow down and go with it.
Things are still stupidly chaotic in my life, but I’m not panicking on the book anymore. It will happen. And writing this post reminded me of a passage I scribbled from a phenomenal book I read last summer, Hillary Jordan’s When She Woke:
“I don’t have far to go.”
“That may be…or it may be that you have a greater distance than you think. But either way, you’ll get there eventually.”
You know what?