I have been working in fits of discipline and rebellion lately. Proud of my progress, I beat on one day to the next, shifting my schedule, ever tweaking it to skate in and out of the confines of my family’s. By the next week the beating on has beaten me and I am bored, or worn out, feeling I have nothing left to give.
I wonder if I will ever be able to say, if asked, that this is how I work, this is the answer I have found. I can often tell you at the end of the day what I didn’t do, instead of what I did. What I do know is this: if I plan on writing, and the writing does not get done, nothing else I accomplish that day will mean much to me. Which is why it might be nine-thirty at night, and I could be fighting my seventeenth cold of the season, surrounded by a small arsenal of not-so-gently used tissues, and I will be writing.
I read something earlier this week that was shameful, and logical, if a bit unrealistic. The point was, if we are to live a balanced life, getting eight hours of sleep a night, and working eight hours each day, then that third set of eight hours should be spent on fun.
If you were to ask me right now what I did for fun, I would stammer and look at my toes.
What the heck do I do for fun?
And that question gave me pause. Looking at my toes, I see they are painted a deep, shimmery blue. That was fun. But I would never answer “I paint my toenails” to that question.
The problem I have is turning what might be fun into a goal and therefore a chore.
Writing is fun. It is the most fun I can have. But I also would not answer “I write,” because as a writer, I want to be taken seriously, most of all by myself. And I do have to take it seriously, to give myself permission to plunk down hours of my day to work at it, even when it isn’t so much fun.
I like to bake, to make, to create. But these are the first things to go when I start to feel overwhelmed. Why wouldn’t they be? Fun is expendable, as sleep and work are not.
So what do I do for fun? I wander.
I wander the bookstore. I wander the internet. I wander the town, taking the long way home whenever I can.
A couple of weeks back, my perfect angel of a husband agreed to watch the kids (friends included!) while I “got out of the house.” I had no idea where I would go. I didn’t really want to go anywhere. So I didn’t, really.
I drove for two and half hours, going nowhere, going in circles, listening to music, making up stories, making up scenes. It was still definitively winter here, but the sun was shining, so the shade of my sunroof was open, turning my car into a greenhouse of warmth and light.
I love driving,
I will let myself wander and roam, but I will not be so bold as to allow myself to try something, and fail, or even to try something and not make a marked progress. Sometimes my wandering is an excuse not to do something else.
A while back I was reading The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers.
In chapter four, one character calls another out on how she spends her time:
But just the same I knows you. This afternoon you going to roam all over the place without ever being satisfied. You going to traipse all around like you haves to find something lost. You going to work yourself up with excitement. Your heart is going to beat hard enough to kill you because you don’t love and you don’t have peace. And then someday you going to bust loose and be ruined. Won’t nothing help you then.
Had the author written my name down in the acknowledgements as someone she observed while writing this, I would not have been surprised.
So is there something wrong in the wandering? I suppose the unsatisfying answer is, it depends.
Did the warmth and the light and the music not heal over the unsatisfied corners of the week lingering behind me? I drove without looking for it, without reaching for any purpose.
That right there is how I suck the fun out of anything. I look for its purpose. Why sew something that might not look right, and then have to trash it? Why make a piece of jewelry for no one, for no reason, when I have piles of jewelry I don’t wear all that much now? Why bake cookies when I don’t need to be eating cookies, and I certainly don’t want to hand extra sugar over to my kids?
When instead I should ask, why wait until a birthday to get together with friends? What will happen if I just hack right into that material and follow through? And what if in the following I find I have ended up nowhere near where I intended to be? Can I give myself some time each week to wander through a pattern, and the material that caught my eye? Dare I let my time wander all over a piece of fine drawing paper, charcoal dusting my fingers, and making a home under my nails?
What if I write a blog post about how I don’t do anything for fun?
Well, confession is the first step of repentance, I suppose, and repentance is a turning around. So. I guess I’ll turn the car around. And just drive.
My pictures this week were taken on one of my many wanderings around North Dakota, where there are stretches of road that beg to be wandered, sometimes because if you go down them there is no place to turn around for twenty miles.