Summer Quote Series (Week 11)

“Don’t be fooled by the calendar. There are only as many days in the year as you make use of. One man gets only a week’s value out of a year while another man gets a full year’s value out … Continue reading

Doing Nothing

Sometimes I feel as though I’m doing nothing. And since I don’t spend my days staring at a wall in a catatonic state, what I really mean by “doing nothing” is doing nothing important—nothing of any significance or weight—nothing that leaves an indelible mark around me. There are people living big, multiple lives. I don’t mean they’re duplicitous—not the man with a family in Philadelphia and another in Pittsburg. What I mean is that these people manage to cram so much living into their one life, that it’s almost as though they’re living many times over. It’s the woman who volunteered in Uganda, drove her motorcycle across Europe, went to law school, invented something that became ubiquitous, climbed Mt. Everest, started a non-profit organization that saves or improves the lives of the marginalized, and tomorrow she turns thirty.

I can’t help but look at my life sometimes and wonder why it’s seems so little by comparison. How are so many others doing so much more? Where do they find the time and the motivation? Have I slept late too many mornings? Have I watched too much television? Should I not have spent that weekend back in 2002 defeating Halo? Do I nap too often?

My life is full of procrastinations and distractions. Many little unimportant things have devoured massive chunks of my time. Is this how others manage to live big, multiple lives—by avoiding all things trivial? Could I do the same? I’m addicted to my frivolities, but I enjoy the addiction. I want to be changed without having to exert the effort of actually changing. I’m that person who would like to be fluent in French or Italian, but not enough to study.

All this feels like an excuse wrapped in a complaint—or a complaint wrapped in an excuse, but it doesn’t fix me to know that. It’s as though I’ve diagnosed the disease and prescribed the cure, but I can’t find the energy to walk to the drug store. Which also makes me wonder if something else is wrong with me—or if I’m what’s wrong with me. Maybe I don’t know what I really want. Or maybe I’m not willing to give up what it costs.

There are things that I tell myself (and others) I want to do, but I don’t really—otherwise I’d be doing them. Right? These are the things I wish I wanted to do. For instance, I don’t want to exercise every day—but I want to want to. And there’s the rub. It’s that extra “want to” that I have to hurdle. The only thing harder than overcoming a double “want to” is not getting swept up in a “don’t want to want to.” For example, I don’t want to want to eat a second serving of pizza, fried chicken, or apple crisp à la mode—or an entire Toblerone milk chocolate bar—but I do want to. And so I get in the way of my own goals and push myself into the holes I’ve already dug.

And then, like a light bulb that has to be replaced all too often, a familiar solution dawns on me. Nike had it right: just do it. I need to reprimand my impertinent inner child that throws a tantrum at the slightest hint of self-imposed discipline. I need to just get that writing done. I need to just leave that second helping of pizza, fried chicken, or apple crisp à la mode for tomorrow. I need to just save some of that milk chocolate Toblerone for another day. I need to just put on my sneakers and get moving and sweating. I can’t sit around waiting to simply want to do those things I know I should do; I need to just do them. Wanting to may not come today (or tomorrow). Some days the fact that I should has to be enough. This is how I rediscover my lost discipline. I stop saying or thinking that I should or want to (want to) do something, and I just get about doing it—today. It’s just that simple, but simple isn’t always easy.

Just Write

I probably should have worn galoshes today. This is the thought that occurred to me as I walked across the Queensboro Bridge—all the while hoping that the slush-ice wouldn’t invade my sneakers. With each step I took, I half expected to feel that familiar cold-wet sensation seeping in at my toes. But, and quite miraculously, my feet stayed dry for the entire walk.

Walking across a very gray cityscape, enjoying weather that felt temperate after a few single digit days, I found myself at odds with myself. It’s Friday, and you haven’t written anything yet. Would I let myself off the hook? Would I grant myself a bye? But nagging from every corner of my mind, a solitary (though persistent) thought: If I could find the time to write the weeks of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and even New Year’s Eve, then how, on this very ordinary and not over-scheduled week, could I so easily give up on my promise to myself to write weekly?

My motivation was waning. This has been one of those weeks where writing has felt like a chore—an uphill battle when I don’t want to climb or fight. A week during which procrastination has been my shadow—or as easy as a sigh. And so I found myself here—today—Friday—with nothing written, no outline, no thought I wanted to explore or rough draft I was inclined to sand and polish before putting it “out there.” And Friday is my self-appointed deadline—go or don’t time.

I find it interesting how easy it is to be unfaithful to myself. How comfortable I am breaking commitments or turning my back on goals I’ve made for myself. Perhaps this is the true reason I don’t make resolutions. It’s not just the studies suggesting they aren’t kept by the majority; it’s my self-knowledge—my premonition of failure.

It’s probably a good thing I didn’t wear my wellies today. They’re not comfortable for long walks. Counterintuitive as it may seem, wearing sneakers on a slushy and slippery day made it more likely that I’d opt to walk across the bridge. And if I could find the wherewithal to walk in conditions such as these—and risk getting cold and wet feet—then couldn’t I just write something about nothing in particular? Couldn’t I write about not being inspired to write anything? And that became my mantra for the remainder of my walk: Write something. Write anything. Just write. It might not be the most glamorous route to the top of your objective mountain, but it will get you from here (the pit and valley of procrastination) to there. And that’s enough.

An Epileptic Frog

Some days I just don’t feel like writing. I search the horizon of my mind hopeless that I’ll find even the slightest speck of an idea to pursue. My head is empty or too full. And though my fingers feel restless, they have no coherent purpose—no expository reason to move. I am out of ideas and will never have another one again. My brain is a desert. My thought-well is empty. All that my mind can muster is worthless and trivial. Cover my writing life with a shroud; it is dead.

Some days I just don’t feel like writing. There are no interesting thoughts pressing for expression. My mind feels shallow and blank or constipated with the inconsequential. Every good thought I have belongs to someone else who already wrote it better. The only sensible thing to do is curl up on the couch and hope I fall asleep for long enough to take writing off of the day’s agenda. The thought of trying to squeeze coherent ideas into readable sentences makes my inner child want to throw a tantrum. I pound my figurative fists. I throw things—hurling insults at myself like (or as) similes. Watching you try to write is like watching an epileptic frog try to thread a needle. This is as futile as dancing to feed the hungry or drying the ocean with a paper napkin.

Some days I just don’t feel like writing. I’d rather face a firing squad than an empty document and that infernal (and smug) cursor blinking at me. I read through my collection of unfinished beginnings and systematically disown them. Procrastination’s siren song begins to bewitch me. Wouldn’t you be more inclined to write if you were rested? Perhaps you should take a nap. Better yet, watch some television. You’re probably missing something very important on Facebook. Better go online for a few minutes that can easily turn into an hour or two. Aren’t you hungry? Thirsty? Hydration is important. Now that you’ve had something to drink, shouldn’t you go to the bathroom and sit there daydreaming? Static body, stagnant mind—you should be exercising. Check your e-mail…again. Balance your checkbook. Clean the litter box. Do the cats have enough food and water in their bowls? You’d better go check and get distracted by something else in the kitchen. That white stove of yours could use a good wipe down. Maybe you could wash the dishes. There’s quite a bit of laundry to do. And since a wash load lasts only twenty-six minutes, there’s no sense in trying to do any writing in the interim. When doing chores begins to sound desirable, I know the throes of my procrastination have reached a chronic level.

Some days I just don’t feel like writing. And some days (most days, if I’m being honest) I don’t. I find other things to do. I defer. I conjure up excuses. I distract myself. I take exorbitantly gratuitous naps. I convince myself that even while my mind is otherwise preoccupied, I’m ruminating. Writing is hard work. Coming up with that first word or idea is difficult. It can bring me to the brink of despair. Facing the void, I start to consider alternative options. Is it too late to become a struggling actress? Why couldn’t I want to be something else like a veterinarian, photographer, or phlebotomist?

Some days I just don’t feel like writing. But then there are those days when (whether I want to or not) I face the blank page and wait for a word. Blinking cursor be damned! I’m facing the emptiness head on. I troll my mind for an idea—just one simple sentence that will probably get cut later on. If I can get anything down, anything at all, even just a crumb, then I can coax more out of myself like a cautious kitten that wants to come. If I persevere—if I hold on against hope and put anything on the page—then I rediscover what I’ve already learned: No mind is completely barren, even if (at first, second, or third glance) it looks empty. If I can come up with one thought and turn it into one sentence, I will inevitably write more. Sometimes the words will flow fast and fluidly, other times they’ll be sluggish and halting. I accept whatever comes—even if it leads me to write about writing.

Easy

How easy it is to have a full mind and yet feel like I have nothing to say. To look at a blank page with pen in hand and feel empty. Or to stare, in a semi-catatonic daze, at my computer screen as that persistent blinking cursor taps its impatient foot and dares me to type something—anything so it can move horizontally and vertically.

What an intimidating undertaking writing can be. Searching the deep recesses of my mind for an idea or memory—feeling around in the dark and hoping to find something. Trying to create order while wading in chaos—and then writing it down. Attempting to fill a page with words—words that aren’t sterile, but pregnant with images and meaning. Wanting to share thoughts through symbols and syntax, using vocabulary as paint and drawing text out of the lexicon to help you see what I see.

How diligent my internal critic can be. Never taking a day off. Warning me against revealing too much or pouring parts of myself onto the page that others might find unappealing. Criticizing before I even begin creating. Reminding me that writing is often a stripping down, and not too many people look good naked.

How easy it is to want to give up. To lay my head down on the desk, then move over to the couch or bed, hoping not just to fall asleep, but to wake up with inspiration. Or to decide that it’s time for a snack, a walk, to balance the checkbook, do the laundry, read a book, or watch a movie. How tempting it is to find other things to do—to have a torrid affair with procrastination—a lover that never forgets to shower me with flowery distractions or preoccupations that taste like chocolate.

Some days the words spill out of me—tripping over themselves as they each race to reach the page. Sometimes my fingers can’t keep up with my mind. Or my hand begins to cramp from so tightly holding my pen. Some days there is a tsunami of thoughts swelling within me head. The pressure builds and has to be let out. Other days, the seas are painfully still. Not a ripple in the water. Not a breath of wind.

On those days, writing is work. It is everything hard. It is moving the stubborn ox. It is giving birth. It is walking a mile in uncomfortable shoes and eating Brussels sprouts. It is swimming the English Channel, running a marathon, and then climbing a mountain. It is getting to the top of the mountain only to discover I’ve climbed the wrong one—that this isn’t what I wanted to write about at all.