At the nexus of a desire for change one can get rather weary. Even burned-out. Jan O’Hara at Writer Unboxed compared the slowness we despise (especially in the western world) with the way children are treated when they aren’t meeting reading benchmarks imposed on them by public schools. A lot of writers, artists, teachers–and anyone who performs a job that requires tremendous amounts of cerebral output– have a high rate of burn-out.
The onset of burn-out is incredibly debilitating. When life is “normal”, I pride myself on my ability to gobble a book. However, when stress sets up shop, I am lucky if I can read the same page four times and be able to remember anything I read (particularly if what I am reading happens to be on a screen).
The question I have to constantly ask myself: what is the purpose in feeding the frenzy? Am I doing this to further my art, my career, or am I working for motives that aren’t serving the greater good?
I have returned to my previous habit of weekly swimming. At the pool I am forced to carry nothing (other than my goggles or weird “rash guard” that I use as a drag suit to create more resistance when I’m swimming). My fellow patrons think I’m crazy to wear what looks like a t-shirt over my polka dot bikini. We have a mixture of Czech, German and the occasional American clientele at my neighborhood schwimbad. It is a lovely UN of languages. Music to my ears!
It is this orchestra of human voices my mind catalogues new images: an old man kissing his wife and her surpassed look. After fifty years of marriage he still manages to keep things alive, I think.
I love watching how twenty of us congregate in a jacuzzi/pool intended for only fifteen and everyone just makes way without anyone having to start a fuss. One older man winked at his wife across the way, as there wasn’t room for him on her side. She raised her eyebrows in mock exasperation.
If I had a pen and paper with me, I would have been too busy writing to see all of these facial expressions, emotions and lovely moments. And if I wasn’t slightly culturally isolated I wouldn’t be able to conjure my own reality from my lack of knowledge of the German and Czech languages.
When stress threatens to destabilize our hold on our art, our precious coveted passion (whatever it may be: painter, dancer, writer, etc….) I believe we can fight back or we can also re-fill the well. We have to harness the things we love doing that maybe we haven’t enjoyed for awhile because we’ve been too busy increasing the word count in our novel, or increasing our reps at the gym, or editing the brains out of our debut novel and feeling depleted after so much effort and so little result.
On my second visit to the pool this week, I came home and dreaded making myself dinner because it was going to cut down on my writing time. Then it occurred to me: it isn’t all about the final product, though the final product does matter, and that’s what will eventually sell. I am overstressed because it is the journey that I am consistently failing to enjoy. I must celebrate all the great e-mails I get from my writing friends, the wonderful blog posts on the Word Cloud, new friends, friendships that have deepened through writing, a rekindled love of the outdoors I had lost for many years, and a realization that the greatest happiness I can acquire is through cataloguing the joy and the heartbreak I see and hear everyday.
I hope that I can continue to find the joy in the bubbles of the outdoor pool, the senior citizens cavorting in the jacuzzi, and JP asking me, “Hey, can I leave on-time today. I was really quiet for the first time.”
These are priceless moments I would have never taken notice of if I hadn’t decided to become a writer. Stress will come and go, but if I keep filling the well, I can only hope it will become more manageable.
If your pace is slow (as mine is glacially slow at the moment, I’ve even taken to doing artistic renderings of my next short story) don’t despair. All that thinking will lead to something great. It might not be Pulitzer prize-winning great. However, those moments leading up to that breakthrough just might change your life. Or, change someone else’s. Embrace the process. Enjoy the product as a result of the process.
And, be kind to yourself.