I am not good at taking days off, and this week was Spring Break; I did not allow myself any days off and I paid for that ambition. I had all kinds of things planned in my head for Spring Break, namely making epic progress on my novel revision. Pretty soon though, my inspiration turned into immense pressure, turned into self flagellation turned into self derision, turned into a chorus of “I suck, I suck, I suck, I suck, I suck, I suck…” in my head.
Every time I looked at my novel on Scrivener, I couldn’t quiet that damning voice. I wanted to cry. I couldn’t cry. I wanted to die. I couldn’t believe the novel was bringing me to my knees like that. By Tuesday evening, I found myself saying, “All I have to do is make it to L O S T tonight.” Dudes–I was MOTIVATING myself to LIVE by telling myself I had to keep my head above water just to watch what happens on L O S T. The only thing I’m proud of is the fact that somehow I didn’t have any desire to smoke cigarettes, a habit that I broke two years before my stroke.
I was in trouble, and I began to assess things. Last week, I went to my annual physical exam, and my doctor, who is the most wonderful doctor ever, one who practices more holistic medicine and spends an ENTIRE hour with me each year, cocked her head at one point and asked, “What do you do for fun, Christine?”
I looked at her, and answered in a mouse-like voice, “I write.” Actually, I confess, I said something more like, “I write?”
She smiled. “That’s what I thought you’d say.”
And that was that. But her question bumped me off my feet, as I wondered, “What *is* it that I do for fun these days?” It was the week of Passover, and it coincided with more socializing than I’d done in MONTHS. I had two very good friends over for dinner, and then I had lunch with another friend who happened to be in town for a day. My writing wasn’t going well, and I was miserable. But my friends, I found, kept my spirits up. I was hungry, and not just for leavened bread.
What is it that I do for fun?
I tried to chalk my blasé spirits up to my annual Spring Misery and Spring allergies. And then I thumbed through my journals and found that every Spring, I feel this way and go on vacation to mitigate the Spring Misery. That’s how I get myself through Spring–and this year during my weeklong Spring Break, I’d planned on doing WORK. (The one thing about teaching that I find dreadful is that I can’t just take off for vacation at random moments–I’m married to the academic calendar).
To mitigate the Spring Misery without the luxury of travel, I tried reading books about writing, including Walter Mosley’s This Year You Write Your Novel. It crushed me. Maybe it was the timeline of writing a novel in a year, maybe it was his very very airy reference to revision…but it crushed me. I felt like a failure. I felt like he was keeping secrets from me. It takes WAY longer than a year to write a novel, at least in my reality. The pressure killed me.
In desperation, and with my happiness in mind, I took a few days off from the novel, spending the last three days of Spring Break on Farm Town (oh I am so addicted to that Facebook app). I told myself to NOT look at my novel, to NOT revise at all. Full stop. I began to feel better. I began to have time to have fun–my husband and I even went to a movie! (Hot Tub Time Machine!!!). I began to relax. I began to think of cooking (my hobby of love) again–even Lobster Thermidor. I began to WANT to work on my novel again.
Now my Spring Break ends. But my vacation isn’t ending. I’m enforcing myself to go on a vacation from novel, and I have vowed to not touch my novel until May. I need the break from the 24/7 obsession. I need to give myself permission to go out and have fun with the increase in spare time. I need to read books and meet friends and feed myself again.
I think it was Bobby McFerrin who once said something like, “In order to create, I have to be full of myself.” Well. I was empty. I am empty, for various reasons. I need to fill my reserves up. So that’s what I’m going to do with this vacation.
I will allow myself to write essays, maybe even write a short story–but no novel.
And I’ll think about Cormac McCarthy’s response, in his interview with the Wall Street Journal, to why he doesn’t write short stories: “I’m not interested in writing short stories. Anything that doesn’t take years of your life and drive you to suicide hardly seems worth doing.”