A Writer’s Dilemma: When Did I Shower Last?
I’m sitting down to write for the first time in over a week. I’ve been up nights with plot points stirring in my head. Characters complain and grouse about their lack of page time. The act of writing, the energy of the process has been elusive. The cardinal rule of writing, according to many articles, is don’t quit your day job. Rules schmules. I’m not afraid to buck reasonable advice. The Beard and I discussed the pros and cons of quitting my teaching gig. We performed an ad hoc, cost benefit analysis that included my personal mental/emotional state, the teenage state of our two boys, my newly published novel and our spending habits. I’m the first to tell you number crunching isn’t my strong suit, though I can do taxes like a savant. Go figure.
We discovered that we could indeed live on The Beard’s salary with some cuts in our luxury expenses. I’d have to clean the house, ugh. We could cut our wine clubs and reduce eating out or ordering take out food. I do teach yoga part time. I earn some modest spending money. My financial contribution is delayed while the book gains momentum. (Not that my teaching salary after a four-year pay freeze and a five percent pay cut was a substantial contribution) I can live on a budget. A few years on public assistance after I lost a high paying job and realized my ex-spouse had severely mismanaged my money improved my money sense. He was a self-employed contractor. You get the picture. I’m not disparaging all contractors. I know some hard working, reliable contractors. No hyperbole. I’ll sadly admit I never had a checking account until I married and even then I naively allowed my spouse to deal with the finances. While I had worked since I was fifteen, I knew nothing about money and shame on me!
I returned to school and spent the next two and a half years in a crash course on money management. I managed money I didn’t have. Once I started teaching, I began to earn a quarter of my previous salary, but it seemed like a fortune. The conversations about my employment as a full-time writer scared me. Being dependent on The Beard felt like a great strain on our relationship. He assured me my growing frustration and anxiety about teaching was the bigger strain. Okay. We bucked convention, and I quit my job. It’s been an adjustment, and then I broke my ankle. Nothing like a pile of medical bills, a new house cleaning bill and being on my back to support even limited budget stability. Ay yi yi.
I’m recovering, but even before my injury I never felt that I found my rhythm. The thing about a clock in job is it provides the safety net of schedule. I like schedule. I woke at 4:30 to hit the gym and be in the shower by 6. I made coffee, lunch and perhaps breakfast for offspring. I might have even emptied the dishwasher before being to work around 7:15ish. Teaching offered its crazy routine. I’d stumble home around 4:30 or 5 if I wasn’t co-directing a play, sponsoring some student council event or dealing with parents, administration or staff meetings. Dinner would be around 6. I may have folded some laundry or done some other domestic chore, but I’d collapse unconscious by 8 pm. That was my routine from mid-August to May 28th for ten years. I didn’t include driving three kids to and from practice, basketball games, school plays (the kids), soccer games, volleyball games, choir concerts or band concerts. Never mind trying to get doctors, dentists and other things scheduled. Weekends I taught yoga and went grocery shopping.
The Beard claimed I was insane daily. I agree with him now. I can barely get things done without working full time. I have no idea how I managed for ten years. The last four years I was also writing a novel. Madness! No wonder it’s taking me some time to get regulated. I don’t have to be up at 4:30 to workout, but some days I don’t get to the gym until 10 or noon, if I go at all. With school starting again, I haven’t figured out how to walk the dogs while it’s blazing hot. I realized the other day it had been two or three days since I showered. Right?! Exercise or a walk with the dogs required a shower. Driving a boy to school, cleaning the kitchen and making The Beard coffee in the morning doesn’t generate much of a sweat.
A routine works for me. I don’t regret the tight budget. Book sales will grow. I don’t miss teaching. Those teaching dreams have been replaced by dreams of running out in a torrential rain to salvage my pages or computer. I do miss my workouts and regimen. The flip side is my laundry is frequently done. The house is mostly clean. The yard is looking good. I haven’t written in two weeks, shrug. I’m working on building a schedule. Son 2 will have his driver’s license in September, and my chauffeur duties will disappear. Both sons are in school most of the day and working when they’re not in school. I’ve tackled some domestic remodeling jobs and still need to finish, but I like my space to be uncluttered. I’m starting a 365-day cull to remove disorder in a two pronged attack.
It’s a full-time writer’s dilemma. Build scheduled time to write without distractions. I have to balance that against the mother’s dilemma. I still get the “Mommy, will you make breakfast?” “Mooom, will you make me lunch?” “What’s for dinner?” I can go a few days without speaking to anyone outside of The Beard and the dogs. It’s disconcerting to find yourself discussing plot obstacles with the checkout clerk at the grocery store or UPS guy. ‘How’s it going?’ is such an innocent question. Those folks are such good sports.
I’m balancing my net present value against my feelings that I’m not contributing financially, yet. Buy my book! I post my daily accomplishments for validation that I indeed contribute. I’m working on setting a weekly word count to lock down my writing time, after all that was one of the primary reasons to quit. I’m making considerable effort to participate more often in my writing guild. Shout out to Northern Colorado Writers here. I’m teaching two workshops in October and attending a creative writing conference. I’m taking one day a week out of the house to work remotely. It’s a start.
I’ll get there. In the meantime, I did shower this morning.