I used to hate Sunday. It was the day before school began. It was day before the mouse trap snapped. It was the day before hum-drum routines took us down. Sundays made me feel sad and nervous.
Friday was my day. Friday was the end of classes and the adventure of the weekend beginning. Friday was driving into Boston (or hitch-hiking into Boston. Say what?) in my dad’s old blue Buick Electra 225 (aka the blue bomb) and staying at my Harvard boyfriend’s commune-like house doing very college-y things when I was in high school (say what?). Friday was going to Vermont and downhill skiing. Friday was spending the night at my best friend’s house. Friday was all anticipation and who knows what will happen. Even if nothing did happen, Friday still had the fizz of anticipation.
Now it’s different. There’s still a shift on Friday. But it’s when the unwinding of the week begins. The spaciousness of the weekend starts its exhale. By Sunday, I can feel the full belly breath of it. Even if I have commitments. Or need to catch up on stuff. Or want to sink deeper into a manuscript. I love the langour of Sundays. The longer conversations. Preparing a delicious plate of food. The lingering over coffee.
Today I am teaching a class on crafting openings that will make your readers lean in.
I have had many writing teachers. Many. Great. Good. Bad. Terrible. Fortunately the terrible ones have faded and I only remember the positive ones, the ones who cared about words and about creating stories that are the best they can be.
When I stand in front of a class, I always have one prayer. I hope I say something, just one something, today that makes their craft better. From all the great teachers, I have taken at least one bit of wisdom that has made my journey as a writer feel less perilous and less lonely because I have one more useful tool in my toolbox.
If I do that one thing for one person, I am happy.
When I moved into my first apartment and put that one key on my empty key ring, I remember thinking, “Oh man, I’m an adult now. Pretty soon, I’ll have lots of keys to lots of doors.” For some reason, having keys meant being grown and important and responsible and in charge.
Yeah, I know…humans are incredible meaning making machines.
Anyway, later, I leapt from keys to piling on lots of work and commitments so that I felt busy and important and in charge. To some degree, it worked. With each commitment fulfilled, people counted on me more. Asked me to do more. It felt good: being in demand. Plus I was growing and learning. It was symbiotic.
Then came motherhood. There is nothing like a 24/7 job that demands ALL your attention. I realized that I couldn’t do that job without taking care of me. I had to get sleep. I had to curb work. I had to replenish myself every day so that I could be a better human for my daughter. Gradually, that self care became the center piece of my life. It still is. Twenty two years later.
Yes, I’m still busy. Sometimes over committed. This week, I taught three entirely separate classes. I kept drafting my novel. I put food in my fridge, worked out and went to a doctor’s appointment. And I went to my day job. It was a lot. I feel tired. Maybe a bit too much. But here’s the deal: whenever I say: ‘I have so much to do’ or ‘I have too much to do.’ I always ask myself: Are you doing everything you want to do? Are you fulfilled? Happy? As long as I say yes, I’m good.
But I keep an eye on the key chain. I don’t need to fill it to feel important anymore.
To my left, on a table are two books. Two really good books. I am reading them at the same time. Two chapters a day each. They are beautiful stories. Not complicated. Somehow, their simplicity stirs images and memories in me. A new story pops into my head. Hmmm, that might be fun to write and see what turns up. Then, conversations from the longer manuscript drift into my ears. Yes, write those down too, I think. The sun is brightly spilling into the room. The cat is sleeping on the unmade bed. My brain is awake and alive. I can feel this small communion between my heart and my brain. I wonder if that is where joy lives: my brain with its little ideas tickling my will and my desire. The two of them waking me up, making me feel alive and excited.
More about the bane of perfection:
Waiting to speak up
waiting to be completely “right”
waiting to have all the t’s crossed. i’s dotted
waiting to stun everyone into silence
with your unassailable brilliance.
Oh my god…how effed up is that?
I can see myself: two or three years old, in my high chair at the end of the table, listening, listening, listening, waiting to talk, not finding an opening because there was so much talk amongst the already walking, talking tribe called my bio-family. Don’t get me wrong. It was a nice family. I was loved and safe and warm. But somewhere in all that swirl of conversation or babble, I made up the belief that I had better get all my words and thoughts in order before I opened my mouth.
It took me a long, long time to fling myself in a conversation, to try out my thinking. It was so much easier to be a listener, to ask questions, to invisible myself. But what a disservice to me, to my voice and ultimately to the people at the proverbial table because I wasn’t letting anyone get to know me.
I still have to push myself. Drafting can be a trial. Speaking on panels makes me sweat. But I keep doing it. I keep speaking up, shaping my thoughts as I speak, figuring things out. What did teachers used to tell us? “Show your work. You may not get the right answer but if I see you how you worked at the problem, I can mark the effort.”
So speak up. Fling off the yoke of perfection. Join the conversation. People really do want to hear what you are thinking. As long as you’re not a know-it-all or an attention hog or an overbearing blowhard.
Hah! Shall I aspire to blowhard? And fail miserably and perfectly along the way?