I didn’t know I was such a commitment-phobe!

Apparently I’ve been quite busy today, because I started this entry in the morning and have been adding to it all day long. I guess you’ll just have to take this as make-up for all the entries I didn’t write while I was in Hong Kong. My productivity is back with a vengeance!!

Book recommendation & hope for me as a writer

The Monk Downstairs cover imageI’ve just finished a wonderful book, The Monk Downstairs by Tim Farrington. Julia Cameron mentioned it in The Writing Diet, so I requested it from the library and it arrived shockingly quickly. It’s a rare thing: an intelligent love story about emotionally mature grown-ups (and it takes place in San Francisco, which prejudiced me toward it from the start). No crazy drama, just real people trying to find their way. I thought I was the only person left on this planet who wants to read such books; it’s a relief to know that’s not true. It’s rather odd because when I started reading it I was immediately struck by a resemblance between Farrington’s prose and my own. Maybe no one else will see it, but I did, and that was kind of weird, because I kept tripping over it. (“He’s describing her actions in detail. I do that too much. Is it okay when he does it? Or am I recognizing a flaw in his writing? But this book got published to good reviews. Does that mean I can do it too, if I learn some restraint?”) But I kept reading, and by the end I was just so caught up in the story, I stopped thinking about the writing. The book made me feel happy and grateful, and it made me reflect, and that’s really all I ask of a novel. And as a writer, a book like this gives me hope for my own prospects. It’s the kind of book I’d like to write. I’d always thought if I met such a book, I’d be squealing with excitement, but it’s more like a quiet recognition: less a shrill “where have you been all my life?” than a smile and “I knew you had to be out there.”

Also, the former monk (and romantic lead) of the book reminds me a lot of my husband. Not just in a general sense, but there are a couple of specific points as well. Craziness.

Commitments, part one

Thinking about this book, and about writing, got me back on the subject of my own art-making in this morning’s Pages. It struck me suddenly that maybe what I’ve been pondering as a problem of focus is actually a problem of commitment. I was thinking that juggling my three main creative pursuits (writing, drawing, crafting) was making it hard for me to work because of the time involved in pursuing each. But then I remembered the Anne Lamott quotation I found a month ago, which reminded me it’s possible to create good work with only the barest sliver of time every day. I was mulling over this, and I realized it’s not that I have no time, but that I have trouble making the commitment to one thing over another. When I’m crafting, I feel like I should be writing, and when I’m writing, I feel I should be drawing, and if I’m either writing or drawing, I worry that I’m neglecting the shop. It makes it very hard to get anything done.

I started to write all this in my Pages and then it occurred to me that this juggling act is actually something I made for myself, and it is really just a variation on the self-protective attitude I’ve taken all my life. When I quit school, I thought I was doing something brave by committing myself to art-making. But the commitment was never a whole one. First I took the part-time job at the literacy center. Then, less than a year after that job ended, I opened the Etsy shop.

Radiant lily pad pouch

Radiant lily pad pouch

While both the literacy position and the shop are great pursuits on their own, they’ve also enabled me to avoid truly committing myself to writing and drawing in the way I believe I should… and they also make it possible for me to hedge my bets on everything. When I consider my progress on my art-making, I tend to let myself off the hook for not working harder, because “the shop has a way of taking up all my time.” But on the flip side, if I’m not getting as many views or sales as I want in the shop, I also let myself off the hook, because “it’s not my ‘real’ job.” I can massage all my anxieties about failure by redirecting them in this neat little circle of blamelessness, and I still manage to avoid committing fully to any of my activities. I wonder if that’s why my photos came out so well yesterday afternoon? Because I’d decided beforehand that I was going to devote that time to the shop, instead of imagining that I was squeezing in camera time amid all my other tasks?

I’m going to give this commitment thing a try over the next few weeks. It sounds so basic, but here’s what I’ll do: every time I’m faced with a block of time, I’ll choose something to do, and I’ll commit to it. No feeling bad about the other things I could be doing, no worrying that my other activities will suffer because I’ve made a choice to do this. I need serious commitment if I’m going to get through all my big creative plans, and the time to apply it is now… particularly since I’ve just been accepted to produce a drawing/painting for Drawgasmic, and will have to make that within the month!

Let’s take a break

drawing of a bowl

college doodle

I surmised a few days ago that Cameron’s Writing Diet is mostly a mindfulness program. I still think I’m right about that, and it’s having an insane impact on my life. I’ve been trying to be more mindful for years now, but it seems food is the easiest route to my awareness. I still think our Hong Kong trip has something to do with it too. I’ve been noticing so many little changes in my behavior lately, and trying to be conscious of my eating habits has brought so many more of these changes into being.

Case in point: snacks and breaks. I’ve been spending a lot of time on the computer today, and this means I need regular breaks. I didn’t know this before, but apparently what I usually do when I need a break is I get up from my chair, wander into the kitchen, and eat something. It might be a healthy piece of fruit, it might be a big chunk of cake — it’s just whatever’s there and easiest to consume. Since the Writing Diet has me trying to eat only when I’m hungry, today I couldn’t just reach for my usual snacks, and this had me at a loss. Turns out I am not very practiced at taking real breaks, the kind that truly rest my eyes, hands, body, and thoughts… which also means that my little snack breaks were really just snacks and not breaks at all. Hmm!

Commitments, part two

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The reason I’ve been on the computer all day today is that I’ve been overhauling my bookkeeping, a long and desperately needed measure that I’ve been putting off for ages. I guess spending quality time with Excel is not my idea of a party. I probably would have continued to procrastinate on the bookkeeping, except that today I got an email from Stickk telling me that my report was due. Ohhh… right. I had completely forgotten that I’d set up a Stickk commitment contract before our trip, in which I vowed I’d have my bookkeeping all figured out by the end of April. Ar. There’s no real penalty if I don’t meet my commitment, except that it will say in red letters “1 failed contract” every time I log in to the site. The former straight-A student in me can’t stand such a thought! And so, I dedicated the day to spreadsheets. It actually wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, and now everything’s nicely in order… thank goodness. Perhaps there’s something to be said for setting artificial deadlines, and then using something like Stickk to enforce them. This is something else to keep in mind while I’m working on being more committed to my goals!