Not writing anymore, and other possibilities

Posted on Jul 17, 2015 in Blog
I don’t know where to start here, most days. I have been trying hard each day to look at good things that happen, to list five things to myself each night before I go to bed. Today a coworker bought me coffee. Today I took a patient to the opposite side of the hospital because they didn’t know how to get there and the smile that they gave me at the end of it was the sweetest thing I’d ever seen. Today, I packed a most delicious lunch. 

Today, I went for a run again.

Today, I lost myself in the piano that I rarely ever play anymore. 

Today, I am alive.
But some days it is hard to see that, and harder still to remember how many gifts just exist alongside me without my even acknowledging them. Aren’t you privileged, lucky writer-person? Haven’t you published a novel, haven’t you had scores of opportunities that others who toil just like you–others who toil even more than you do–never even see? Don’t you have a lovely little apartment and a good job and isn’t life so much better than it was, once upon a time? Why are you complaining? Why are you so sad?

It’s always so easy, isn’t it, to imagine that things would be better somewhere else. Life would be better if I could break into teaching. Life would be better if I had one of those residencies I keep applying for and never get. Life would be better in Toronto, or Vancouver, or in Edinburgh. Life would be better if I could just get this next novel finished, if I could push through the inertia and the fear and try to ignore things like the fact that the head of the largest publishing house in Canada has publicly stated that they don’t want to invest in writers like me. People who write the smaller books, the books that make slow waves. Just ignore the creeping voice inside of you that whispers how writing has become a complete and utter waste of your time. What matter the possibility of page clicks and Internet fame when that is never going to be the thing that feeds you, literally? Just ignore it, and say thank you for what you already have.

It feels unnecessary and indulgent to worry about things like this on top of everything else, and yet I do. In the face of gifts and opportunities I have already been given and here I am, still worrying. Sad about everything else. I am good but I am not good enough — to get that contract, to get that job, or even to pull myself up by the bootstraps and soldier forth into the day.

Spencer Gordon has a wonderful, wrenching piece in The Winnipeg Review today about teaching, and the joys and pitfalls therein. (Hint: it’s a fucking hard profession.) I came away from it profoundly grateful for the fact that I somehow managed to stumble (see: luck, and also privilege) into a job that pays well and requires little brainpower and also gives me ample opportunity, every day, to see behind the curtain. Yesterday someone tried to break out of the unit by executing running kicks at the front door. A few days before that, we had a manic patient on the ward who was going around telling everyone how beautiful they were. Is this a hospital, or a modelling agency? I collect so many stories every day.

And yet it is so draining, being there every day of the week. I come home from a shift and all I want to do is sleep, despite the fact that all I do is answer the door and fax things for the nurses. I come home and I think: do I really want to write? Do I really want to write another essay or story and maybe get $50, or more likely just publish it for free and gain a few more followers on Twitter? Do I really want that? 

It no longer seems worth it. Writing just seems to make zero sense to me now, when I can get paid so much more to do something that requires no thought at all. And I say all of this while also acknowledging that I am sad because I’m not writing, that I feel stifled by the fact, oddly enough, that a good job has eliminated the need for me to hustle. Why bother writing when I can make money doing this and just buy nice bookshelves for my apartment? Go on vacation, treat myself, and still have money left over? Why the hell should I care about finishing a novel that may or may not find a home anywhere when I can just sit at a desk for 7.5 hours a day and put my time in, like most of the rest of the planet? It doesn’t matter, the writing. On some cosmic, fundamental level. It doesn’t matter. It never did.

And yet. And yet. Here I am, writing a blog entry that arguably matters even less than the actual books that will never make a ripple in the ocean. Here I am, at work, a million different voices running through and through my head. (Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia, said EL Doctorow, and so on, and so on.) Here I am, still dreaming, still figuring out how to put Word A in front of Word B in a way that might even reach another person, even if I’m not actually writing anything down.

Here I am, doing it anyway.

Maybe it’s just that I care about this all too much to have it be a hobby, and that’s what hurts the most. (Not that there is anything wrong with hobbies, understand.)

Maybe (probably) it is also because I am sad all of the time and it takes so much energy to just get up in the morning and go out into the world and pretend, and show up, that when I come home, I don’t want to do any more pretending, even if it’s just on the page. Maybe the truth is just that I should give the gift of this job back, even if that means a little less financial security. When I didn’t make as much money, another friend said to me, months ago, I hustled more. I was hungrier. That can be a good thing.

You know what you have to do. You know what you have to do.

But maybe I know all of these things, and still it is easy to keep on losing sight of them, to forget, to stop in the middle of a job and life and debt and a broken heart and say: I don’t see the point, anymore. And you know, if someone else was coming to me with these exact same worries I would know exactly what to say. You’ll be okay. You will. You will. You will find your words again somehow, and that fire in your heart, and everything that you want will come to you somehow, most likely in the way you least expect.

Why is it so much harder to say these things to oneself? To say I forgive you, always, for every single stumble that you make, and truly mean it?



1 Comment

  1. Matthew
    July 17, 2015

    I've just started writing again after taking off for nearly 6 months (I think), and even in this I'm not sure if I'll be writing next week.

    What I'll say is this: I stopped writing and was still deeply involved with the writing life, and with the people in it, and with reading and everything else. We put a lot of emphasis on production and on success, but like you point out, it's not really to any end goal. We do it because we believe that doing defines who we are, and honestly that's not necessarily the case. You can also define yourself by what you don't do. What you don't see value in. If you're feeling like there isn't a good enough reason, then stop. Stop and don't feel guilty or like you're losing something. Don't write for as long as you don't want to write, and if you find yourself coming back to it, or writing little one line pieces of something, then let that happen, but don't force it. Forcing makes it a poison, and this one little life we get isn't worth putting that pressure on.