It’s been a long time since I’ve been here, sadly, and it seems very relevant that we’ll be talking about time this week, given that I’ve spent so little of it here. I just came back from a nice, eight-night-vacation far away from New York, and it was only after disconnecting from all the apps and emails and browsers (not entirely willingly–I had zero cell phone service in the woods where I was sleeping) that I realized how many hours there really are in the day. And here I am, most of the time, hardly knowing where they all go!
While preparing for the trip, I experienced a familiar fear that I get whenever I decide to travel: the fear that once I touch down, unpack all my bags, and wake up to the first day of vacation, I will find myself bitterly bored. It’s enough to send me into a mild state of panic about going away at all, and hours before we got on the plane, I turned to my travel companion and asked: “aren’t you a little afraid?” He didn’t immediately understand of what there was to be afraid. My fear was unfounded anyway; I spent most of our vacation in a state of physical hyperactivity (walking, hiking, kayaking) that wore me out before the sun went down, falling asleep before 10pm on most nights. And when I came back, I did it with the typical sense of post-travel yearning to be back on vacation soon, but now I’ve also been struck with another impulse, which is the impulse to sit down and write.
For me, writing is somewhere between leisure and work. It isn’t entirely work because it doesn’t make me much money, and it isn’t entirely leisure either because it’s not really fun, even for me. It belongs to its own category entirely, and in the same way that going on vacation or going into work needs to be scheduled, so does writing. Writing needs to be scheduled, too, or else, it’ll never get done.
This realization depresses me somewhat. I used to think that creative writing could be treated differently from work and exercise, those things in life you feel obligated to do. I don’t know if I thought it was different from leisure, too–maybe I used to think writing was the same thing? But it’s started to seem like regardless of the differences between work, leisure, and writing, they all share the same need to be compartmentalized and differentiated from each other, and above all, decided upon. You need to DECIDE, in the same way you DECIDE you will go on vacation or work out, that writing will get done.
No, I can’t go on vacation and spend all of it writing and reading, because that was never the point of vacation. Vacation was blocked off for vacation, in the same way the work day is blocked off for work. So what time do you block off for writing? When I was younger, I don’t think I ever really thought about scheduling or penciling people in. It’s easy to imagine that this was an immensely productive time, and that I was writing loads. But then I remember how, even during the year that I spent living in Colombia with ample amounts of nothing to do, I hardly wrote a word–I was too focused on experiencing the new world around me, learning Spanish, taking charcoal drawing lessons at a cultural center downtown. That time was spent EXPERIENCING, not writing. Was all that time I spent NOT WRITING wasted? Toward the end of that year and right before I would take my first-ever full time job in New York, I had the the idea for They Could Have Named Her Anything. I started writing it seriously only after I returned to the states. And I kept working on it slowly until, a couple of years later, I had a full first draft.
I know what it’s like to worry about time slipping away, disappearing suddenly, with no trace of it left behind. I worry about it constantly–it’s made me become one of those people who wishes I could stop certain, happy moments and bottle them up to revisit later, like a favorite perfume. I have yet to figure out a way that writing will feel effortless and that you’ll feel like you’ll have plenty of times for the writing, your work life, your leisure, and your yoga. Oh, right, and your friends and family, too. I want to feel witty and gorgeous and enlightened and present, but everything feels like a scramble. Everything feels like a mad dash, like a constant, unyielding striving.
Sometimes, I worry about never writing again. Sometimes, I tell my travel companion, who is also my boyfriend, about that fear, too. He says, so what? So what if you never wrote again? I think he does it because it hits a nerve. So what!? This is my writing you’re talking about! And then I decide that I’m shutting the door and treating the writing like all the other things in my life, making the room for it, clearing the space. Even on bad days, writing often feels great, the same way a good workout can feel. I don’t know if it’ll ever feel effortless, but it’s not really the same as vacation, or work, or exercise. Nobody is expecting it. Nobody asked me to write a book. Which means it’s what I wanted, then. Which means, maybe I should trust myself. Maybe all the time I spend not writing a word is what I want, too.