Monday, February 23, 2009

You Can Have It All--Just Not at the Same Time

The winter blues have officially set in—and not just because we're buried in fifteen inches of new snow and vacation is now a fading memory. It dawned on me this morning that in June it will be five years since my novel, THE GREATEST MAN IN CEDAR HOLE, was released in hardcover.

Oh, my. Time has certainly slipped away from me.

Knowing that five years have passed and I have not published anything makes me feel quite panicky, I assure you, though I’m a little less panicky than I used to be. The first and second anniversaries of the paperback edition gave me the prickly sweats and led to many sleepless nights. If I had had a project in the pipeline, it wouldn’t have been so bad. But I had nothing. I was losing momentum. The more I white-knuckled it, the harder it was to write.

So, I relaxed. An idea finally did come to me, but the problem was more about time than will. Being the mother of very active, preschool-aged twins leaves me with very little mental or physical energy to be productive. It used to be that when I had a moment to be still, a narrative would constantly be flowing in my head. Now, when I find that rare moment of quiet, I hear nothing.

When I started my writing career, I was single, living in New York, and producing four books a year as a ghostwriter in addition to working full-time at a literary agency. I lived with a constant adrenaline rush, always facing a deadline or having a book coming out. It felt great to be doing the very thing I loved the most. In six years, I produced 14 books, though I won’t pretend for a minute that ghostwriting teen books is anywhere as difficult as writing an adult literary novel. It took me five years to do that, largely because I am a very slow, deliberate writer.

I remember a conversation I had with some housemates (I lived in a boarding house) about work and relationships, and someone brought up an old adage that has many different permutations, but his version was this: “You can have a great relationship, a great social life, and a career, but not all three at the same time.” Everyone at the table looked at me, as though I was the apparent exception to this, but I assured them that even though I had a great relationship and a career I loved, I had no social life at all. This seemed to bring great relief to my housemates, who all felt that they were lacking in some aspect of this trinity of happiness.

I used to think that people who complained about not being able to “have it all” just weren’t trying hard enough, but now I’m thinking that the rule of three is probably true for most of us. I still have the great relationship (and now family life), I have a great network of friends (though some of you keep moving away), but at the moment, no career. There are some people who appear to have no trouble with this balancing act—Soule Mama, for example—but I have yet to figure out the trick to having success on all fronts. Every time I focus on one aspect of my life—writing, for example—something else goes to hell, like the housekeeping. Every time I put out a fire, I inadvertently start a new one someplace else.

I take the edge off my panic by telling myself that there is a time for everything, and right now, it’s my time to be a mother. In two years they’ll be in school full time and I’ll have a much easier time with my juggling act, so enjoy the moment. And I really do. But I’ll never fully surrender to literary idleness, either. My moments of creation are so rare but they still give me such deep satisfaction that giving up just isn’t an option. As far as my career goes, I'm thinking I may have to re-adjust my expectations just a little.

(P.S. If anyone familiar with Blogger can help me with my inconsistent fonts, I would really appreciate it. For some reason, I can't fix this problem.)


Patrick said...

One of these days I hope to have a great relationship, a great social life, OR a career.

Whenever I get those timeline blues, which I've gotten periodically since I was twenty-three ("When Paul McCartney was my age, he'd already written 'Yesterday'!"), I remember that we all have our own timelines, that life is a marathon and not a sprint, and that there's no reason whatsoever that the best isn't yet to come.

There's a big difference in beliefs and dreams, but I know they've both got real power. Here's to them pulling you out our your blues by painting some sunshine yellow onto them and turning them into green. (Whether the green represents new life coming to bear or bling-bling-ka-ching, I leave up to you.)

Stephanie Doyon said...

Thanks for your beautiful words of encouragement, Pat.

I have to say it was hard to feel bad today, with the bright sunshine, the blue sky, and the world covered in white.