I fritter and flutter away at decluttering and organizing my workspace this afternoon trying to get control of the mess it had become. Even as I straighten and combine and discard, I feel my chest tightening and my head swoon. My office is not the way I want it.
I call myself a writer, but sometimes, I think “junk collector” might be a better description. Or maybe “good intentions gone bad”-er. I mean really, if I hadn’t hung it already, did I really think I was going to use a 2013 wall calendar? It had to go. And the baby gift for my husband’s ex-wife’s cousin? The infant had long since outgrown the jumper and bib we bought last spring. Now it was too late to return it. Here’s hoping someone else has a little girl soon!
Peeking around the corner, I glance into our front closet, the one with my plastic tubs filled with old bills and insurance policies, and my faux milk crates stuffed with outdated writing notes. Since I moved into the house last winter, I’ve transferred from one to-do list to another “organize front closet.” The space hosts plenty of room for organizing bills and writing materials, especially when I throw out the six years of electric company statements that I’ve held onto for some reason. It’s just a matter of finding the time – and the gumption – to get the project done.
Looking over my calendar produces the same constrictive feeling. In a move that seemed right for our family – and because of the flexibility of my employer – my formerly 40-hour-a-week job was pared down to 31 hours a week when I got married in December of last year. And because I now live about an hour from the office, three of those days I work from home. The shifting of schedules was an attempt to make my writing life – and the editing work I also do – still possible after we got married.
This little bit of freedom amounts to a huge investment in my writing life. Yet, still, when I scrounge through my calendar for the next week looking for chunks of time to write, I feel smothered. Meetings and family time and even social events I look forward to feel like they are competing with a career that will consume every minute I will commit to it.
I am tempted to wonder how other people do it, how writers with families and commitments and jobs – like me – find their way to productivity and platforms of hundreds or thousands. My subconscious mind flirts with jealousy as I think of other writers who don’t have the families and commitments and jobs. It’s easy to imagine how they do it, I think to myself, they who are so unencumbered by life and its obligations.
And I go on like this for a while, cleaning up my office and plotting out my calendar while the poison of these comparisons leaves me reeling and gasping. Things get really bad when I start wondering to myself that thing that always gets to the heart of it: how will I ever write a book when I can’t even organize my notes or fit in the writing I’m already doing? Because somewhere deep in my writing identity, I shudder at the thought of never having a book published.
Then I stop myself. Because I’ve been thinking about this jealousy and comparison thing for a while. I know there has to be a way out of it. What is it I’m jealous of? I ask myself. Am I really so self-centered that I would begrudge someone their hard-earned success? I know it’s not that. Or am I so self-loathing that I would aspire to success that was ill-gotten or easy? No. Not that, either.
Quietly, the answer emerges in the slight loosening of my shoulders and the easing up of my cramping stomach.
I am jealous of myself.
I have the writing life I’ve always dreamed of—work to do, time to do it, a place to do it, friends to do it with—and yet every day there are a hundred ways to waste it, to not live up to it, to throw it away because I’m lazy or uncommitted. I’m jealous for the life I should have if only I would get up early, work hard when I can, rest well when I need to, and love deeply the people who surround me.
I am jealous of myself, but I don’t have to be. That’s the answer, I pray in a whisper.
Determined, I add “organize the front closet” to my to-do list again, this time with an idea for a simple filing system that I think might work. I create a separate Google calendar just for writing; it lies right over the top of our family calendar so I won’t double book. Seeing all those green slots –funny, I subconsciously assigned green, the color of envy, for my writing work—right next to my work schedule and family events makes it seem really possible.
And I say one more time to no one but me: this is my writing life.
Photo by oline221296, via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons License.