I took last week off, sorta. I tried to unhook from the interwebs a little, and tried really hard not to get pulled into online dramas, let my clients know I’d be unavailable for a while, let my family know, etc. I wanted to take the week off and just write and be me, write in my journal, and go ahead and feel things and write things and say things (to the cat) unapologetically, without having to explain myself or soften it or defend it. Be as liberal as I wanted without nodding and smiling and saying, “you have a point” without really meaning it.
This last week was about me reassessing my life and regaining my priorities (and cleaning off my desk and doing my taxes). It was about me regaining my voice. So, I kind of had to take a look at my priorities, since that is what is at the heart of many of those things.
If you’re not in the mood for a long read, than the above is the gist of this blog entry and the rest is just an exploration of how it happened. You don’t need to read further. But, if you’re in the mood for reading about the journey, then by all means, continue on.
When I was thirteen, my grandparents sold the house we lived in and retired to a mobile home in a smaller town (Sedro Woolley) than we already lived in (Wenatchee), and my mom and sister and I moved to a duplex on the other side of town. It was in a different school district than the junior high I had been going to, but close to a lot of friends I’d known in grade school and still hung out with. It was when we lived here that I learned about “priorities”.
The first time I remember learning a lesson about priorities was when we were going for a walk with my mom. After we moved, mom used to take my sister and I for walks after dinner. I think part of the reason for the walks was to get to know the neighborhood, since we’d grown up in another ‘hood. The other part was exercise. I’m sure getting two squirrely kids to do their homework and then go to bed after dinner wasn’t easy for her and exercise helped us all.
Anyway, we’d moved from a neighborhood that was all single-family residences to a mixed neighborhood of single-family homes and apartments or duplexes. In the old ‘hood, the SFRs had all been pretty well cared for and the cars ranged from old to new, but mostly good solid family cars. Nothing fancy.
In the new ‘hood, there were lots of duplexes inhabited by small families or young families, like us. But a lot of them were also inhabited by young singles out of high school or college, with or without roommates. As a young teenager (13) I was really curious about the duplex with the cute 20-year-old boy who had a snazzy 280Z in his parking spot. Or what about the pretty girl and her roommate with their convertibles who laid out on their lawns every weekend and talked to said cute guy while I helped mom with chores.
On one of our walks I made the vague connection that those people probably paid about the same rent we did, but they had brand new cars and we just had a “yucky” red 1964 Plymouth Valiant sedan (that ran for YEARS). I asked my mom why we couldn’t have a new car like those guys did.
She gave two answers. The first was that if she spent the money on the new car then she wouldn’t be able to pay for our music lessons, send us to camp, or other things we liked to do (dues for Campfire, etc.). Would I want to give that up? It was a close call. I really liked the idea of my mom having a new car.
The second answer was that these kids were putting a lot of their money into a new car that depreciated over time, as well as using it for things they were getting right now rather than saving the money to put into a owning a home or getting more education later on (I guess there are mixed feelings on that these days).
That was the first lesson that stuck with me when it came to priorities: You have a choice where to spend your resources so choose carefully.
The next came when I fell in love with a coat. It was a glorious winter coat. Winters in Wenatchee can be cold and dry or cold and snowy, but cold and wet is not typical. The coats at the time that seemed to be big deals were brushed wool. The one I liked was a creamy brushed wool that came down to my knees and had a burgundy and blue design worked into it. It was lined with this burgundy silky polyester material. I loved it. I wanted it so bad. It was $95, which was a huge amount in 1978/79. Mom said I could have it if I saved for it. So I took every babysitting job I could find. I also substituted delivering the paper for a friend down the street. I just wanted that coat so bad.
Finally, the day came, I had the money, and we went across the Columbia River to East Wenatchee to pick it up at the “fancy” store where I’d tried it on. I was in Seventh Heaven. I just KNEW that when I went to school in this coat or ice-skated in this coat that boys would see me as all grown up and ask me out.
Well, I got the coat home, wore it a few times to church and school, felt overdressed and embarrassed in it, put it in the closet and then never wore it again, especially after we moved to Bellingham where winters ARE cold and wet so such a coat is just not practical. I kept hoping I’d “grow into it” emotionally. I still loved it. But every time I wore it, I felt overdressed. It was beautiful, but it wasn’t me. And I’d saved all that money for it. Eventually I donated it somewhere.
It was a tough lesson to learn. Sometimes even after you work hard and save your pennies like you’re supposed to, the shiny new thing is not all you thought it was and eventually you have to figure out what to do with it – live with it or get rid of it. Sometimes what you choose to spend your resources on is not what you thought it would be.
This week I kind of had to go back to those basics. I began by digging in and catching up on my bookkeeping and check balancing and taxes on the one hand, including cleaning off the office shelves and going through the bookwork and minutes for the Miracle Mile Writers Club and organizing and tossing things and taking the time to teach myself how to make an omelet (instead of scrambled eggs), really take the time to make a good chicken soup and the really good cookies I like to make and cleaning up parts of the kitchen that haven’t been cleaned in a while on the other hand. I also read books – paper and ink – books that made me feel good like The Night Circus and A Year in Provence that are about taste, smell, feel, sound and sight and how they all create the ever pervading sense of being.
I also was trying not to go online, or at least not to do email or Facebook. I knew that one of the reasons I was so exhausted, inside and out, is that there are so many voices online that demand to be listened to and believed and accepted, whether or not you want to. You must live this way or you must write that senator or you must demand these things or have to eat this, you should not eat this, you have to drink this, DON’T DRINK THIS (just like Alice in Wonderland) or you must not do this when you write or must do this when you write or you can’t write about ______ – because you’re not _________.
Insert anything in those blanks, trading them out, and after awhile you’ll realize how ridiculous that is. At first it sounds almost okay. “You can’t write female because you’re not female and don’t know what it’s about.” Okay, now try this: “You can’t write about a murderer because you’re not a murderer and don’t know what it’s about.” “You can’t write about a Vampire because you’re not a Vampire and don’t know what it’s about.” (It’s FICTION!)
I kept reading and hearing how basically the only characters I was “allowed” to write about were white females, preferably middle-aged cuz wtf would I know about being a teenager or a young adult in our current society? Apparently nothing. WTF would I know about being poor or having money or being a guy or being not white or not human?
Right. Sociology and political correctness have no place in creativity. What counts – the ONLY thing that counts – is doing the work. Hearing your Voice and being true to it. The rest of that other stuff is just crap. Just garbage. And I knew that, but it was hard to hold onto with all the “Thou Shalt Nots” running around in my head.
As I told some friends earlier today, creating is like fingerpainting. And when you’re fingerpainting, you don’t control things. You dip your hands in the paint and GO! You mix the red and the blue and the orange and the black and do swirls and drips and knuckle prints and turkey handprints all over the place, without planning ahead. You just do it for fun. For the joy of it.
Later, after you’re done, you might look at it and decide to edit it, whatever it is. But in the moment? It’s all about the joy of the creation.
I had to get my self back and find that joy. I had to get back to my priorities. What should I spend my limited resources on? Was it worth it to spend those resources (time, money, energy) on those things, people, items, what have you? Or was I going to regret the expenditure later? Have to live with making a hasty decision on something that ends up not giving a return in some way in use or energy or JOY.
I have to admit, it was touch and go for a while last week, as to whether or not my time off was worth the expenditure in time and resources. I clutched onto some friends and family for dear life with long talks either face to face or on the phone. I probably annoyed the hell out of Pye. Had some good long cries. Did some research. Did a lot of revising of one story and some editing and new writing on another story.
In the end I finally had an idea of who I was again. And I also have an idea of where I do and do not want to spend my resources. My mantra in fighting for my self this last week was that the oxygen mask has to go over my face before I can even began to help someone else. It’s all about priorities.