the past year or so I have been less-than-gainfully self-employed
as a writer.
Now there are many wonderful things to being self-employed,
but the ďless-than-gainfullyĒ aspect is not one of them.
Nor, necessarily, is the self-employed part.
Because along with the tremendous boon/blessing/opportunity
to do what I most want to do, comes the equally daunting recognition
that, in order to do what I most want to do, I must do
No one else will. And if I donít, then it doesnít get done.
I knew all this going into this enterprise. And fortunately,
Iím pretty self-disciplined. Maybe greatly self-disciplined,
though I donít really think so.
And thatís where things start to get complicated. Thatís where
I become my own worst critic. And not worst literary critic.
I have to have some faith in what Iím writing; I have to like
it, even when I tweak and rework and refashion whatís on the
No, what I become my own worst critic about is time apportionment.
In Wallace Stegnerís novel Crossing to Safety, his
main character, Larry Morgan, is a both a fledgling professor
and writer. Pressed for time, he devises a rigid schedule,
allotting this amount of time for dinner and his wife, this
amount of time for grading papers and prepping lessons and
the largest part that he can swing for writing.
I figured Iíd do a version of what Stegnerís Larry Morgan
did, making sure Iíd left hours for all the necessary distractions
of life, but devoted the lionís share of my time to writing.
That, of course, was not realistic. Iíve accepted that now.
Those ďnecessary distractionsĒ are life. Fixing meals,
taking my daughter to the doctor, doing laundry, paying billsóoh,
and simply hanging outóare essential activities. And sometimes
a heartfelt conversation that lasts for hours is simply more
important than a novel-in-progress.
I came to recognize that I wasnít a horrible person for not
being able to be as self-disciplined as a fictional character.
Iím not a fictional character. And I donít have a wife to
do the wifely things for me.
I came to recognize that I simply have far less time to write
than I had thought I would. But along with that recognition
came the realization that once I do sit down at the computer,
it is paramount that I allow myself no distractions. No
I will not read my e-mail.
I will not check Facebook.
I will not play Solitaire.
Or Bubble Breaker.
I will not visit any sites that are not directly related to
researching what Iím writing.
I will not call my sister or a friend and say, ďwhat are you
doing for lunch today?Ē
And of course, I will not read, watch a movie or get up to
tidy the house.
Do you realize how often I break all of these resolutions
Do you realize that while writing this column I have had three
little just-one-game-of Solitaire breaks, a stray peek at
a site my mother would not approve of, and a repeat viewing
of the imploding Lake Champlain Bridge?
You see, as Iíve always said, resolutions are set-ups not
for failureóafter all, I really do get a lot of writing doneóbut
for misery. Because instead of thinking, well, at least I
am writing, I think but I shouldnít be doing . .
. X,Y or Z.
Iíve decided that, as a necessary New Yearís resolution, I
should become the spin doctor of my own vices. And not just
those self-accusatory vices that affect the time I spent writing,
but vices across the board.
This spin-doctoring will go something like this:
I skip a yoga class. Instead of telling myself my practice
has gone to hell-in-a-hand basket, I will remind myself that
yoga means ďunion.Ē Even if I wasnít practicing asanas, I
was certainly uniting with something. Possibly a cheese
sandwich. But possibly something more profound, like shopping.
. . .
Or, just as Iím about to accuse myself of having a drinking
habit on par with William Faulknerís, I will remind myself
that itís unseemly to compare oneself to so great a master.
So drinking that extra glass of wine will ensure that Iím
not doing any such thing. . . .
Or, if I sit in front of my laptop playing Bubble Breaker
on my phone for 20 minutes, instead of calling myself slothful,
lazy and shallow, I will remind myself that I have been building
hand-eye coordination, a necessary skill to hone as one ages.
Now, I can hear you tongue-cluckers out there saying that
this spin-doctoring isnít a real New Yearís resolution, but
just a way to rationalize my lack of self-discipline. And
maybe youíre right.
OK, of course, youíre right.
Youíre the person whose always at the gym, who takes spinning
classes, for Peteís sake. Who uses a juicer. And knows all
the ins and outs and apps on her smart phone. Who checks e-mail
at stoplights. Who drinks green tea. Who Twitters. Who, when
she does drink wine would never, even once, buy boxed wine.
OK, I admit it: youíre better than I am. You were better than
me in 2009. You will be in 2010.
But what of it? Because, thank God, I donít have to live with
you. Itís hard enough only having to live with me.