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Risky

The Writing the Risky Personal Essay class I’m taking with Grub Street in Boston is wonderful. I’ve been learning how to write scenes, use verb tense to create narrative flow in a story, tell a hard story unflinchingly, and so much more. The only problem is that with my commute into Boston and back every Tuesday, plus class time, I lose a quarter of my writing time doing it. I’m brainstorming how to create more writing time in my week without becoming a derelict parent or giving up my fitness efforts or home management duties. So far my only ideas involve getting a whole lot less sleep. Man, I love sleep.

After many years of depression, I feel myself coming out of it. One of the telltale signs is I find myself having to make choices about how I can maximize my limited free time. Do I practice the songs I need to learn for Threshold choir? Do I work on my blog or next essay writing assignment? Do I do some journaling in preparation for this week’s counseling session? Do I go for a run or take a fitness class? Do I work on the enormous alpaca wrap I’m knitting for someone’s upcoming birthday? Do I make time to connect with a friend? The days of walking around as a numb shell of a person without a sense of engagement in anything are over. This is a welcome change, and an uncomfortable one. I can’t remember if I ever learned how to prioritize my passions and make time for all of them simultaneously, or if I always just gave up the activities I loved in favor of assignments from someone I was trying to please. Whether it’s a skill I’ve forgotten, or a new one, I am practicing how to press in and do something I love when the only person who’ll be disappointed if I don’t do it is me. This feels risky. It is uncomfortably selfish to take time for myself to do whatever I want, to insist on that time each week, to pay others to care for and entertain my family while I do so. Being a beginner at so many things means that I often don’t have anything to show for my efforts. I fail a lot. Everything is much slower than I expected. Somehow, this is good news. Slow, uncomfortable, selfish, full of small failures: these are the hallmarks of the life I’ve been fighting for, the life I’ve risked everything to try to live.

End Product

At the job I recently left, we used a three digit numerical code to organize our claims and assign credit for cases worked. These codes were called “end products,” and they ruled our lives. Different kinds of claims had different end products – initial claims that would require much more research were one type of code, while reopened claims that would already have most of the evidence already of record were another.  We used end products to assign work, to organize our time during the day, and to claim credit for whatever we had accomplished during the week. End products had a long life – each lasted as long as the claim was pending, so at any given time you had end products hanging around that had been established more than a year ago, more than two years ago. End products had suspense dates, which told us when we had to look at each claim again. Most of our daily work assignments were based on end products that had expired suspense dates. As a supervisor, I spent a huge percentage of my time every week fretting about how many end products we had that were expired, that had been neglected for more than 30 days, more than 60 days. 

For twelve years, “end product” was a piece of jargon I used without thinking. I never thought of the term as I would if I was using regular English, as a “product” that would result at the “end” of our efforts, something measurable, with value. End products were merely a code, a way of mentally organizing the enormous ocean of claims awaiting action from an understaffed and undertrained team. And yet now, in my new life as a stay-at-home parent and would-be writer, I am obsessed with the idea of what kind of products come at the end of my work. What do I create as a result of all this sitting and typing? What are the measurable values that result from my parenting efforts? I spend enormous mental energy trying to justify time I spend that doesn’t have a clear and measurable result towards one or more of my goals. It doesn’t help that no one is holding me accountable here, that my husband is blanketly supportive and generous with his hard earned salary. This makes me even more obsessed with showcasing my “accomplishments” in writing and parenting, of which there are, basically, none. Neither activity is prone to produce finished products. Neither my art nor my children come with a daily production sheet.

Often, the fact of having parented, or having written, is the only available result of what feels like enormous effort. I would like to find this disconnection from productivity freeing, but actually I find it burdensome. Part of this blog, and my writing in general, is my attempt to find another yardstick, another means of measuring my worth and impact on the world. I long ago lost my idealism about the effectiveness of end products at my old job. I understood, there, that it was all pretend, that we created measurement systems to credit every action we took because it justified the system we had already created to do what we did, not because it was necessarily real. The end product assigned to any claim told me how that claim fit into the daily puzzle of my value as an employee, but it said nothing about the actual value of the communication, information, access, and money we would be giving or not giving to the claimant. These days, I work in a world that only cares about the actual values. As a parent it doesn’t matter if someone sees my patience with my kids, only that I actually have some. As a writer it doesn’t matter if what I write is prize-winning as much as it matters that I sat down and wrote today. I miss the pretend values – they were so much less messy, so easy to be sure I was doing it “right.” And I’m also immensely grateful that I could leave the pretend values behind. I might not know what I’m doing, and I might not always be able to measure the objective value of any one action, but finally, finally, I’m not working in code. 

2014, take one

Im always optimistic on New Year’s Eve. I like imagining the beginning of things. Tonight feels gently full of promise, even if it is 10 pm and I’m the only person left awake in the house, even as my chest and throat cringe with dessert-induced heartburn. Resolutions feel like an elaborate way to set up disappointment, so instead I’m thinking about what I want to be able to look back on 364 days from now and notice, hey, that did change this time around!

1. 2014 is the year I started making money with my writing.

I don’t care how much, or when, but this is the year I take my craft from journal entries to submitted pieces. So much needs to change for this to actually happen. I need to get serious about my time again. I’ve been giving it away all month. No more. I need to learn to finish pieces. I need to submit them.

2. Move more. Use up those 9 free classes at swymfit. Take hikes and walks with the dog. Restart yoga, stretching, crunches, squats. Become someone who isn’t winded quite so much.

3. Lose 20# and keep it off all year.

This will take exercise and lifestyle change. Vegas is a good motivator. Atkins would probably work short term but long term I can’t keep it up. Shopping habits need to change, then exercise and cooking strategies. I wonder where my fitbit is or my fuel band.