The Excuses Olympics (a second throat-clearing post)

August 18, 2012

During the school year, I told myself that I would spend the whole summer writing.  Sure, I would be planning next year’s curriculum, and visiting friends, and walking the kids to camp, and hiking, but I’d also be writing. While I try to pretend that every summer is insanely, infinitely long, it’s more accurate to admit that my teacher’s summer includes ten weeks, (yes, I just counted) each a full seven days long.  This is not in fact infinity, but it’s a darn long time.  Anybody with a regular career is right to be jealous.

Still, I’ve pretty much failed to write even half of those days.  Even a quarter of those days.   And I didn’t post at all between June and last week.

Even if I give myself dispensation for not writing during that one week I spent at a Montessori workshop watching a preschool teacher wash furniture and brush her own teeth, (no, not kidding) that leaves nine times seven days I coulda woulda shoulda.  Which means that between June 18 and August 27, I could have 63 blog entries, or a whole finished book.

I wrote the first draft of this piece on August 8, and I am posting on August 18, having frittered away 45 of a possible 63 writing days.  This is not the sort of behavior I would accept from my students, and thus I am writing this and posting it here on my blog essentially so that I can shame myself out of silence by arguing with myself in public.  An argument with myself is kind of what my blog is anyway.

Below is a list of the justifications I’ve used so far to excuse myself from writing this summer.  They essentially fall into three categories:

Reasons I have not been posting on my blog

 

Laziness

Fear

Growing Pains

Which is the real reason?  I don’t know yet, but we’ll see!  You can keep score on the handy charts!!  It’s just like the Olympics!  “Growing Pains” is out in front, but which excuse will win the gold?  The silver?  The tarnishy old bronze?

1.  “I must have Writer’s Block

To earn this diagnosis, I would actually sit down to write, and then discover that I had nothing to say.  Not even trying to write is not “writer’s block,” but rather, “sitting down block.” Put your butt in the chair, girlfriend, and then we can talk about blocks.  “Sitting down block” is also known as laziness, so tick one in that column.

2.  “I no longer have anything interesting to say.”

In this version of events, I have some undiagnosed brain problem that has robbed me of my former ability to be compelling.  (Let’s just assume for the moment that I used to be compelling, at least now and again.) Anyway, in the logic of this excuse, some mild version of early onset Alzheimer’s has rendered me too stupid to write.  Despite the fact that I can drive and go to work and write emails, read thebrowser.com and follow other people’s arguments, I just can’t write blog posts because my brain is riddled with holes, rendering me wordless.  Um, now that I put it down in words, as opposed to just saying it in my head, I can see that’s probably not the problem.  And also disrespectful to people who actually do have memory problems.

Not writing because I’m afraid of not being interesting is also known as fear. So we are now 1-1-1.

Laziness

Fear

Growing Pains

  • “Writer’s Block”
  •  Nothing Interesting to Say
  •  Pesky Teenagers

 

 

3. “Now that my kids are teenagers, I can’t write about them anymore.” (see below.)

 

4a.  I have no time. 

4b. Also my back hurts too much to sit and write.

4c. The Internet is out.

4d.  The computer is in the shop.

4etc…

There are any number of practical reasons I use to give myself an easy out for a day at a time.  As a result of these collective excuses, piled on top of one another, I have spent much of the summer lying on the sofa reading other people’s writing, mostly in long-form magazine articles on thebrowser.com.  I have done this even while paralyzed with this weird lower back pain I also use as an excuse not to write, even though reading and writing both hurt my back equally. There are any number of reasons why writing may not be convenient, and blaming my computer is like blaming a pencil.  So Excuses #4a-z all go in the “laziness” column.

(Or, as one kind friend liked to point out to me, perhaps I actually did need a little rest after my first year at a new school, where I actually did a whole bunch of blogging.  I’m glad I have friends to be gentle to me while I hammer away at my own faults.)

5.  “I’m writing a lot of songs these days instead.”

Is five a lot?  Maybe not, but they’re really pretty and I love them.  If we accept the rough math that one song = two blog posts, then I can still only subtract 10 from my 44 days of laziness, leaving 34 lost days of summer for which to atone.Who knows:  maybe I will switch from blogging to songwriting, but until I take up an acoustic guitar and start recording my songs like this blog is YouTube, I’ve also got some regular writing to do.  So this excuse?  Also Growing Pains: haven’t yet figured out how to post songs in a form anybody would enjoy.

6.  “I’m writing that article about school discipline I’ve been working on since February.”

OK, true, but still, lame. But I’ll give myself another ten days’ dispensation.  This is one of the scariest things I’ve written in a long time, because I’m just not sure I’m going to be able to get it right. But even if I allow 10 days for that scary project, I’ve still wasted 24 writing days  this summer.

7.  Everything I am writing is terrible.

It’s an exaggeration to say that “I am writing,” but it’s true that I’ve started pieces and then lost heart part way through.  Endings feel hard, and the middles just haven’t revealed themselves. And then my monkey brain leaps to the next branch:  “Oh I wonder who just posted something or other on Facebook?”  I check my work email, and regular email, and all the sudden, any momentum I had evaporates.  And I let it.

So this “terrible writing” excuse is actually two-fold: fear-driven laziness!

(Let’s have a review of the standings…)

Laziness

Fear

Growing Pains

  • “Writer’s Block”
  • No Time/Bad Back/Internet Out/Computer in Shop
  • Nothing interesting to say/ Brain damage
  • Everything I write is terrible
  • My school discipline article really is terrible.
  • Children Have Robbed Me of Easy Topics by Thoughtlessly Growing up. I can’t believe those horrible brats!
  • Still launching brilliant songwriting career

 

8.  I’m not so good at overcoming my own inertia, which is something some people call lazy, but I also have to admit is fear.  

People who don’t know me well may think that I’m hardworking, but just ask Bill, or some of my closer girlfriends: it’s a big front.  It’s true that I work in showy bursts, and rarely actually blow things off so badly that I get in trouble.  But when there’s no outside force holding me accountable? I sometimes flail.  I fail to live up to my own standards out of sheer sloth, combined with fear.  This mode can lead to entire months of water drifting under the bridge of my own life.

For it’s far easier to make dinner, do laundry, read a New Yorker, flip over to read something online, bake cookies, walk the dog, or even sort my sock drawer than it is to put down some words, and accept that they may later disappoint me with their obviousness.

9.  My laziness is mostly self-protective, because I may never become a famous, published, or even widely-read writer.

If I never write anything, that doesn’t disturb my fantasy that someday, truly, I will.

That book that is still sitting on my hard-drive is written, but if I never publish it, I don’t have to watch it not sell any copies.  (Doesn’t that make awesome sense???) Those article topics sitting in the “to do” corner of my brain don’t have to be rejected by real editors at real magazines if I keep them cozily sheltered away where they, and I, can be safe.

This tortured logic?  Fear, all the way down.

10.  Endings are hard, so I promise I’ll go back and fix my drafts later, then I never post at all. 

That’s easy:  fear-driven laziness.  I’m getting almost expert at self-diagnosis.

I’m sure there are other reasons I could name, but I think I’ve come to the central point of this post: the showdown between laziness and fear, and an honest accounting of the growing pains in my regular life that have gotten me hamstrung in my writing life.

Laziness

Fear

Growing Pains

  • “Writer’s Block”
  • No Time/Bad Back/Internet Out/Computer in Shop
  • I’m actually not really hardworking at all.
  • I don’t finish stuff.
  • Nothing interesting to say/ Brain damage
  • Everything I write is terrible
  • My school discipline article really is terrible.
  • Protecting fragile self from the harsh reality of the literary marketplace.
  • Writing is hard.  Beginnings, middles, and ends.
  • Children Have Robbed Me of Easy Topics by Thoughtlessly Growing up.
  • Still launching brilliant songwriting career

 

When I began this piece, I was sure that laziness was going to take the Gold, but then fear came out of the background noise and showed me what’s really going on.

It’s like a goddamn Onion headline:  “Would-be Writer Goes to Buy Another Cup of Coffee to Avoid Actually Writing Something Because It Might Not Be Very Good.”

Sigh.  And cough, cough.  As terrifying as it is to be here, self-doubtingly terrible and unpublished as I am, I’m glad to be back.

When school starts up this year, it will probably be just as hard to keep the posts coming, but at least it will be a familiar sort of hard.  And if you hear me voicing one of these excuses in person, remind me of what I already know.

Eric Kroth August 18, 2012 at 8:33 am

I still remember ‘the Fine Arts Week weather forecast’ and the visit to Camp in February. I wish I could write like that, and had actual video of those readings, not mental video…

Robin August 18, 2012 at 9:00 am

“There is only one way: Go within. Search for the cause, find the impetus that bids you write. Put it to this test: Does it stretch out its roots in the deepest place of your heart? Can you avow that you would die if you were forbidden to write? Above all, in the most silent hour of your night, ask yourself this: Must I write? Dig deep into yourself for a true answer. And if it should ring its assent, if you can confidently meet this serious question with a simple, “I must,” then build your life upon it. It has become your necessity. Your life, in even the most mundane and least significant hour, must become a sign, a testimony to this urge.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Launa August 18, 2012 at 9:22 am

Wow. That sounds hard.

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