I will be writing in the mornings! From about 8:00 to 11:00. On weekdays!
I’m luckier than many in that for the past couple of years, I’ve had a part-time job–a version of my old full-time job but with reduced hours (although still five days a week). Since my full-time co-worker left in early December however, I’ve been struggling to keep up with the workload and have been work longer days in order to make that (mostly) happen.
This circumstance, coupled with the year’s end has found me in an existencial tailspin where I feel I’ve been purposefully unambitious in my paid career, trading that for writing time, but then sacrificing that writing time for one reason or another–of which most could fall under the category of watery boundaries. Often writers advocate a certain writerly morality saying “You have to protect your writing time above all else.” This always sounds super inspirational in the moment, but out in the world, where people need help, it can feel questionable. It’s basically a morality that says, “the ends justify the means.” I imagine such a philosophy works best for two kinds of people:
1) People who we might define as “selfish” or “ambitious” –definitions which I’m sure many people are uncomfortable with being, and as anyone who has read Lean In (or myriad other articles) will know are doubly problematic for women.
2) People who have a deep-seated confidence that the world needs the work they are producing, and that any suffering they create in service of their writing will be trumped by the profound affect their words will have on the masses in the future.
Writerly morality (or perhaps winners morality–as one could apply it to almost any art, sport or skill) would encourage one to become both of the above: selfish and certain. To become these things would require a change core beliefs and identity that generally makes me feel divided and anxious. And by anxious I mean losing sleep, why-does-it-feel-like-my-heart’s-exploding anxious.
So what’s a girl to do?
I’ve been working on rationalizations that don’t conflict so directly with my self-conception (kind of playing mind games with myself) such as:
1) Considering that I might be less important than I think I am. I don’t have kids–there’s not a crying child outside my writing cave who will be traumatized for life if I don’t come out. Most people I deal with are grown adults, and what I do for them is usually just a matter of convenience. Even when I’d define it as more than convenience, my definition is often based on my own values projected onto others. If a co-worker feels sick and needs to go home, I assume that my staying to keep the office open is saving them suffering based on the assumption that the thought of closing the office early is unthinkable to them and if I were unable to cover, they would stay despite feeling like death warmed over because it’s what I would do. It’s possible that if I don’t stay, my co-worker will put a sign on the door and go home. It would be okay. In any number of different but similar examples I impose stakes on the situation that aren’t necessarily there, acting like the world is resting on my shoulders when it’s not.
(It’s a little weird that I find it easier to achieve goals by telling myself that I don’t matter than that I do…but if the end justifies the means, it’s a means.)
2) Arranging my life in a way that decrease frequent “small” decisions. For the past couple of years my office hours have been from 10am-3pm. Some days it worked fine, but because 3pm is still a fairly high-traffic time, I was often faced with little decisions, should I leave finish “one little thing,” sign for a package, finish an email, describe where the copier jam was to the repairman who arrived just as I was leaving. I’ve seen people do it. Punctual people who leave at 3:00 notice the time at 2:30, they shut down their computers at ten til, and tell customers they will have to return in the morning. They gather their belongings and walk out the door.
I’ve never been a good walk-out-the-door person. It’s a character flaw that it would be worthwhile to fix…but after some deep thinking I’ve concluded that conflating finding time to write with fixing a flaw I’ve struggled with my whole life seems a tad self-defeating. So last week I screwed up my courage and asked to change my hours.
My new hours, starting next week, will be from 12pm-5pm. I have to say I’m pretty excited to try it. I’ll have a block of time in the mornings to write while I’m fresh, and at work, my day will end when other people’s days end.
My new co-worker started this week, and I’m training her. For a little while, she will be taking all her cues about the work culture from me. I don’t want to pass my bad habits and neuroses on to her so I’ve worked hard to make sure we walk out the door together by 5pm (maybe 5:02), and it feels pretty good.