Friday, September 26, 2008

Breathe…Focus…Write…Repeat.

Okay, it’s been awhile.
A kind of a turbulent while, as a matter of fact. (!)

First of all, I need to thank all of you who read this blog (all three of you, and you know who you are :-)) with a fair amount of regularity. It’s a lead-pipe cinch you’re probably trying to read more than I’ve been writing here lately. For that I apologize.

Second, I need to reprioritize, something I’ve known for some time…because for the first time in my life, I have found myself increasingly, completely, and utterly miserable.
(Are those enough adverbs, do you think?)

Now, those of you who know me also know that I’ve been in a major writing funk. As in, I ain’t been able to do none. Not hardly. That’s surely a cause for misery in itself.


And yes, I know that’s terrible grammar, but that’s not been the part that’s hung me up. Some of us are born to simply create…to run throughout the land sprinkling our own particular fairy dust, blithe spirits that we are, letting the stories fall where they may.

I am apparently not one of those people.
I, apparently, was at least partially born to edit.


Which means that my day gig is one of those jobs that comes along once in a lifetime, one that’s perfectly suited to me, one I will be just about guaranteed to enjoy…if I let myself. I mean, I’m a good little Catholic girl working in one of the biggest Catholic publishing houses in the nation. Editing Catholic books. I get paid to read PW. I get paid to spend time perusing Publishers Lunch. I even can get paid time to go to a writer’s conference. How much better can it get, right?

But there are a couple of side effects to this job that complicate things a bit.

The first of these is, of course, that spending eight hours a day editing other people’s work takes a tremendous amount of energy, on many levels. Focused concentration is only half of it. In many other publishing houses, what I do is split into two or three different people’s (or departments’) jobs. Working with such a variety of detail and on such a variety of publications is what makes the job fun—but it’s also given me times when I’ve been so exhausted that I had trouble seeing my way through the parking lot…literally. So much for white-collar jobs not “taking much out of you.” :-)

This kind of exhaustion is deadly when you’re trying to build a writing career outside of the ADJ…hence my stallouts at frequent intervals. The cure? Obviously, to be freed of the day job. Only difficulty there, of course, is the minor matter of groceries, insurance, and other trivialities that we as human beings have come to realize are important.

…which, in its own way, brings me to the second side effect, one that not only contributes to abovementioned exhaustion but to previously mentioned misery as well.

You see, one of the drawbacks of my job is that my editorial cube is located in what basically is a newsroom. The newspaper people are all at one end, and the periodical/book editorial people at the other. But our end is the end with the TV constantly turned to CNN (blessedly, on mute); our end is also the home of one particular editor who was a hair shy of majoring in political science in college…

I’m sure you see what’s coming.

In addition to the obvious ramifications of having a TV that can be turned up at any moment to subject us to CNN’s usual cynical, slanted opinion-masquerading-as-news, we’ve also all been given assignments to help out the newspaper by perusing various online news sources and snagging stories for them to investigate further. The newspaper staff is small—think “shoestring”—and so, realistically, they can’t be everywhere finding out everything. Ergo, the rest of us are asked to feed them anything we find interesting. This isn’t a bad thing, on one hand, in that it “keeps you informed.”

Only problem with that is…I don’t do well as an “informed” person. I read/listen to/see too much news and I get scared. I get cynical. I get angry. Because our news media have a hidden double-edged sword: they’ll tell you what’s wrong, who (they think) is to “blame” for what’s wrong, and how terrible this particular wrong will make everything if it’s allowed to continue—but they then don’t tell you a thing you can do about it. On the contrary, they almost seem to relish implying “And there’s nothing you can do to make this better!”

That, my dears, is a miserable mindset to be in.
Which is why, for most of my life, I have deliberately chosen not to be “informed.”

My philosophy (until recently) has always been, “When and if I need to know something, I’ll know it. And until I can act on it, until I can affect it, it’s useless to me to know it and worry about it.” So, to this day, I don’t read newspapers. I don’t read news magazines. I don’t watch news broadcasts. This philosophy has horrified my in-laws—but, then, much of what I’ve done in my life has horrified my in-laws, so that in and of itself wouldn’t have ever made me change a thing. :-) Frankly, I found that even with my “ignorance” of conventional ways of “being informed,” I picked up enough news by osmosis over radio and online sources so that, nine times out of ten, I could pass the “Wait, Wait—Don’t Tell Me!” news quiz on NPR.

Not a bad achievement for someone who pays no attention. :-)


Seems I got “informed” despite myself—with the added benefit that I could keep that news stuff in a compartment of my life where it belonged, and not let it dominate my emotional climate. I wasn’t deeply involved in the news and all the “issues” enough to get worried, scared, angry, or depressed. In short…I was able to find balance.

That balance, however, got tipped when I went to work here. I started listening to more talk radio. To hear more about things I “needed” to be concerned about. To hear warnings of the “need for action.” And to learn all the stuff that most of the “media” won’t tell you. The upside is, I’m more “intelligent” than most people are on issues and religious matters and politics. The downside, however, is what that “intelligence” has cost me. (See previous complete, utter misery reference.)

So it’s time to pull the plug.

For me at least, it’s time go back to being “fat and happy” again—or risk forever losing any shred of creativity. Because between honest fatigue from doing my job and the rattling fatigue of feeling like one is constantly on the “front lines” and has to have a weapon at the fore at all times…I’m emotionally bankrupt, I’m drained of hope, I’m bereft of optimism, and I’m creatively stalled. I cannot help but think that’s hardly the way God intends any of us to live our lives—especially not those of us to whom He’s given the ability to create, to pursue art, music, drama, or words with a special grace and fire that, in partnership with Him, can “make something out of nothing.”

News sources frequently make something out of nothing, too…the difference being, their fabrications don’t enrich us, encourage us, or make us more human. Only our faith, our arts, and our culture do that. So those of us in said areas would do well to guard our gifts with our lives—because those gifts are all that makes life truly worth living.

If the price of that is “ignorance” on some issue…well, maybe that issue is someone else’s job to solve. The hardest lesson I’ve ever had to keep learning is that I can’t do everything, nor is it my responsibility to do everything. I keep trying…because some little demon in me keeps nagging at me that I’ve “never done enough.” But every time I try to do more than what God has put in me as “enough”…disaster follows. Probably were I a bit younger, this disaster would not have lasted as long, nor been as, well, disastrous as it’s proven to be to my emotional health of late. One of the unfortunate consequences of aging is that one doesn’t recover as fast…from anything.

Even, or maybe especially, one’s own foibles.

But recover I will. It’ll take some “weaning” to do it. It’ll take putting in the minimal amount of time on what they want me to “peruse” on this job, and then stopping at that. Not reading endless blogs on “issues,” endless disruptive or arrogant or ignorant opinions from people who have nothing better to do with their time than post on news sites (!)…and above all, not spending time rattled about stuff I cannot control when what I’ve been given to do—tell stories and help other people tell them!—suffers as a result.

There’s true ignorance…and then there’s balance. I need to choose balance. I need to be the one enriching, the one encouraging, and the one creating. And so from now on, I will do my best to remember what I was put here to do—and what I
wasn’t.

And if I start to get tempted to go the other way…
If I start to feel like I’m not “doing my duty” by stuffing my head full of what other people deem to be important…
Someone knock me aside the head, gently, and remind me of where my talent lies, and the place where this blog’s focus needs to stay.

So, welcome back…to the Catholic Writer Chick’s place. Let’s talk about lots of wonderful, uplifting, life-enhancing stuff…but mostly, let’s just protect the work.
It’s what we’ve been given to do, and it’s worth doing.

Thoughts?

Janny

3 comments:

Deb said...

I think you're taking the right tack here. You cannot oversaturate your brain and stay creative. I don't think God designed us this way, and if we try, we're bound to frustrate His purposes.

"Whatsoever things are of GOOD REPORT, think on these things." When was the last time you heard much of good report on TV or radio news?

I've said for a while, and I will say again: your well WILL refill. Can't say when, but I'm praying for soon.

Donna Alice said...

Hooray, you're back! Have been seeing cobwebs when I checked your blog the past little while.

I'm glad you've decided to refocus on what God means for you to do - write. Sure wish you'd get more readership on your blog because you have a way of saying things that makes a lot more sense than talk radio! You are able to cut right to the core of what is so wrong when we all try to 'fix' everything.

Like you, I think we need more balance and to be true (however pompous that sounds) to our art. If God gave us a gift to be writers, then that's how we are suppose to be changing or impacting the world.

A long time ago, my mom taught me to say I wasn't 'babysitting' or 'doing daycare' but I was 'impacting destiny.' Maybe it's time we take the eternal view and realize that our stories can be like the ripples in a pond, spreading out to the edges of places we'll never see.

Praying for you to be able to use your time for creative pursuits. Have you tried just writing one page a night?

I'm having post-conference doldrums and having a hard time actually getting back into the creative writing myself.

JoannaB said...

Thank you for this Blog - and encouraging us all to 'focus' on the gifts and talents God gave us and not to get sidetracked.