If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal. Not to people or things.
– Albert Einstein, German-born theoretical physicist
Do you ever get so exhausted that it’s a struggle to breathe? This has been my current state since returning home from traveling. Around November through February is the busy season workwise for me, although David would probably argue that it’s the chaotic, sleepless season and the rest of the year is busy. It is the time of bouncing around from multiple deadlines to another round of multiple deadlines, only this season travel has been added to the mix. As fun and exciting as the travel has been, it takes a toll, especially when you’re older.
As is usually the case, those four months are a complete blur to me every year. I come out of it in early March, wondering what happened to the beginning of the year. And then reality hits: Oh, right, I worked a lot, slept little. This time around, however, I didn’t want to come out on the other side, thankful that I survived, giving up those months so easily. The older you get, the harder it is to blithely not care, concede, and move on. The days seem to matter more.
Rightly or wrongly, I have found that the main reason I don’t sit down and read a novel, like I used to do not too many years ago, is that I feel as if I can’t sit still. It’s too luxurious. There are too many things within 20 feet of me that need to be taken care of. The library chair we got when we moved back into our house merely holds the stack of documents or magazines or Christmas letters from the past two years that I promised to respond to. I count only once the time when I reclined on the stuffed leather library chair and ottoman and worked on my novel and once when I read fiction. I tell myself that I should be multi-tasking. I am constantly in a race against time. One of these days soon, I will put reading a novel or book of short stories on my weekly list of things to do; only then will it be part of my routine and something I can do without feeling guilty. Writers need to read just as much as they write. That ought to be reason enough.
This year was going to be different, I told myself. This season I made a pledge to myself. I was going to make sure I am doing something that is me-centered, something that makes me happy. That something is different for everybody. For me, it means I go to sleep at night knowing that I had a productive day doing something that was creative, something tangible. And that tangible thing is having stood up this blog and writing three times a week. It is the exercise that keeps my writer’s muscles toned. It is the platform for my writer’s voice. It is the diary and photo album for my kids, as well as for me. It has kept me buoyed even as I spent President’s Day Monday working on a white paper deadline.
The other thing that keeps me going is dangling carrots in front of me to stay motivated. I’m going to carve out a week of vacation in April and finally finish that last revision of my novel. Then I’ll have to figure out how to self-publish and market it on a platform such as Amazon. Marketing, one of my novelist colleagues has told me, is a constant job once you publish online. Once it’s up, though, I can finally return to the second novel that I started in 2006, before I allowed literary agent rejections to get to me. One of the carrots that I’m dangling in front of me to finish the first novel is the trip I’m going to take to Bolerium Books (2141 Mission St., #300 San Francisco, CA 94110, 415.863.6353), which specializes in rare and out-of-print books and other items on social movements. I discovered this fantastic bookstore while researching my first novel. It lies in the heart of the Mission district in the City, and it’s a place you will want to spend hours poring over the materials on the shelves on a rainy Saturday afternoon. I have e-mail alerts set up for books on the Philippines and amassed quite a number of relevant history books for my second novel. When I finish my first novel, I have told myself, I can take my long list and trek over to Bolerium Books to buy those rare books for my research. How motivating can that be? I love historical research; it puts me in the mood and fully immerses me in the time period.
There are a lot of things to do, but the thought of them and their promise are nourishing me now. And when you’re nourished, you are in a better position to help other people more fully and to push through onerous times. So these are the things that are keeping me going as I head into the home stretch of my busy season.
Last night, though, I really struggled with having to make dinner. It was a simple enough pasta dish with few ingredients. But I moved around the kitchen as if attached to a ball and chain. So what is the remedy when you need to take care of these mundane but necessary tasks? Looking forward to my near-future projects was not going to cut it. For a fleeting moment I thought to call David and say I’m exhausted so I’m going to grab takeout. Instead, I whipped out my iPhone and called up Pandora. I plugged it into my portable iHome system and the therapeutic music woke me up and gave me the energy to cook. And pretend I was at a karaoke bar. Saved by an endorphin rush, I thrived amidst another day in my busy season. My body felt vibrant and refreshed, so long as I sang.
I’m just about ready to reach for those dangling carrots….