This is a subject I’ve wanted to bring up over the last year, but never felt sure I had a grip on it. I still don’t, but since my recent posts have been primarily about the movement of my career, it seemed like I might as well get to it.
So, can writers just be people? What I mean is, can we just do our job and then go home and be free of the daily grind? Can we “turn off” and simply enjoy life with our family and friends?
It may seem like a strange question to ask, but in the last years I’ve become more aware that “turning off” is difficult to pull off for a variety of reasons. For one, the next book (whatever it happens to be) is always on my mind, even when I’m relaxing in front of the tube or am out at a party. I can still have normal conversations, mind, and from the outside it would be hard for anyone to know how distracted I am. But one basic truth is consistent: Normal events in life that should make me happy are always tempered by how well my writing is going. If it’s going poorly, excellent news has only a muted effect on my emotions. I think, “That’s great. I just wish my writing was going well too.”
It’s obsession, of course. I haven’t taken a “vacation” in years. That is, I’ve gone to some beautiful vacation spots, but the laptop is always with me, and in fact I tend to do more work when on vacation. It annoys my fellow vacationers no end.
But it’s not just a self-imposed thing. At parties I’m usually reminded (as if I could forget) that I’m a published novelist, simply because I’m the only one. I’m approached by people who want to discuss my books (amazing how many people want to point out their flaws at parties), or want advice on how to become a published novelist, or want me to read the 30 pages they hope will grow into a novel, or tell me the story of their as-yet unwritten opus, or simply want to learn every detail about my work days (which are, in all honesty, a bore).
So if my mood is dominated by my writing, and I’m never able to forget what I do for a living, then I wonder, in the end, if I’m really living.
Maybe I’m looking at this all wrong, and John Lennon had it right: “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”
But I do sometimes feel that this obsession is getting in the way of the living of life. That it distances me emotionally and time-wise from the things people do and refer to as “living”. I’m a slow enough writer that the entirety of each year is full of the act of writing. And because I’ve placed writing at the top of my priorities, it leave little or no time for the other things.
It wasn’t always so. One of the reasons the death of our dog, Bogi, was so hard to take was that (I realized afterward), caring for and playing with him was one of the only activities that took me completely out of my career. With him gone, I lost a large piece of the normal life I’d been leading, a piece that let me feel joy that was never limited by the constraints and disappointments of my job.
My friends do things like go skiing. They head out to Balaton Lake and run around in sailboats. My girlfriend cares for our garden; other friends find the time on vacation to get suntans and swim. As time passes, I start to think I’m missing out on something, holed away in front of my laptop in a completely solitary endeavor.
But the worst thing about this is extremely telling. My fear doesn’t ask “Is this kind of life bad for you, Olen?” Instead, it asks, “Will this kind of life be bad for your writing?” And if there was any sure sign that my life is firmly out of balance, this has to be it.
Do any of these fears strike a chord in others out there?
(Originally posted at the Contemporary Nomad)