Writing Journal, #3, “Attention Must Be Paid”

I’ve been having a hard time with my writing the past week, and I’ve been trying to figure out why.  Every morning I’ve woken up, ready to go, and all too aware that my time for spending most of my time at the computer is fast dwindling—and the deadline I told my editor fast approaching!  Yet every day I find something else to divert me.  There’s always a good “reason”—for example, I’m writing about the television show The Tudors so I decided I needed to “refresh” my memory by watching the entire first and second seasons again.  I did notice a couple of things that I had missed the first four times around…. But probably, I would have done much better to spend an hour or so thumbing through the book digests of the series.

Finally yesterday, I called my sister, who—lucky for me—happens to be both a writer and a therapist, to whine and perhaps get some advice.  We talked about a number of possibilities, including resistance to letting my book-baby go, but then, as has been happening almost all the time lately, our conversation swerved back (or more precisely, I drove it back) to my human baby—my daughter. I’ve been doing a lot of worrying about her lately.  I won’t go into detail (she, like every kid of her generation knows her way around a computer and the internet better than I do, and wouldn’t appreciate being discussed here) except to say that she’s twelve going on thirteen.  Perhaps that tells you enough!  In fact, things have been so rocky that I even bought several books—including My Teenage Werewolf by Lauren Kessler—to help me.  I am generally not a person to go the self-help or advice memoir route, but I’ve been getting desperate.  However, almost in the same way that I wake up every morning ready to write but find some reason not to, I’ve also found reasons not to actually read those books—for example, that I didn’t have time to read, since I needed to finish writing my own book!  Anyone notice a vicious circle here?

My brilliant sister did. “You are totally preoccupied with Cassie,” she pointed out (not for the first time) to me, noting that whenever she texted me from school, everything else stopped. I had been forcing my worries underground, in order to “concentrate on my book.”  Trouble is, although my conscious mind thought this was a great plan, my heart and soul could not follow.  The fact is that in my deepest being, my real child always trumps my book-children.  I had to accept that, honor it, and do justice to it. She gave me my marching orders for the day: “Do not even try to write.  Just read the Teenage Werewolf book.”  She and I had already found a few passages that we loved—incidents that sounded just like Cassie and me—and had the sense that, if nothing else, it would make me feel like I wasn’t alone.

Hey, the woman may be my younger sister, but she is also a therapist (and a brilliant one—both my sisters are), so I obeyed.  Before long, I was laughing in recognition, comforted by the fact that in her early adventures with her daughter’s teen-dom, this mom seemed to be just as clueless as me, and even having some new insights into my daughter’s behavior.  But here’s the really amazing thing:  I had been feeling physically lousy for days—headache-y, upset stomach, eyes tired, and really, really, weighed down in every fiber of my being.  I was beginning to think something was seriously wrong with me—maybe chronic fatigue?  Halfway through the book, I suddenly realized that my eyes had stopped watering, my head had cleared, and a general feeling of lightness had replaced the “unbearable weight” (inside joke) I had been carrying around.   The change was truly remarkable—so much so that I called Binnie (my sister) back and told her, along with many thanks for her brilliance, which she accepted without false modesty.  (The three of us sisters have an unspoken pact to allow ourselves this with each other.)

That was yesterday.  Today is a new day, and once again I will sit down after Cassie is off to school, confronting that icon on my desktop that contains my current chapter.  Will I click?  I hope so.  I think so.  But one thing I know: It doesn’t work for me to “not pay attention” to something that’s troubling me, hoping that I can bury myself in my work.  The effort to do so is exhausting, draining, and—for me, at least—doesn’t get me anywhere except back on the couch, compulsively watching mindless reality TV or endless MSNBC commentators (for some, those choices would be contradictory; for me, no.)

I ended my first journal with a quote from Shakespeare: “Ripeness is all.” I end this one with a quote from Arthur Miller:  “Attention must be paid.”  Yesterday, with my sister’s wise guidance, I stopped obsessing about my writing and paid attention to something that was more important.  And if it doesn’t loosen my fingers, at least it cleared my head and lightened my being.

Oh yes, and I recommend the book highly!!!

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6 Comments

Filed under Susan's Writer's Journal

6 responses to “Writing Journal, #3, “Attention Must Be Paid”

  1. Do they write one of those called “My Four Year Old is a Demon determined to Push All My Buttons?” I need that one. I had to have the “Baby oil is not a hair product and we don’t put it on our heads bc it makes our hair look greasy,” talk today with my 12 year old students who are now sixth graders. You can take comfort in the fact that you did not have to say that to your daughter today! :-p Although, I do remember having to tell my sister in law at that age “You must take a bath because you smell like a dead animal.” She is 22 now and would kill me for that! So, just remember, you could have to say that so it could be worse!

  2. Thank you for this Susan 🙂

  3. Susan

    Sarah and Jenny, thanks!!! With regard to baths…..don’t assume that I haven’t had to say something much like that!! But what exactly is up with that not bathing thing? Is it that they feel that their own dirt is like a cozy blanket? Just lazy? Rebelling against every cultural “rule”, including those that allow them to sit next to another person without offending?

  4. AlPal

    Oh, my, I wouldn’t go back to being that age for anything. I was a terror for my poor parents–not about bathing, but about boys, food, math, politeness, following instructions, chores, the phone. The why is a bit fuzzy. Mostly, I remember feeling incredibly vulnerable all the time, insecure about my body and both freaked out and excited about my impulses, resentful of not being in charge of my own life (and of course sure that I could run things better), resentful of propriety and what I would now call cultural practices that I had no say in that seemed to rule my life. Additionally, my body was on a hormonal roller coaster ride. I didn’t want to talk about it with my folks, I didn’t know how to talk about it with anyone else. The best thing for me was when I would stumble across a book that nailed things–I identified with Holden Caufield, for sure (right now, I’m rereading that book, laughing at places I used to feel so serious about). The real scary thing is that this roller coaster and craziness, for me, didn’t start to end until my early 20s, when I had some personal revelations that really helped me balance out. But it does end. That doesn’t make this time any easier for either of you, though it might be something to cling to in the hardest times.

  5. Susan

    AlPal: It does help! Your description of yourself could be a perfect description of my daughter right now–and I’m sure of other kids the same age. As much as I “know” this stuff in theory (and I was a mess, too, at that age, although in a different way), going through with my daughter has been another thing altogether, and hearing that others have been through it and come out the other side is comforting. Let’s hope, though, that she doesn’t have to wait until her early 20s to sort things out. She might survive just fine–but I’m not sure that I could!!

  6. I don’t know what’s up with the not bathing thing but I remember being that age and not wanting to wash my hair. It was curly and huge and the hormones and a bad perm only made it worse. Picture someone who stuck their finger in a light socket with acne. Horrible. Yes, I agree with AlPal, I was SO insecure and fighting my mother for control. I distinctly remember telling her that I was going to move out and be on my own when I turned 14. I don’t know why that was the magic number, of course when I was 14 it didn’t sound like a good idea! I think the not bathing thing is sort of about the feeling that no matter what you do you don’t like the way you look so why try? That’s how I felt. She’ll figure it out, it will take a couple of years, but it will get better. But be warned, my mom said both my brother and I turned into terrors that could drive in our junior year of high school and did not emerge from that stage until sometime in senior year! You’ll survive that too, and so will I one day, but I don’t think it’s going to be easy!

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