I’ve always had a tendency to over-think—something I’ve been aware of for years, and also brought to my attention by others occasionally. Depending on who the “other” is and the attitude around the observation, I react with either an explanation of how this mindset is necessary (indeed perhaps even the origin of my need to write) or I roll my eyes and tell the one with attitude that obviously they under-think or this wouldn’t be an issue.
Me, I roll my eyes over the question, “Why do you write?” Isn’t it obvious? I’m using story to try to make sense of the insensible; I’m obsessed, perhaps even “possessed”; I have delusions of fortune and fame; I’m vain enough to think that I have something to tell in a way that hasn’t been told before; it’s been a good excuse for retiring from a career as a social worker that could only end in burn-out.
Who knew that writing has even greater burn-out potential?
We are entering the season of spring book launches, reviews of the season’s favourite, announcements of shortlists for regional book awards, all leading to the conferences and banquets where dozens of writers will gussy themselves up, try to find a way around the growing lump in the throat so they can fake some appetite for the banquet chicken while they wait for the blessing of the “winners” and make nice when it’s all over but the over-thinking of how that book was The One”. Yes, all part of the game; we’re all good sports, we have thick skin, it wasn’t our turn. Or, as a pal of mine has reminded me many times — “Betty Jane, it’s a mugs’ game, trying to fathom how these things turn out.”
I’m finding myself uncharacteristically relaxed about books and awards and all things related this spring, because I don’t have a horse, not even a steady plodder, in the race. I’m curiously awaiting the shortlists and the outcomes, and I will undoubtedly spend too much time trying to fathom what some of those juries could have been thinking. I will also rise up in righteous indignation over the fine books that were overlooked, and my friends who came away disappointed.
But after this long long foreword, why I really sat down to write this morning, was to reflect on writing and the things that don’t matter? We all know what matters to us, why we write. But the rest of it? The rest of it is part of why I’m taking a break, not only from writing but from “being a writer.”
I know that people sometimes feel a little queasy when I talk about the dangers of obsession, about the insidious creeping toward discontent, anxiety, depression. The over-thinking not withstanding, I think I’ve been a stable, practical, optimistic woman and have presented myself that way for long enough that when I hinted to a friend not long ago that I was feeling a little wobbly on the tracks I could almost hear her thinking smething along the lines of, “How’d a nice girl like you end up with syphilis??” I could have assured her that just as syphilis is treatable, so is this kind of fatigue, particularly with the help of good people.
One such good person mentioned recently that she was reading a book called Radical Gratitude by Mary Jo Leddy, a Catholic theologian who eloquently dispenses her wisdom from a broader spiritual context as well.
It has been worth reading the first chapters of the book – I’m going slowly, pondering, not wanting to ignore any kernels of wisdom, just to reach this bit of truth:
“We should take stock to determine whether we feel only dissatisfaction with the way things are. If we cannot find any small moments and satisfaction, cannot see anything that is better than it used to be, cannot relish one small moment of accomplishment then our world is being consumed by a general sense of dissatisfaction. This dissatisfaction is soul-destroying and dispiriting . It makes it almost impossible to cherish the world and to embrace it with passionate care.” — Mary Jo Leddy, Radical Gratitude.
It is not“radical” in the more current usage of the word that Leddy urges us to embrace gratitude; this is “radical” in the root sense of the word, fundamental, far-reaching.
I believe I’ve mentioned more times than anyone needs to hear that “I’m not writing much these days” but I am pondering a lot, and occasionally I feel the need to write these musings. I always sit for a long while, trying to decide whether to “save” or to “publish” but in this case, I feel some “radical gratitude” might be a good prescription for all those who do have thoroughbreds in the upcoming races.
Also, I’ve decided that because I’m about to become a true “senior” in a few weeks, I should try on the cloak of wise woman, or crone, and go for a new persona. Forget the stable, practical, optimistic adult Betty Jane and work on a new status. I’d like a hut at the edge of the village – with amenities please – and I would like to keep office hours, but I’m quite willing to dispense advice on a great many thing. But please remember to bring along a chicken, or a sack of potatoes, or a good bottle of wine to leave beside the door.