Trouble Trouble

My husband likes self-help books. I do not. But finally we have found a self-help book we can agree on (or more honestly put, that I reluctantly picked up and finally, sheepishly admitted to myself – as this post will be the first admission to him – that I actually really and truly like it, and that it really and truly is helping me to help myself). That book is The War of Art.

Motivation is not something I appear to lack in any area of my life. I work hard hours at work and work extra hours at home. I reprogrammed my body to require less sleep and more exercise. I write on a near daily basis. I am driven and tireless (and some might say even a little obsessed) in my desire for success. Which is why I was sure this book would not be for me.

“Do you dream about writing the Great American Novel? Regret not finishing your paintings, poems, or screenplays? Wish you could start dieting or exercising today?” That’s the blurb on the back of the book. “If you answered yes to any of these questions, then this book is for you.”

Which is to say, not for me. Definitely not for me. So why bother even giving it a chance?

To answer this, I need to let you in on a very dirty secret about me and about Mom at Work: this blog is my copout.

This blog gives me an answer to the question I get asked at every party, at every night out for drinks, at every coincidental running into of anyone that I ever used to know or still attempt to maintain some sort of relationship with – what are you working on?

Most everyone in my scene or ex-scene or ancillary scene has a good answer to this. I’m shopping a screenplay I co-wrote with that guy that directed that big Sundance hit last year. I just got my first little royalties check and my agent is hounding me to finish the follow up book. I just did my third installment of that performance piece I wrote and it feels like the crowd is more into it every time.

And what’s my answer? A mommy blog, of course (depending on the neighborhood, I sometimes throw in an “experimental” for effect). It may not be the Great American Novel, but it’s an actual, finished, cogent body of work that is available to the public and that some people even spend their time reading on a fairly regular basis. And at the very least, it gives me an answer that is not, “I’m at the beginning of the first draft of a fictional memoir that will be as unpublishable as the last fictional memoir I wrote and never published.”

Unpublished or Unpublishable

Honestly, though, I don’t go to many parties anymore. I barely even see anyone outside of work who is not related to me by blood or by marriage. And so basing decisions on whether or not it will make a good response for polite party chitchat doesn’t make sense anymore. What does matter is how I respond when I ask myself that question.

So what am I working on? A fictional memoir. And what ever happened with the last (almost) fictional memoir? Still sitting on my desk, and in my hard drive, and in my Dropbox. Not anywhere actually in the world. And why is it not anywhere in the actual world? Because I have the motivation to write, but lack the resilience to publish. Because I write and write and write, then submit to two or three ill-matched agents, then read their auto-generated rejections as absolute truth spoken against my talent.

Then instead of subjecting myself to more messy humiliation, I write what is easy. What is safe. What I can put without limits on the internet for anyone to read and no one to offend. Because that real writing, the writing I do in the privacy of my home, in the privacy of my non-networked desktop, it is all offense. It leaves me too open to judgment, too open to rejection. And so I resist (to borrow a concept directly from the book).

The trouble is, resistance is a lot less fun than it used to be. My resistance used to take the form of trouble – the chapter I read that finally converted me to this book in the first place. The author, Steven Pressfield, writes something along the lines of, “Real artists don’t go making trouble for themselves, because this is just a form of procrastination, which is a form of resistance. Real artists take that desire for trouble and channel it instead into the actual making of art.”

And in this one page of this tiny book, I found the real reason I never published my own tiny book, and perhaps more importantly, the real reason I both love my life now and hate my life now. I used to have quite a time making trouble for myself. Drugs, booze, big parties, little parties. Crushes on boys I had no business spending time with. Crushes on girls I had no intention of ever taking action on. Spinning out all on my lonesome with soul searching and illicit substances and too frequent bouts of self-starvation.

Now my resistance takes the shape of safe, somewhat formulaic mini-essays on motherhood and related musings, with a smiley photo thrown in for good blogging measure. The challenge is not the fascination of word play or the ways I might challenge literary conventions, but in pure endurance. The challenge is in asking myself again and again whether I’ll actually manage to pull off another post, rather than whether I’ll actually manage to pull off something I’ve never, ever done before.

I love this blog. I love this audience. I love the expansiveness of instant shares and limitless reproductions, love the freedom of expression it engenders for so many others. But the expression it engenders for me is something just less than free, and I have been paying dearly in dividends of creative currency.

Or have I?

I wonder if this isn’t just another story I am telling myself, another trouble I am conjuring up. I am imagining a conflict of one creativity versus another, but I’ve tread this ground before and the truth always turns out the same. This is not a zero sum game. Writing feeds more writing. Creation spawns creation.

This blog may not be my Great American Novel, but that’s never what I set out to write – not with this blog, not with the first book I wrote, not with the book I am writing now. Because that Great American Novel has already been written, time and time again, and all I want is to make something new.

So goodnight, again, one time more. And now on to the next new thing.


3 thoughts on “Trouble Trouble

  1. I am breathless after reading this. You are in my brain.
    I keep putting thing off until he starts school or they start school or they all start school. And the days, they just whip away. I still set small goals, a half marathon, another post, another art exhibition of new work. And that’s so much that I’m exhausted by it. But the writing. Now that I’ve met my goal of creating a blog and sticking to it for one year, what now?
    My husband found this awesome creative bloggers conference he thought I might want to attend. (Which was both dear and amazing of him.) He knew someone who went a couple years back and she said how these bloggers sat together in a room and asked one another, “What is your big goal?” One said she wanted to write for Vogue and someone else gave her a business card contact to get the ball rolling. I thought, I don’t want to blog for Vogue. I think I want to finish that book. And maybe, publish that book.
    So for now, my blog helped me find amazing bloggers like you. Which is a gift. And people like you, they inspire me, which feeds me. And for the future? I want to keep recording my life for my kids, staying healthy, making art, but I also want to keep asking, What is your big goal?
    LOVED reading this. You put into words exactly what I was feeling.


    1. I am both so sorry that you are struggling with this, and so oddly relieved to hear that I’m not alone in this struggle. It’s really difficult to look at the blog in an objective way now. On the one hand, I honestly believe that I would probably not be writing anymore without the blog to keep me motivated. On the other hand, the act of creating something here just makes me want to create more in spaces where I have more flexibility to spread my limbs and dance around a little bit. So without it I am lost, with it I am trapped (or something along those lines, if lost means having fun at happy hour and trapped means connecting with other women (and men!) around the country and world who make me feel inspired and un-alone).
      But yes, what IS that big goal? And how can our blogs help us move toward that big goal, instead of becoming just one more hurdle to clear along the way? I feel a little bit like I really, really wish that my goal was to blog for Vogue. Because at least that’s attainable in a way that “Make Great Art” isn’t, you know?
      Maybe my new tag and my new sign off of everything I write from here on out should just be Keep on Keeping on. Because that’s what I think every time I read a post or a comment from you. I think it for myself and I think it for you. So keep on keeping on, and I’ll do my best to do the same way out here on the other coast, and then someday we’ll either find that big goal, or that big goal will find us.


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