Monday, March 11, 2013

Over Commitment, when does a creative outlet turn into work?

Let’s talk about over commitment, or at least think about it. About how I've made a second and third full-time job out of writing and marketing that writing.

To realize how over committed I am, it took me looking at the life of a dear friend of mine, who shall remain nameless--ok, it’s Kim. Not only does she work full time (away from home), she is a wife and mother, mother not to any human children, unless you count her husband, but mother to a whole assortment of animals. Anyone who has ever had a pet they cared for knows that well loved pets become your children. Anyway, on top of working at work and at home, she fosters kittens from the local shelter, has several of her own cats that she’s adopted from the shelter. She feeds the outdoor stray cats (and any opossums and raccoons in the neighborhood who sneak up and eat the outdoor cat food). She has chickens and alpacas. And get this, she got the alpacas so that she can spin her own yarn from the alpaca hair and weave it into fabric. That and quilting is what she does for fun.  Crazy, right?

Until recently, I didn’t think that was too much. Actually, I didn’t really think about it all. But it is too much. It’s so much, so so very much to do, each and every day, even with her husband's help.

I feel like a slacker in comparison, but then I realized that I have over commitment issues of my own. As I said, I've turned writing into a job. And I quilt for fun, as well. [I haven't resorted to spinning my own thread yet, thank goodness. So, I'm not crazy. Yet.]  I may not have a hundred hungry mouths to feed every day--just the one, BlackBeary, my fifteen year old cat--but I do have something driving me to constantly do more, to be better.

I suspect my friend Kim is the same. Shoot, she just got two more chickens. I think she's worse that me, really. Ok, so I'm in denial.

So what drives us? I don’t exactly know. I do know that I have a very hard time rationalizing just sitting around watching TV. In fact I had my cable-TV turned off because I didn’t even watch it all that much.  It wasn't worth what I was paying for it. And you know what? I don’t miss it. I do have Netflix, which means I can start and stop a show or movie whenever I feel the urge to get up and do something more meaningful than vegetating or relaxing.

Are we compelled to do more because of the way we were raised?

Momma and me when
I was in high school
My mother--who I love to blame for all my problem--she made it her life's work to point out how lazy I was.  She'd fuss at me for sitting in my room reading a book or for sleeping in late, never mind that I stayed up reading or studying until 3am the night before. She wasn’t lazy, not really, but she wasn’t driven the way I feel driven to accomplish… whatever. She didn’t work outside our home. And now that I ponder it, maybe she was lazy. She had my grandmother, her mother, to do the cooking and the dishes. I did the yard work, and our maid, Nettie, came three days a week to do all the heavy stuff like laundry and the bathroom and floors. Really, I'm not even sure what she did all day. So maybe I'm driven by all that bitching she did about me being lazy, or maybe from not wanting to be like her.

Nettie and Granny when
I was in high school
Me and Daddy right before
he died of cancer
As for the rest of my family, my father was a farmer, which in and of itself means that he worked all the time, every day, sun up to sun down. I wish I'd been able to spend more time with him.

My grandmother (my mother's mother), Granny, was always working on something, gardening, cooking, and even after she broke both hips, she’d work crossword puzzles and would do paint by numbers. Granny's the one from whom I get the story telling gene.

My brother and me in
Scotland this past year
My brother, even though I didn’t think so when we were growing up, is more motivated than I am. He works all day and then comes home and works on other people’s cars in his personal garage in the evenings and on the weekends. Golfing and fishing are what he does for fun.  But he eats the fish. So I'm not sure if that's really relaxation or not.  He's very much like my father. He comes in, sits in his recliner to watch TV, and falls asleep.

Then there was my lazy-assed husband (now ex-husband, thank you, Jesus), whose idea of living comfortably was to move back to the one-horse town we grew up in and live in a trailer. Which he did, after I divorced him. [Actually, the bastard moved to the town my brother now lives in, which is a few steps up from where we lived as kids.] He told me once that we’ll always be in debt, so why worry about it. Arrrgggh. I stayed far too long with him. And I never want to be over my head in debt again, even if I have to work sixteen hours a day.

So somewhere in all those experiences, I developed a AAA-personality.  I'm not saying that I haven't benefited from it.  I graduated magna cum laude in Mathematics and Classics (in three and half years while working 20 hours a week), and then went on to graduate cum laude in Mechanical Engineering (while working as a co-op at IBM) in another three years. After college, I worked for IBM for eleven years, then was stolen by Boeing.  I lasted six years at Boeing, with a high level clearance, but couldn't deal with the bureaucratic corporate BS (come on, really, layoffs every year). I left Boeing for a job in the Costco corporate offices, where I was hired to help design their new UNIX environment. You don't accomplish those things by being a slacker.

I started writing for pleasure, as a creative outlet, but as with everything I do, somewhere along the line, it turned into more than just something to do in my spare time. I don't know how to separate pleasure and work.  It didn't help that people started saying "Are you going to write a novel?", "Are you going to get an agent?", "Are you going to publish?".  And I'm not blaming anyone except myself.  If it wasn't writing, it'd be something else.  Maybe spinning my own thread from alpaca hair.  No, that's just crazy.

Now, I see myself writing as a way to supplement my income when I retire from the corporate world. I'm going to be an author. I guess, in all actuality, I am already an author.  Problem is that somewhere in the back of my mind, I don't feel like I'm real. I can't be a real author unless I have a book on the NYT best-seller list, can I?  Do I need to have something "critically acclaimed"?  Of course when that does happens, my goals will rise to Pulitzer level.  Because I'm never happy with what I've accomplished.  I always have to do more, be more, have more.

Wow, this has turned into a long, over-indulgent, self-promoting rant.  Unfortunately it's all true.

And I'm pretty sure I didn't answer the question.

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