Wednesday, April 30, 2014

I Don't Need a Daily Ritual--or a Different Life

The oddest thing I know is that sometimes what looks like obstacles are actually stepping-stones.

Right now I have a book in my office bathroom perfect for occasional reading. It's called Daily Rituals, and it's a compendium of one-page essays about great artists (primarily writers, but also painters and composers) and what sort of routine they kept. It's pretty interesting but bears absolutely no resemblance to my life.

I'm not saying I'm Monet, or Flaubert, or what have you. I'm saying I couldn't have a single daily routine if my work depended on it. I've noticed before that men who write seem to say, "This is my job, therefore I must have at least 8 hours a day to devote to it, uninterrupted." If they work at home, they have a dedicated office. And child care. And someone who makes them lunch (ok, maybe not now. But in the 1800s, certainly someone made them lunch.) Whereas the women writers, at least the ones I know, say, "This is my job, and I'm absolutely lucky that I'm able to fit it into short bits of time around my family obligations."

I've never once resented my family obligations. (Well, okay, maybe cooking, once or twice. And laundry, sometimes. But otherwise.) My children were and are a delight to me. There were days I was so tired that when it came time to write I longed for a nap--and some days I took the nap. I was primarily a journalist and ghostwriter before my second child was born, so I had pretty tight deadlines, but once I had the freedom to write as I pleased I could afford to be relaxed about time. The hard stuff from toddlerhood--the child that puked inside my bra while we were at the bank, the days when both were crying and I could only comfort one--they became part of my writing. As did everything else about our lives as my children grew.

I can't tell you how often I have to restrain myself from telling a really good true story about my children on this blog. We have an agreement: if it's not my story, I can't tell it without their permission. And they rarely give permission. Fair enough. It is their lives--but it's my life, too. Their stories blend with mine and enrich everything I write, whether or not they approve.

I've said before that I had a traumatic childhood, and it's true; while I never plan to go into the details here (again--not only my story) I've always known that I grew up on the edge of flight-or-fight, with a wariness and attention to detail, particularly to emotion and dialogue, that most people don't have. It leads to problems like depression and anxiety--but it also made me a writer. Some recent studies show that writers have different brain wiring that non-writers. I love neuroscience, so I'll be paying attention to that--I've always wanted to know how much of my odd brain is what I was born with, and how much is what happened to me afterwards. Yet it doesn't actually matter. The funky thing is that I've lately realized that if I could go back and change my childhood, take away the trauma, I'm not sure I would. Now, I'd do anything to keep one of my own children from being traumatized. I also know that without the help and love I received after my hard times, including to this day, not to mention modern pharmaceuticals, I'd be in a much worse place now than I am.

I like the place where I am. I like the writing I do from this place. I wouldn't want to change that.

You can only live life forward, so maybe you could argue that it doesn't matter what happens to you, how life shapes you, but I think that's incorrect. What happens to us does matter--and so does how we frame it. I'm grateful to be a writer, and I'm grateful for whatever shaped my writing--trauma, frenetic schedule, and all. I don't need a Daily Ritual; good thing, since I probably won't get one anytime soon.