My eldest is having a hard time buckling down to finish (start?) his Social Studies 30 assignment, and both his dad and I are like, “Yeah, baby, we hear you, we don’t want to do any work either.” I’m writing this post after squeezing out of me one revised paragraph—ok, maybe like three—on a project on which I feel three to four weeks behind, because, for fuck’s sake, it should be way over the halfway point right now, but I am slow as molasses and stupid to boot, and who wants to sit down at the computer and write when each sentence, each paragraph makes you feel like a covidiot?
So I delay.
Wash the dishes.
Walk the dogs.
Dust a bookshelf. (Seriously. And I never dust.)
I teach these workshops on organized creativity, the creativity process, and the power of habit and discipline in seeing you through periods of trauma and despair. These days? I feel like such a hypocrite. Except, of course, when I don’t: when I realize that even though I am slow as molasses and stupid to boot, even though I don’t want to do the work and I don’t particularly like doing the work when I do it… I do manage to do some of it anyway.
Not as much as I’d like.
Not to the level of “good enough” I expect of myself.
But I do it. Kind of.
On most days.
Well, on some days.
Half the days?
Maybe most days. It depends.
Now, the good news/bad news of my impaired pandemic productivity is that when I don’t work / don’t write / don’t file / don’t deliver… I don’t get paid. And so, the good/bad news is that, well, when I don’t work, nobody’s paying me to not work. The really bad news is that when I don’t work, nobody pays me and, like, thank god for the line of credit, is all I’ve got to say. The good news, I suppose, is that I’m not “cheating” anyone, so to speak. I expect that if I had a paper-pushing office job right now… I’d show up. Sit. Open some windows and files…
But not really accomplish very much.
Question: would my supervisors notice?
Don’t answer that. There is no good answer to that.
I deal with my perceived pandemic (un)productivity peccadillos the way I always do: by re-reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. I’ve decided that The Artist’s Way is the closest that I have to a spiritual text. You’ve got the Q’ran and she’s got The New Earth and they’re grooving on the Baghavad Gita. My prophet, it appears, is Julia Cameron:
Survival lies in sanity, and sanity lies in paying attention.
Show up at the page.
Very often, a creative block manifests itself as an addiction to fantasy. Rather than working or living the now, we spin our wheels and indulge in daydreams of could have, would have, should have. One of the great misconceptions about the artistic life is that it entails great swathes of aimlessness. The truth is that a creative life involves great swathes of attention. Attention is a way to connect and survive.
It is hard to pay attention now, isn’t it? To really focus? In large part because not paying attention and not focusing on the news, current developments, the raging political-economic-social panic outside the door is a coping strategy. Don’t pay attention to that—it’s a survival mechanism. Distract, distract, distract.
And that spills over, and focusing on the work, the stuff that actually matters—it gets hard, impossible.
So. This week’s exercise is to pay attention. To little things, to beautiful things. My son’s smile and my daughter’s glower. The smell of coffee. The squeak of my bicycle chain.
The imperfect but still pleasing rhythm of this sentence.
Practice, practice, practice paying attention.
You: Still not gonna pay this month’s rent that way.
Jane: Line of credit, baby. Also, small steps, small steps. It all begins with small steps. Words become a sentence and sentences become paragraphs and paragraphs become pages and pages become cheques.
Cinder: Are you telling me you’re gonna pay me if I finish my Social Studies assignment?
Jane: A future employer will pay you, baby. Small steps.
Today’s second pot of coffee is delicious. The light outside is flat, but the way my lamp illuminates it is pretty. The dogs need to be walked, and my back needs to be stretched, and when I come back—maybe I’ll tackle another paragraph. Two. Three.
Scratch that maybe. I’ll do it, right?
Slow as molasses. Stupid to boot.