Do you think I'm a workaholic? I think I've been heading in that direction. Dr Barbara Killinger, a clinical psychologist gives this definition; "A workaholic is a person who becomes emotionally crippled and addicted to control and power in a compulsive drive to gain approval and success." That sounds frighteningly familiar. And I answer "yes" to most of these questions. Not good.
I know that from the outside, it's probably always seemed like I'm a workaholic -- for the last ten years, at least. Y'all see my to-do lists, and I've gotten a lot of comments from friends who think I work too hard, or who say that they're surprised by how much I get done. A couple of them have even said that it makes them feel inadequate, or like they aren't working hard enough. And I'm always startled, because what isn't clear in those lists is just how much time I normally spend every day goofing off.
For a long time (in the Ph.D. and in the MFA) I didn't have a day job. And in the year I was tech writing and the year I was adjuncting, I had an incredibly flexible day job. And I've mostly not had a daily commute, which has saved me at least two hours every day, compared with most people I know -- not just with the travel itself, but with packing up, with getting dressed (many days I don't bother), with having an hour-long lunch built into the schedule. So even when I've had a long list, even when I've felt time pressure or been on deadline, I've also had plenty of time just to enjoy life. To watch four hours of tv a day. To read a book or two. To cook as many of my meals as I feel like. To sit with a cup of tea and browse the net. My miserable years doing grunt temp secretarial work, waking up and wanting to burst into tears at the thought of going to work, calling in sick often when I wasn't, because I just couldn't face it, getting fired for taking long lunches -- all of that has made me really appreciate the luxury of my life.
Or rather, the luxury of my life as it used to be. Because this last year -- this last year, it's gotten out of control. Everything I'm doing is good. It's all productive, whether it's writing or teaching or starting new programs with the SLF or creating DesiLit or putting on a lit festival. I don't want to give any of it up. But sometimes it feels like I've forgotten to leave myself time to breathe.
I'm hoping this is just a temporary effect of being stupid enough to schedule finishing a book, academic job hunting, teaching in a new department, writing a novel, a month-long trip to Sri Lanka, buying a house, moving house, throwing a huge party, book tour, all in addition to the rest of my life, all in the same year. I can't believe I actually did that. It's three years worth of stuff, all squeezed into one year. There have been some family crises too, which I couldn't have predicted, that have also eaten up some time. But the things I could've predicted -- I don't know what I was thinking. It was as if I thought that there was infinite time, that I could just keep adding things to do and somehow, somewhere I would magically find the time I needed to get them done. That I would just get more efficient, more focused.
Instead, I've found that when I really do pile on too much, I get less efficient. I get stalled, I space out, I burst into tears, I go into serious avoidance mode and re-read the same three Bujold novels over and over. It's as if I'm telling the front of my brain go go go and the back of my brain is digging in its heels and yelling stop! And the worst of it is that with all the great stuff that's happened in the last year, that's continuing to happen, I'm often failing to enjoy it.
I've probably spent at least half an hour crying every day for the last two weeks. Not for any real reason -- just an inability to cope with stuff. Kevin asked me last night, in the midst of last-minute planning and stressing out, if I'm actually going to enjoy this party we're throwing. And I didn't know. Which is idiotic. What is the damn point, if you don't enjoy it? What's the point of any of it, if you aren't getting some kind of satisfaction from it?
I don't want to imply that I'm miserable -- I'm not. Mostly not. But for much of the last year, I've felt like a strand of hot gold wire that's been pulled thinner and thinner, so taut that at any second it could snap. I need to learn how to release the tension. I'm not sure I know how, or even if I do know, if I can bring myself to do it.
For example, I keep thinking that my novel is due in August. Kevin said last night that there was no reason to stick to that -- Bob said it was okay to push it back. Bob said that a month ago. But still, I'm constantly feeling like I ought be writing because the novel is due in August. I should just say it's not going to happen, and push the deadline to the end of the year -- and I'm incredibly resistant to doing that. I found myself saying to Kev, "Well, maybe I can still finish it by the end of August." Why? WHY WHY WHY???
"For a workaholic work becomes the axis around which everything revolves, and is different from somebody who simply works hard and enjoys what they do. External forces like deadlines can force you to overwork but the workaholic's drive to overwork comes from within. They are compelled to use all their time productively, and feel even in their free time feel they should be working on some chore, project or productive or educational task. "Even as I'm accomplishing things, I'm thinking about all I'm not getting done. I live with this sense that things need to be done every minute of the hour. And every minute I'm not doing something I feel disappointed in myself," says one businesswoman."The funny thing is, all through grammar school, high school, even college, I was an underachiever. My evaluations always said does not live up to her full potential. Well, Sister Mary Ligouri, if you could just see me now...
This morning, I went up to the deck, I watered some plants, and then I sat in the shade (on the bare boards, because we have no patio furniture yet) with my cup of tea and a book, and for half an hour I just read. I enjoyed the breeze. I tried to be still. After half an hour, I felt too restless to continue; I came back downstairs and made breakfast and did dishes and put away the rest of the groceries and started doing paperwork again. Maybe it's a start?
I don't know.