“Honey, you’re overextended.”
I can’t tell you how many times I heard that from my mother when I was growing up.
She was right, of course, but I never listened to her, of course, because what could a parent know about a teenager’s needs and capacities? I could do it all. Of course, I might get sick and have to drop out of a play, or have dreams about climbing a ladder which started to disintegrate in my hands, but that happens to everyone, right?
Well, it’s taken a while, but I think I finally understand that my mother was right. For whatever reason – and maybe it’s an occupational hazard, you tell me – my tendency is to overextend, to do too much, until I’m compromising my relationships, and at least my quality of life (I would say my health but my health has always been good enough to make me think I’m more okay than I probably am) in my obsessive doing.
And when you’ve been self-employed for basically all your life, there’s no federal agency that steps in and demands overtime and vacation pay. There’s no one who turns out the lights in the office building at night, forcing at least a change of scenery. You, the boss, can pretty much work you, the employee, into the ground, with no recompense or repercussions.
So last week, after pretty much killing myself to get my book revisions in, in between traveling to Romantic Times in Houston, back to LA for the LA Times Festival of Books, then straight on to Virginia for Malice Domestic, I stopped.
I don’t know how conscious a decision that was. What happened was that my mind said – “Uh uh. That’s it.” And this time I actually listened, instead of doing what I usually do and barreling on ahead to the next few dozen things.
So I’ve been doing nothing.
Doing nothing is hard. It’s been interesting. It’s not as much of a joyous relief as you would think because you’re too tired to really enjoy it.
I’ve been sleeping a lot, so there are not as many hours in a day as you would think to do nothing. There are things that got backed up over the last few months that simply had to get done – cats to the vet, two months of laundry, that kind of thing. Obviously I’m writing this blog… obviously I’ve done other things like that, which are not doing nothing. And I did make a stab at doing my taxes but realized that was NOT doing nothing, even though it was not writing, so I am not going back to them until I have another week off).
I joined a new gym with a staggering number of classes throughout the day, so I’ve been doing one or two of those every day (too much, really, but after all these months of sludge…)
I know some people would take this opportunity to travel but I HAVE been traveling. I don’t want to travel. I don’t want to do anything.
What I do most of the day is read, of course. But even this is strangely exhausting – I guess reading is always going to be work, for a writer. I have quiet, tentative thoughts about it, like – “Why don’t YOU base the next book on a true story…” – you know, that kind of thing. I try to allow myself to have the thought without grabbing a notebook and acting on it.
But even though I’ve started tp read dozens of books over the last week, I haven’t read much all the way through, and I haven’t been very happy with anything I have managed to read (that is until yesterday, Louise will like this – Barbara Kingsolver’s PRODIGAL SPRING).
It’s a very uneasy vacation, that has turned into a kind of experiment, along the lines of metaphysical directives like – “When you don’t know what to do, STOP” and ”When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”
Well, I’ve stopped. And already I wonder how long I can keep all this up.
This afternoon I actually have a book signing that’s been on the books for months – it’s just not possible to go on complete hiatus, unfortunately. And of course there’s an ulterior motive to all this – I want to stop for long enough to feel that surge toward the next book.
But this time I really did overextend myself, and I think I had to go down to as close to nothing as I could manage to figure out what I can cut out, or more gently, let go. Because something’s got to give, or it’s going to be me.
So I know you all can relate… I’ve seen versions of your meltdowns and enforced vacations here on this very blog. Do you have any advice on how to get the most out of doing nothing? Or, hmm, am I already trying to overextend myself again?