“Please tell me how you balance 4 kids, a husband, writing, and everything else you do. Are you an alien or something?” – Sammy
“How do you stay so damn awesome? And how do you find time and energy to keep being awesome every day?” – Charlotte
Dear Sammy and Charlotte,
I figured these were good questions to answer today because today I feel like giving up. It happens, usually out of sheer exhaustion. Last night I slept 4 hours. This week I haven’t slept more than 5 or 6 hours a night. This month we all had strep throat. Then most of us got it again, including me, this week.
As I write this, my head is pounding, my eyes are droopy, and my cheekbones ache. It’s a headache, I guess, wrapping around my face and skull, concentrating in my temples. It burns the side of my face. My eyes want to sleep. My brain, though, has other plans. I know that. Fucking insomnia.
They say “take power naps.” That sounds amazing. Somebody explain to my brain that power naps are a good call. “Nah, I’d rather THINK,” it says.
Okay, asshole. Let’s go.
I thought when I leased an office this would get easier. And it probably would have, had I not taken on a couple college classes as a last-minute decision, for reasons I’m not quite sure about.
For reasons in and out of my control, right now I find myself teaching college classes, teaching writing workshops, writing this blog and other projects, and taking care of four children every morning and every night, virtually alone. My husband has been working 2.5 hours away since February. He’s rarely home.
And today, today I want to give up.
I don’t, though. I don’t in the same way and for the same reasons none of us give up. How do I do it? How do we do it? We wake up and put one foot in front of the other, or maybe drag one foot in front of the other.
I’ve told my husband this year that his job has ruined my life. I don’t mean that. I said it in a fit of furious desperate exhaustion.
I do that. I say irrational things and feel sorry for myself.
I’ve yelled at my kids on the way out the door, with a hint of crazy, circling rage in a way that rocked me. I didn’t mean that. I sit down and explain.
I do that. I get angry, blame, lose my patience. Act terribly.
I get down. I get back up.
I write one blog post a week. Lately I’ve been pushing it to the 7th day. I used to publish on Tuesday. You’ll note today is Friday.
I do that. I push things to the very end of the possible deadline because I FUCKING DON’T WANT TO because I’m uninspired and sucked dry.
I write badly. I publish things I don’t love. I don’t take myself too fucking seriously. I cut myself some slack. I trust I’m learning from all of it, that every piece of writing makes me a better writer. I write silly things. I sing in the car. I act like a fool.
The B.S. will pass.
It’s hard to create anything in the meantime, in monotony, the exhaustion and frustration, when all I want to do is watch “Mindy Project” and play Candy Crush. But I do it anyway, because if I sat around waiting for inspiration to strike I’d never write a fucking thing. If I waited for the muse to tap me on the shoulder I wouldn’t have written a word the whole of 2015, because the muse is hard to see through the haze of self-pity. Sometimes, as Stephen King says, we have to get down in the basement and do the fucking grunt work SO THAT the muse can visit us. We think she shows up uninvited. I believe we have to ask her to come, every day.
My job is to do the work in front of me and trust that the magic will show up.
(You got a better idea?)
I do that. I check out. I zone out. I whine. Then I show up again.
I’ve gotten a bunch of frozen food from Costco. We eat it when I’m too tired to move at the end of the day. My mom helps me drive Rocket to swim practice, Georgia to dance, Ava to piano. The laundry mocks me from every basket. I sit on the floor and read a story to Arlo. He makes the “milk” sign and I make a face. He nurses for 1-minute intervals. By the 6th time we do it, I’m done. I feel guilty. I haven’t seen him all day.
Why can’t we just read books? Why can’t we just hang out? Shit.
I get up off the floor, because I don’t have it in me to nurse my flailing toddler every 70 seconds. I’m sorry, baby. I look at the clock. 5pm. Mac won’t be back for another hour. Dinner. Fuck. Dinner. I try to cook. Arlo clings to my legs, “me me me,” he says, to hold him. Me. Hold me. How precious. So goddamn precious. His tiny baby voice. I can’t, baby. I have to get some dinner on the table.
“Ava! Come and get the baby please!”
5:30pm. He’s never coming home. Damnit I need help.
The house, thrashed. Dishes from last night. Kid shit everywhere. Why won’t anybody pick up after themselves? Homework. Georgia jumping on the couch. My phone dings. It’s someone reminding me of something I was supposed to do today. Swimming is in 15 minutes. He didn’t do his homework again. Are the animals fed? Ava, I’m trying to listen to you tell me about 8th grade. But can you please take this baby? I don’t want him to get burned. Get ready for swimming. Eat your dinner. Get off the back of the couch.
6pm. The traffic must be bad today.
I stare into the distance or at the stove and curse the whole damn thing.
I do it badly. I do it strangely. I do it thrown-together-at-the-last-minute. I do it checking Facebook when I shouldn’t. I do it with the fraudulent filters of Instagram. I do it after the deadline. I do it without a clue. I do it with rage. I do it with gratitude. I do it with joy.
I DO IT BECAUSE I DON’T KNOW WHAT THE FUCK ELSE TO DO.
But I never, ever, do it with “balance.”
In fact, I’d like to drop-kick every motivational speaker out there who insists that if we would just FOCUS and GET OUR SHIT TOGETHER, life would roll out in smooth rhythms of creative genius and equilibrium.
Fuck their rhythms. Fuck their Earl Gray and candles. Fuck their rituals and “time-saving tips.”
My life is a cluster and my emotional state jacked up, anxiety-and-depression-prone, and the circumstances of my existence are about as consistent and predictable as a 3-year-old on hot chocolate. (If we were braver, we might all admit that life is just this way.)
Does this mean I don’t get in on the creativity? The art? The beauty?
No. Because this is where my humanity lies, and the great truth and freedom of my life is that even in my brokenness, my weakness, my contradiction and inconsistency, I get what I need. I get what I need to love my children. To work as a partner to my husband. To be an okay mom to a few beautiful okay kids.
I get what I need to write the words. I get what I need to take a breath, kiss, hug, cry, feel the softness of my baby’s palm against my skin.
I can’t see it today. I can’t hold it and I can’t define it and I can’t even remember it sometimes, but there is a power, a love, that keeps me going, picks me up, lifts my voice over the gray and haze.
In the end, no matter what, I know I have what I need to speak my truth, right here on the ground with the laundry and dust and baby, even if my voice cracks in tiny whispers, it’s enough.
It finds its way to you.
You throw me some magic in return. And we both keep going.
Join me for a writing workshop in January.
Let’s write through the mess together.