Like many writers, I court my obsessions and I fear them.
When I sink into a subject, I’m simply gone, I’m in love. It’s all I think about. And frankly, it’s annoying to be around a person who is in the depths of obsessive love. I had dinner with a friend in this state not that long ago. When we talked about her fella, I had her full attention. When the conversation strayed to other topics, she’d surreptitiously check her phone under the table to see if there was a text from him.
What can you do? We’ve all been there. And it’s far, far worse when you’re trapped inside your own head with this obsessive creature. When I get into what I’m writing about, I don’t move. My neck hurts, my body hurts, I forget to eat…I forget where I live, I forget that I can go out and sit in the park, or go to a gallery. I do not take good care of myself. The part of me that needs to take a break is totally overridden by the part of me that has been consumed by the work. I suddenly live in a fanatical, totalitarian regime, in which I am both the slave and the dictator.
I actually spent a few years living under this dictatorship, when I was putting my then-husband through grad school in Manhattan and I had to earn – allow me to use the technical term – shitloads of money, which I did by freelancing for magazines. One afternoon I was persuaded away from my desk, to go see Wicked on Broadway, I and when the lights went down I started crying because I was just so relieved to not be working that afternoon.
It’s not surprising that these years of intense effort burned me out, and I mean they burned me badly. We tend to admire people who drive themselves in that way – Lord knows, I got a bunch of admiration for earning six figures as a freelancer.
But honestly, my work style was a big problem then that continues to affect me today. Because ever since I’ve been a greater or lesser state of resistance to work as it comes in from others, and even as it comes from myself. I’m resisting new ideas, new juicy wonderful ideas, because I don’t want to disappear from myself, from my life and from everyone and everything else. On the other hand, that feeling of engagement – that feeling of being in love, or as the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has called it, being in flow, is basically why I like being alive.
Which makes this an existential conflict.
This is the challenge I’ve been working on, then: how to have some sort of a balance in my writing life? How to have time where I sink in and produce in the way that I like to, and not enter into a state of slavery. How do I stay conscious enough so that I can avoid ruining my life while pursuing my writing?