Puttering is my dominant activity of late. Not in the curious, playful way your dad used to putter in the garage on Saturdays. I putter with purpose. That purpose is avoidance.
When I updated my Facebook profile with ‘work’ [aw, that’s cute, love], it was absolutely no accident that I identified myself as Writer/Procrastinator.
People have been asking what I write. I mean, I introduce myself as a writer. But I haven’t constructed much of a speech beyond that. Babysteps, friends! Writer alone took a few decades to finally claim. Do I have to decide if I am a Freelancer? Blogger? Ink witch of the Dark Lord Metaphor?
Let me be clear, it’s not you, it’s me. It’s never the mean-spirited swipe that I imagine, but an innocent, ‘oh, what do you write?’ gets run through my shame translator, and I hear: ‘so, what do you make?’ I’m quite sure I *imagine* the smirk while I stammer and sputter.
Still. Polite conversation doesn’t seem the right place to declare that I write so I don’t go crazy, and I will probably never make dollar one from any of my efforts, so back off already. [who are you yelling at, love?]
It’s been a long few weeks. The gremlins won’t leave me alone. I have seen the enemy, and it is me.
Clean ALL the things/delay at all costs
I’ve been at my desk, though. That must count. Creating a color-coded stickie note outline on my wall? Trashing old digital files and tidying up my hard drive? Shuffling paper piles into new decks of creative chaos? Marginally useful, and with some sense of accomplishment, I suppose, but zero creating. Not a single sentence written.
Then, oh boy. Once I start baking and cleaning, it’s certain that I am avoiding something. Worse, I can’t even skirt that knowledge, and enjoy my muffins in peace [paleo-blueberry-chai? Holy yum, yes]. Delay is my only defense. My clean windshield is foggy again with phantom wisps of fear.
Hiding, but from what? I try to remember someone quoting someone else, sage and Oprah-like, ‘keep your shadow side in front of you; it can only take you out from behind.’
My last post left me wrung out and on the verge of a total personality split. Maybe it should come as more of a relief, discovering shit’s cool, man, you’re just an introvert. Seriously, what’s the biggie, yo? You like quiet. You like to read. Crowds make you angry. You like deep conversation. It’s a personality style, not a failing.
Honestly, after a lifetime of laboring under the assumption that you’re flawed and nuts and should try be different, dammit, introversion should not be a scary diagnosis. Most of the behaviors and attitudes that I always criticized in myself…there is a single word that explains them, makes them un-weird. Introvert? Not scary. Truly, it’s been some of the best news of my life.
So why don’t I feel better?
In addition to a spastic application of office supplies, I have spent a lot of time clicking around mindlessly on Facebook. Scrolling down my Twitter feed, eyes glazed, hoping to find something to share or retweet [while I still can], so it looks like I am, you know, actually *doing something*. Then making endless trips to the pantry for justonemoreslice of dried mango.
This last bit especially gives me pause. Already worried that my addiction is not only rearing up harsh and stronger, now I wonder if it is also shape-shifting. First, a quick gut-check: can I really call it a complete sugar abstention? I mean don’t we have to count the 1.5 pounds of dried mango every week during the month of March? The Whole30 folks would not call this ‘limited/moderation’. But back to my antibiotic-resistant shapeshifting addiction. “No cupcakes? No wine? Fine.” says my amygdala, “…I’ll just have the entire Internet, then.” Shit. Enter a new layer of numb.
What I really want to say is this: as happy as I have been to be writing, the revelations just started coming too fast, and I got scared. I told myself I needed a ‘break from the conversation’ that I was so sure I needed to have with myself. And I did/do. It’s a hard truth to absorb, that you’ve been lying to yourself about the most basic things.
I’ve been living as an extrovert, and chiding myself for not being better at it. I can put on what Susan Cain calls the ‘dog and pony show’ with little effort and staggering quickness. I pay the price later, though, and must solo recoup. That, and I always thought I should *enjoy things* more. I’ve gotten so upset with myself when I want to bail early, skip entirely or go through with something only after enduring a crippling spasm of anxiety.
“It’ll be fun!” they said. “Why don’t you ever want to try something new?” they said. “Just relax.” they said. Well, I relax on my couch, with a book and a cup of tea. Or in Muir Woods, alone. Or on a train, also alone. Where I get to indulge in my weirdest thoughts and deepest questions. I’m good company, I’ve heard myself say.
Instead, I let myself get shamed and hassled into being someone I wasn’t. It’s the worst kind of betrayal, for which I haven’t yet forgiven myself. I was the biggest dick heckler of them all.
So. Things have kind of tilted and spun and wobbled in place over this, and I haven’t quite gotten footing yet. Apply mango, close laptop and call when it all blows over.
Ego or Calling/Important or Essential
A few bright sides, though. All this puttering has yielded some cool and relevant finds. These have led to smaller, mercifully more palatable revelations. I especially liked this article on Ego versus Calling. Reading it, I realized that I don’t have to spring for a single binary explanation, as I am so apt to do. I don’t have to pick one namesake, one title, one purpose to pursue in life. More than a few researchers call this ‘living the slash.’ Researcher/storyteller. Banker/jewelry maker. Teacher/musician. Writer/activist.
But the order before and after the slash is pretty telling.
For me, it’s respecting the tension between essential and important. Like most people, I bristle at anything attributed to Ego. Still, I see the truth when it shows itself, and fail miserably in any struggle to unsee it. Just because something is not my soul calling, doesn’t mean it’s not important to me, and to the world. I can give time to important Ego tasks as long as I am careful to not sacrifice Calling. For many people, this is moot, work is work. I know my position is one of luxury. Yet another solid reason to be careful with my time…stay at home mom guilt.
If I find myself giving too much to Ego things [evening committee meetings, I’m talking to you], I know I am trapped in the hustle…flirting with dangerous logic: do enough, therefore be enough. There are incredible people out there for whom my important is truly essential. My voice matters, but we all must guard against coming up hoarse at the very moment we need to shout. Our time and our energy is finite.
Living the slash/minding the gap
Predictably, my slash splits along extrovert/introvert lines. Writing, a decidedly introverted quest, is my essential. The less time I have to devote to it leaves me feeling untethered and restless. In fact, I wonder if much of my listless puttering may have been a restless need to write, without enough time to do it justice. Beyond my recent emotional discomfort, I have had a larger than usual meeting burden to manage recently. Cautionary tale: committee-heavy straining left me nothing to put on the page, where I needed it most.
Writing grounds me to life—in all its quirk and pain and color—in a way that nothing else does. I love my extroverted work as an activist, but I could stop tomorrow and I know life would go on. Meaning, I wouldn’t end up depressed, wearing a fetching pair of crazypants. Make no mistake, I would still feel the compulsion to act, and react viscerally to the news with a propellant rage to Make Things Better. But it will never tether me the way writing does. It is important, but not essential.
So, what to do then? Watch the ego, feed the calling. Make inward my default, and outward my choice. Keep reading Sophia Dembling and Susan Cain. Let others speak up in meetings when Chairs are called for. And, for chrissakes, keep the laptop open…there is no blowing over. No hiding, no delay, no numbing will stave off the Truth. Put my head down and lean into that wind. What is now a slog will one day be a stroll. I hope.
[Oh, and love? Take it easy on the mango.]
What’s your slash? How do you balance it [or not]? Let me know in the comments.
Still seeking your slash? Check out this quiz to discover your greatest character strengths.