Just Out

I could feel the panic rising almost immediately.  I was at a seminar on Saturday with a number of colleagues in my field, and one of them had a book just out that another of my friends was passing around.  It was my colleague's fourth book (I still have only one, plus an edited volume), but although she is some years senior to me, it didn't help.  The demons were already chattering.

"Where is your second book?"  "Why have you been so lazy?"  "Look, she's been able to publish two books since your first one came out."  "You're falling behind."  "You've already lost it."  "You're hopeless."  "Give it up."

I tried to look calmly at the table of contents and get some sense of what the argument was, but I could barely see straight enough to read the title, never mind absorb anything of what the book was actually about.  All I could see was Another Book When I Still Have Only Published One.  So I passed it along to my neighbor.  And tried to sit with it.

I'm finding it easier now to recall the panic than the somewhat more calming thoughts I came up with then.  About how perhaps one of the reasons that I panic on occasions like this is because it is a new book that I know I am going to want to read but that I had not planned on having to read because I didn't know it was coming out.  About how the problem is not, therefore, that my colleague has published another book (loads of colleagues publish loads of books that I never manage to read), but that I need rather to declutter my office as well as my home so as to make room for the new things that I want to take on.  About how the answer to sitting with this panic is to hold onto my purpose rather than bating at everything that other people do.

But it's hard.  I want to have published another book, maybe even two or three more.  I want to feel like I've accomplished something more than just one thing.  I want to be, yes, okay, somebody other than me.  Still.  I want not to be so afraid.

Actually, even though I'm feeling fairly panicked at the moment, I know that there is a way out of this fear, or, at least, an answer to what the fear is trying to tell me.  I'm panicked because I'm afraid that there is something that I should have learned (about the materials in my field, about how to write, about what my purpose actually is) that I haven't, and I am worried that I never will.  But just because I'm afraid does not mean that I have been doing anything wrong.  I have been working on the revisions to my article, which, if they work, will enable me to publish it, hopefully, soon.  I am already halfway through the first draft of the translation that I started last spring.  And I have found all sorts of sources that I didn't know about a year and a half ago that will enable me to write the next part of my next book.  All I need to do is keep to my writing time and, yes, trust the process.

But it's hard.    I was talking on the phone this evening to another colleague who has published more than I can imagine ever taking on, and I started panicking listening to her describing her work day.  Cue demons (see above).   Fight demons.  "Breathe.  Know your purpose.  Breathe.  Trust the process."  Which is what I was trying to tell her as she described not getting enough sleep, only I can't because part of me still believes that the only way to work is flat out.  That if I am not utterly exhausted at the end of the day, I'm just not trying hard enough.

"Breathe.  It's so easy to be jealous of others' success, to feel that somehow their work detracts from yours.  But it's not true.  Publications beget more publications.  God has lots of ideas.  You have lots of ideas; it's not as if you're even close to running out.  The key is to keep working, a little at a time, 90 minutes at a time, with full concentration and lots of rest." 

Oh, that is so much more easily said than done!


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