The Way of the Turbit

Okay, so in retrospect, that was more than a little bit manic last week.  Kinda like deciding to start exercising a little bit every day and then trying to work out four times a day and/or every chance you can get.  No wonder I crashed and burned.  And yet, oddly, I do think that the experiment worked. 

Because, truth to tell, even in the midst of the flames, I did learn something.†  Several things. 

One, and perhaps most importantly, it is possible to find a half hour a day for writing, even on what might otherwise feel like wholly impossible days.  And, two, doing so curiously means that the days themselves feel less impossible, less pressured.  But, three, and this is probably equally important as one and two, this does not necessarily mean trying to finish a piece of writing (no, not even a blog post) in any one segment of time that has somehow miraculously opened up.  What it means is allowing oneself to come back to the writing every so often during the day, ideally, at least (perhaps even at most) once a day, just to keep the ideas fresh.  And to work on them every day so as to help make them strong. 

Just, in fact, like exercising.  Nobody expects to be able to get in shape (not after the first or second day of incredibly sore muscles, that is) in a day or two.  Why then should we expect to be able to write in that way?  You need to work at things gently over a long period of time to see real improvement, right?  Slow and steady wins the race and all that.  Except maybe that's not the right image either.  It's not a marathon, after all.  It's not like the turtle has to keep moving absolutely every minute of the day in order to make progress. 

Perhaps, after all, it's really the rabbit who has the right idea: work a little, rest a little.  Don't worry about the competition because it isn't going to catch up.  Except that would seem to be like what I have been doing (minus the insouciance about the competition): binge, crash, binge, crash.  So maybe that isn't the answer either.

Let's invent a new animal.  The turbit.  On the one hand, the turbit is patient.  She knows that things like writing well (and, oh, let's see, learning to fence) take time.  It's okay if progress is so slow as to be imperceptible.  The point is the regular practice.  But, on the other hand, the turbit knows that it is important to work for a bit and then stop, not just keep plodding and plodding and plodding along without a break.  Work for a bit and then stop to take the dog out to play.  Work for a bit and then stop to spend some time with one's family.  Work for a bit and then stop, without trying necessarily to finish anything, confident that she can come back to the work tomorrow (and will come back to the work tomorrow), so that she doesn't need to work herself into the ground today just to get done.

It's odd.  I've always prided myself on working to deadlines, being able to keep to schedule.  Whatever its failings (I would always tell myself), at least I got that paper in on time.  At least I made it to the finish line, no matter how much plodding it took.  I didn't give up.  Except that I did.  I gave up on myself as a writer every time I assumed that that was the best that I could do.  Plus, I was so anxious to prove (mainly to myself) that I could get to the finish line, I didn't even enjoy the race (well, not as much as I might have; I doubt I would have survived thus far if I hadn't actually enjoyed the writing at all).  But I was good at deadlines, yessir.  Until, of course, I wasn't.

I looked at myself in the mirror this morning and saw someone I hadn't really seen before: an old woman.  Old.  Not just mature, but old.  Tired.  My skin sagging and my eyes dim.  It was a trick of the light, I'm fairly sure.  Plus, I hadn't washed my hair because I'm out of my good shampoo and I had to use the bad stuff yesterday.  But old. 

And then I thought to myself, "What's the point?  What's the point in spending another minute of your life doing something that you don't want to do?  What's the point in holding yourself back?  What are you waiting for?  Write!  Write whatever you want, whatever you most wish you had written.  Because you are going to die and then who will write what you would have written?  Answer: no one.  You indeed are the only one who can write what you want to say and you don't have to apologize for wanting to say it.  There is no point in being a turtle, trying always to keep yourself safe by not sticking your neck (or arms or legs) out.  Be a rabbit!  Say what you damn well please.  It's now or never--and never is a long time."

And yet, there's no rush.  Yes, one day I am going to die.  But today is the day that I have in which to live and today I am not going to grind myself into the ground simply in order to meet a deadline.  Neither, however, am I going to spend it doing something other than the most important thing that I have to do, which is write.  I am not going to go to a seminar that I'm not really interested in.  I am not going to worry about taking care of everyone else's work.  I am going to do mine first.  And if that is all that I have energy for in the day, so be it.  Somebody else can take care of those other things, but only I can do my own work.

And then, when I need a rest, I will rest.  So there.

†Plus I got a sermon out of it.  Which, to judge from the responses I've gotten (thanks, everyone!), isn't nearly as bad as I was worried it might be while I was still in the throes of the manic attack.


  1. Sometimes the most useful part of any endeavor is knowing when to stop pushing and leave it alone for a bit. Gives the right brain some time to process.


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