Fear of New Beginnings; or, I’m Resigning (and some writing stuff)

I originally published this post with Anxiety Ink on Monday, May 14th, which is weirdly fitting since it was also my dad’s 75th birthday. I don’t normally do the cross-posting thing, but it’s a pretty big deal.

Is there a term for the fear of new beginnings? Or perhaps it’s more a fear of endings. (I just finished reading Carrie Jones’s Need* series, in which the main character “collects” phobias and recites them when nervous or scared.) Maybe it’s just called “being human.”

I have this on my mind because I just finished typing my resignation letter for the day job. After eleven years in the wilds of post-college adulthood and employment, four and a half of which I’ve been at my current location, I’m leaving.

I thought it would be easier. After all, I’ve only dreamed of this my entire adult life – possibly earlier. But it feels a bit like that time I rolled off a ledge into a thirty-foot drop.

My mother did the stay-at-home-mom thing, and I think our mothers’ choices often define the standards we set for ourselves. Unfortunately, that isn’t making this any easier.

The status quo – in this case, the day job – offers comfort. Or maybe that’s complacency. Comfort of a paycheck, certainly. Relying on one income is difficult, to say the least (especially with a baby), and would not be really feasible without supplementing from savings. I am beyond fortunate that this is an option, even for just a year or two.

But my current, soon-to-be-ending job has also provided me with a safety net career. Apparently, municipal administration is work I can do – and do well – without feeling like I have to sacrifice a part of my soul. When I leave the standard workforce, I have no guarantee it will welcome me back.

And in the type of parallel that rarely happens to me, I feel a similar reluctance in my writing life.

I’ve finished the novel revisions. I am in the process of typing them up and, for the last few weeks, have been searching for a new project to fill the gap.

This draft is my last before I send it out un the world, to fly or fail. There will always be things I can improve, but the story is truly as strong as I can make it. Holding onto it longer would be no more than a delaying tactic – procrastination at its finest.

My indecision and ambivalence towards the next project, whatever it might be, is that same sort of fear as leaving the day job: the fear of new beginnings. The fear of leaving behind the comfortable and familiar and embracing the pure potential of the unknown.

For now, I’m structuring a schedule of my own – a framework to replace the day job. I am attempting to fill the space when I worked on revising the novel with reading until I can make a decision on my next project. Maybe I’ll make a little progress on my to-read pile (don’t laugh too hard)! At the very least, I’ll be refilling the well. It feels pretty dry, these days, when I think about working on new stories.

So I know I’m facing my fear, but it’s still scary.

*The Need series is wonderful and you should totally go read it. Because Carrie is a fabulous human being, and evil pixies, and because it takes place here, in my corner of the world.

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And so it continues…

Figuring out this whole creative mommyhood thing feels a lot like Sisyphus with his boulder. I find the magic formula, only to have it all roll away from me again.

With the prospect of a baby came the fear of losing myself – of not doing the things I love like writing and acting. The me who doesn’t do these things is not a happy or healthy me. I resent the things in my life that keep me from these things I love, but resenting a child for my own choices is simply not acceptable . That was never an option.

I attended a panel at Reader Con a few years ago where writers talked about writing while  parenting. General consensus seemed to be to expect to write off the first two years of a child’s life, creatively.

No, you don’t just stop creating (but don’t expect much from yourself), and yes, it depends greatly on the baby. So my takeaway: curtail expectations.

So I expected very little of myself with a newborn. But the need to create something kept punching its way out. Like the apple crisp I made the week after we got home with her from the hospital. It may have taken me six hours, but I made something, damn it. And writing? Writing was slow, but it happened.

Yet somehow, my brain failed to apply that same expectation to theatre. At first, I thought I’d be able to do a show this summer. She’d be with me for at least some rehearsals, but it would still be me doing a think I love. I did that New Year’s Eve coffee shop reading. I auditioned for the summer show. The director even offered me a role, but by then I knew it just wouldn’t work.

But I’ve found a happy medium: staged readings! A handful of rehearsals, a little blocking, some character work, and performances! (With scripts in hand.) I got the call offering me the role last week. Our read through is Monday, but I’m already ridiculously excited about the story and my character.

Only six rehearsals, but spanning a month and a half. Who wants to bet I’ll be off-book?

Starting a new production always makes me giddy. Being my first with a baby has some trepidation mixed in, while also bringing a not insignificant measure of relief. Relief at being back on a stage (it always feels a bit like homecoming), relief that I can do this now, relief that I don’t have to wait another year.

At least writing-wise, what I can (and how) accomplish keeps changing. This is going to throw another wrench into the equation. At least I’m adaptable!

Sparking

In case you’re tired of me always talking about the baby, let me tell you about sparking. I don’t mean the white-blue sparks that that arc and buzz and pop in an electrical outlet gone haywire. That shit’s likely to burn your house down. Flip the circuit breaker and call an electrician.

And if you want the house to burn? Follow the same procedure and also call a therapist.

I’m talking about story sparks. Those kernels that pop into your brain to spark like that faulty electrical outlet. The good sort of spark. The kind you want.

Unless creativity and imagination are the antithesis of all you hold dear, in which case, this blog is probably not for you.

The spark might be the way the reflected sunset turns a field to raspberry gold, or a cloud formation  that at first glance seems to contain a snow-capped mountain, or the recitation of a tongue twister that sounds like arcane chanting. It might fizzle and never develop into anything, or someday it might become that perfect descriptor or plot element. Maybe it will even keep sparking, take root and grow into a story all its own.

I like to set aside pages in my notebooks for these, but I recently discovered I hadn’t done that at all in the current one. When I’ve nearly filled it.

Apparently, I haven’t had many sparks in the last year or so. (And don’t even get me started on the fact I’ve taken nearly a year to fill a single notebook.) Droughts of inspiration are real, people. And they’re normal. They’re okay! Even if they’re beyond frustrating and demoralizing.

I’ve been in a drought for a while. A ton of creative energy goes into a baby! Obvious, I know, but I never anticipated it might contribute to creative burnout the way a novel draft might. No one warned me.

I wasn’t going to talk about the baby . . .

But maybe, I think, I’m starting to bounce back. I’m sparking again! And it’s wonderful. It feels good to be back.

Adventures With Baby

As the baby gets older, computer time grows harder. She sleeps less, so she sees me interacting with screens more, which is not behavior I want her to emulate. And these days, she has finite patience for me doing anything that does not involve either feeding her or helping her stand.

This girl is a standing fiend.

And what’s awesome for this writer-mom to see? The baby Loves text. She reaches for the manuscript I’m revising and grabs at her dad’s theatre show shirts. She stares in fascination at the many spines on our bookshelves.

So she’s a words baby.

And she endlessly stares at the bright rainbow bargello lap quilt her great-grandmother made. She scratches at the black/red/gold wall hanging of cats and reaches for the pillow cases in winter penguins, lime green and red-orange foxes, and cats in turquoise trees. Her great-grandmother made them all. The baby’s face when we walk into Gram’s sewing room? Priceless.

So she’s a fabrics baby.

And last weekend? She let me audition for Macbeth. In her five and a half months, I have taken her to see productions of Into the Woods and A Lion in Winter (where she was equally fascinated withe the stage lights and the acting), a staged reading I participated in, and two multi-hour theatre troupe meetings. All of which she suffered without meltdown. All with some glorious smiles.

So she’s a theatre baby.

And she sings! At only a few weeks old, she held a sustained, pitch-perfect note in her sleep. These days, she tries to sing along with me (less pitch-perfect, which is no less adorable). Her dad’s synth music programs can keep her entertained for hours.

So she’s a music baby.

I can’t wait to see what she makes when she starts creating for herself. But right now? It’s all distraction until the next meal or the next opportunity to stand.

2018. Finally.

I am occasionally superstitious. Of course, I can’t go for the conventional superstitions. Someone wishing me good luck before a performance, for example, doesn’t bother me, and I only avoid saying “Macbeth” out of respect for everyone I know who does take that seriously.

My husband doesn’t even like me to say it in the house.

But vibes/resonances? Those make sense to me. I mean, synchronicity can’t just be random coincidence. (Please, don’t start in on god. You won’t convert me.)

You know how there’s that transition period when a new year starts where you just can’t get the year right when writing the date? Well, four years ago, I wrote “2018.” Of course, I dismissed it as some weird fluke of subconscious number association. Except I caught myself doing that throughout the year. And every year since.

So what does 2018 have in store for me that I felt it four years out?

Maybe it will be wonderful. Just by the fact that I have my daughter to share this year with, it’s already wonderful. But maybe this is also the year my writing starts to become something like the career I’ve imagined. No, I can’t just sit back and expect it to happen. I’ll have to work my ass off and hope the stars align. After all, all the vibes and resonance in the universe can only offer me the potential.

Maybe 2018 will be terrible. With the puerile farce in the White House, chances of nuclear war and a thousand other tragedies are appallingly close. To say nothing of the countless other horrific possibilities of a more personal nature.

Or maybe it means nothing at all and this year will neither be fantastically good or horrifically bad.

All I really know is that I have an entire year ahead of me and I’m doing everything in my power to make it the best I can.

All I Want For Christmas

Is it normal to feel this unprepared for Christmas?

I mean, our Christmas tree has a single string of lights that ends partway up. That’s it. No other ornaments.

Presents? I usually find most of them by browsing and exploring, but not this year! Now, I wish I’d spent the pre-baby part of the year wrapping all that up. (wrapping! Get it?) I ordered some things online . . . which will arrive sometime next week.

Why didn’t anyone warn me? Except they probably did. I could not have understood this fractured inability to focus on anything not-baby without experiencing it.

But between my husband and me, we have at least a little something for all the usual suspects, even if we can’t gift everything right at Christmas. And tomorrow, the baby will spend some quality time in the swing chair or carseat while I do something with the tree.

Yeah, that’s a new development: she’ll let me set her down and get things done for up to half an hour, as long as she’s comfortably upright and can see me. Progress!

You know what else I should have been working on? My wish list. Granted, I’m terrible about coming up with one at any time. When anyone this year has asked me, I’ve had two items: a pack-and-play and an activity seat. Which are really for the baby.

I firmly believe a little dose of selfishness is a good thing, and it’s healthy to remember that I am not just a milk machine. Also, having a baby and working only part time means our finances are stretched thinner than my preference. So in light of self-interest, I want to share some items that should have been on my wish list:

    • Locus subscription so I know more about what’s going on in the SF/F writing world
    • A Duotrope subscription to help me find markets to submit stories to
    • Gift certificates to local bookstores
    • DVDs of shows like Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries or Slings and Arrows
    • A Hulu subscription so I can finally watch their version of Handmaid’s Tale
    • Donations toward my classes/workshops/cons fund (classes and workshops include theatre!)
    • A donation made in my name to a group or organization that does some good in the world, like Sustainable Harvest International

 

. . . And that’s a start. At least now I have a list to point people at the next time someone asks what I want. No brain required!

Still Learning

Babies operate on their own schedules, and good luck trying to dictate anything different!

I learned that more quickly and painfully when my daughter decided to cut what is usually a many hours- or even days-long process of arrival down to two hours. Of course, I knew this about babies years ago, but knowing something in theory is not the same as knowing through experience.

This does not mean I can’t have a writing schedule, but it does mean that my schedule follows no clock.

My little one has something of a routine. She wakes me up for the day most often between 6 and 7 am. Stages of eating might be interspersed with time in her play gym. She can keep herself occupied for up to half an hour or so, which gives me a chance to run around and get things done. As much as I’d like to use that time for writing, I use it for other necessary things like a bathroom break, making coffee, and shoveling food into my mouth before she realizes that mommy is eating when the baby is not.

A couple times, she’s played long enough for me to write a few sentences in the current story or get out a blog post. But I can’t count on that time.

This cycle of eat-burp-play, repeat as necessary, takes an average of two or three hours, often with a few eyelid inspections thrown in for good measure. Eventually, when she judges herself sufficiently full, she will sleep. And sleep and sleep.

So long as I’m holding her. And since this is generally the best time to write, I’ve become rather proficient at one-handed typing.

Afternoons? Well, I’m back at the day job three afternoons a week, for now. (Jury’s still out on whether I’ll have to revise that down.) The rest of the afternoons fill up quickly with visits and errands and attempts at cooking and chores.

Evenings are the crankiest, fussiest time of day, so my only other regular chance to write comes after she goes down for the night. If I can stay awake!

I managed a grand total of three sentences last night before falling asleep over the keyboard.

Yet despite being acutely aware of my limited time, I have more days when I don’t take that morning opportunity to write. Wise time management has ever lost out to my procrastination habit, and the phone now provides me with endless distraction when the baby tethers me to a chair.

Though perhaps – just perhaps – some subconscious part of me knows those are also my only times to sit and stare blankly, as this borderline introvert/extrovert occasionally needs.

Or maybe that’s just another excuse to procrastinate.

In any case, I’m learning how to fit writing with her schedule and it hasn’t entirely backfired. Yay, me!

And yay for a baby easier than I could have imagined.