Some of you may already know already that my day job is not a day job. It is, in fact, a nights & weekends job. I’m one of those lucky perpetual adolescents who can make a living doing theater. This means none of my pants are new, I know which Ramen is the good Ramen, and my work schedule ebbs & flows like the leak in my water filter. Once every other month or so I work like a madman for 2 weeks, then we open the play and everything settles into a routine, and I work more like a congressman.
For those two weeks of crazy, everything gets put off like a supreme court nominee. Sleep? After opening night. Dishes? After opening night. Laundry? Well, look who thinks he’s the queen of England. Shall I fetch the stain stick your majesty?
All this is by way of saying that I’m professionally suited to putting stuff off. To everything there is a season. And that season is after opening night, dammit.
This life-triage gets plenty of use as a parent. Except instead of “after opening night” it’s either “after he goes to sleep” or “sometime in the next 20 years.”
I remember that first month back to work after Little Man made his entrance (or, technically, his exit) into the world. If I showed up to work on time, fully dressed and functionally awake, everything else could wait.
And now for something completely different.
A few months ago there was a huffpo article making the rounds on the facetagrams and the chatsnaps. It basically told all the creative types to chill out. If you’re having writer’s block, then relax, wait, you’re inspiration just hasn’t come. If you’re struggling with a painting that’s not coming together, then it just isn’t the time. The planets – the article said, in so many words – may not be aligned for you know. Don’t worry about it, the article said. Things will get better for you, just wait. The article said.
Which is bullshit.
As a writer, I’m going to tell you something and I want you to hear me when I say this: never, ever give a writer an excuse not to write. We have those. We have all of those already. If you’re having writer’s block, the last thing you should do is not write. What you need to do is not think. Copy somebody else’s stuff for a couple pages, write stream of consciousness, write what you’ve already written backwards. Work the muscle lightly till the cramp clears. If you don’t think your novel is any good, then write a bad novel. Write the worst novel known to literature. Because, unlike waiting for your inspiration, at the end of the process at least you will have written a novel.
And I’d extend this to painting, or wood-turning, or seed-portraiture or whatever discipline you’re in: if you’re struggling while making art, then make more art. Make crappy art fast and in great quantities for no one but yourself. Life will change – whatever circumstances you think are blocking you will change eventually. But then something else will come up, and instead of developing habits and routines and tricks that keep you creating you’ve been waiting for the damn planets to align.
Which brings us back to parenting.
There is no excuse like a baby. Especially for the introvert home body. Hygiene, appearance, courtesy, coherent speech – failures in any or all of these areas can totally be excused by a baby. Basically, a baby lets you look and act like a homeless dude.
And you can ride that train. It’s there. You earned it. But I found, as I was out in the world, interacting with other humans, that patience, like toilet paper, will eventually run out. And, like toilet paper, it never happens at a good time. There is no answer to the baby card once it’s played, it is the crane kick to vanquish all cobra kai. But only a jerk walks around in crane stance waiting to drop people.
There comes a time for every parent when the kid can no longer be an excuse for not having your act together. That time can be when the kid’s 18. Or when he’s 8. Or when he’s 8 months. There’s no right answer here, but, as with creating art, if you’re waiting for things to get better, they won’t. You’re always gonna worry. You’ll never have enough sleep again. The list of household chores, and emails/texts/calls to return, the pile of dishes – it never gets shorter, not for more than a few hours. It’s not about the circumstances changing, it’s about you. It’s about digging deeper, adding 5 minutes on to your allotted commute to make sure the stains are small and mostly out of sight. It’s about taking time after work to hang out with your coworkers even though you’ll be up in 4 hours. It’s about being a guy who supports the people around him rather than someone needing support.
And it sucks. And it can only be accomplished in tiny, steady steps.
I think what that huffpo article was trying (and failing) to do was teach people to forgive themselves. I think, as parents, we come to drown ourselves in the needs of others, in the expectations of lists and bills and obligations. It’s a drastic thing to completely surrender the idea that your life is about you, instead of this other little person. And eventually you do catch up to yourself, and then you try to implement these changes that I’m talking about. You try to return to some semblance of functional adult. And I’m just gonna tell you now: you’re going to fail. You’re gonna fail a bunch. It’s gonna be like junior high again. But it’s okay. Forgive yourself. Everybody fails. Batman failed, like, lots of times. Try again. Keep trying. Everybody’s trying, nobody really has it figured out, they’ve just been trying for longer.
But don’t wait for the perfect set up. It’s not coming. Anybody who tells you different is over 40 and does their parents’ laundry for an allowance.