It’s one of the 5 Regrets of the Dying: I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. I think about it a lot when I go to bed at night or wake up in the morning and look at my days (and thus my life) and wonder, Am I doing this right?
I’ve always been resistant to the 8-to-5. It leaves so little room for whims or creativity. A helpful person once told me, it may seem like we give too much of ourselves to the day job, but it’s really only a third of our life–eight hours for them, eight hours for sleep, eight hours for us. The math mostly works out, except when you consider that for most of us non-early risers, our waking hours before work are devoted to getting ready for work (or school drop-offs then work). The math also doesn’t take into account how much of the rest of our lives is a type of work as obligatory as the 8-to-5, e.g., getting the kids to and from their obligatory things, bill paying, grocery shopping, meal preparation, household chores.
Years ago, someone who lives with me jovially responded to my wish for different work, “You don’t want to work at all.” True, I said at the time, but it wasn’t true. I love work. I love bringing things into existence that weren’t there before. I love making things better than I found them. I love fulfilling a need or facing a challenge and overcoming it. My desire for work is not the problem.
The thing that haunts me is how long it takes me on the weekend to recover from the week. Alexander den Heijer, a self-proclaimed purposologist on Instagram has said, “You often feel tired not because you’ve done too much but because you’ve done too little of what sparks a light in you.”
It’s my entire goal for this year, to learn this. The goal was to “spend time each day” doing what makes my soul happy, but it’s really about learning. I have to first know what exactly sparks a light in me. Then I must learn to fit it in.
Austin Kleon regularly settles my soul with his thoughts and advice on being creative, and last week it happened when he said that he started making poems because it kept him alive….because “it makes life interesting enough that you don’t want to jump off a bridge.”
Is writing that for me? I write because I must, but I have mostly written books (one published memoir, two unpublished novels and a new novel in the works) because I want to escape the day job, because I want writing to be my living, because I want to wake up and face a day that’s mine. I believe I let go of that last year (2020 was surprisingly life-changing for me), but I have yet to find my way in this new world in which I create not for a living but to live.
I’m trying to figure out if writing can be that. Can I truly write a novel from the sheer fun of it instead of constantly thinking, Would an agent like this? Will it sell?
A novel doesn’t feel like a thing you write for yourself, for the sheer joy of it. It feels like a thing you write to succeed. I’m doing my best to shake loose from that idea. It’s a novel that could be just for me. I think I could enjoy it. Didn’t I enjoy the last one? I think I did. It’s hard to tell because I wrote it before the revelation.
Let’s see if I can learn this whole messy thing, how to work enough (building up the black, for instance, because many of our work problems stem from the fact that it’s a circle of money coming in and money going out without the achievement of a goal) and how to make the day a little more mine by finding what sparks a light in me and doing it.
There’s no way I was born to just pay bills and die. Someone on Pinterest said that. I wonder if it satisfied them to say it in black letters on a pink background for all the world to pin and share and quote despite the fact that I have no idea who they are.
I wonder what will be enough for me.
(this post was updated to accurately (I hope) give credit for the “sparks a light in you” quote)