If envy turned you green, there are days I would look like a cucumber.
At the moment, I’m reading Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life. In it, she talks about how difficult writing is: how you sit down each morning in front of the blank page, and you have to fill it. She describes her writing routine, which involves writing in the morning, revising in the afternoon, in a room of her house in rural Connecticut. And I find myself envying her.
This is what my writing routine looked like yesterday: In the morning, I got up and prepared for class, which involved grading the papers I had not gotten to the night before. I went over my lesson plan, made sure I knew what I would be talking about that day. Then I taught my morning class. Back for lunch and to drop off my laptop. Then I taught my two afternoon classes. Then I went directly to physical therapy — usually I would have office hours, but it was the only time this week I could schedule an appointment, so I moved my office hours to another day. The physical therapy helps me so much — makes it so much easier for me to do my teaching and writing — that I don’t want to miss a week. Being able to write without back pain is a wonderful, wonderful thing!
Then I had time to run to the grocery store for oatmeal and sugar, and when I got back, it was time to Skype with one of my graduate students. Then dinner. Then a bath. And then, finally then, at about 9 p.m., I sat down in front of my computer, honestly feeling a sense of despair because I had not been able to write for about a week — all the other days had been even busier. Finally, I had time to write, and I didn’t even know if I wanted to.
But I started anyway, because one of my mottoes is “Do it anyway.” So I started, and then I was up writing until midnight, because once I started, I didn’t want to stop. I need to get back to novel revisions, but first I need to finish all the administrative work that one is given at the beginning of any semester. I’m almost done, but in the meantime, I wanted to write something else to clear my head — so I’m writing a fairy tale, called “Red as Blood and White as Bone.”
But envy . . . I envy other writers their time, their space, their financial resources. Their awards.
The way I’ve found to deal with envy is to tell myself, quite sternly, “All right, you can have everything she has. But you have to be her. Do you want to be her?” And when I think about it, I realize that I don’t. Do I want to be Dani Shapiro? No. She seems lovely, but no. Her childhood was a mess, and while my childhood was a mess too, at least it was my childhood, my mess. Would I have wanted to go to Sarah Lawrence, then get married and live in rural Connecticut? Sure, I hated law school, and sure, it was difficult getting through my PhD. But the furniture of my mind includes Alan Dershowitz and Derrida, and I would not trade that furniture. Not even for more comfortable furniture.
I want to be the writer I am, not the writer she is, even if that means being less successful. Even if it means working very hard, and being tired all the time. And trying, day after day, to find the time to write . . .
There is a day, in the life of every writer, when you realize that you have to cut your own path through the forest. That day, you look at the trees in front of you, and you feel your heart sink with despair. Because you just don’t think you can do it.
And then, you start to do it anyway. One tree at a time, one word at a time.