I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed.
By the time I get to Thursday, I will have spent an entire two weeks without a single day to myself. There are all sorts of reasons for that, mostly teaching (I’ve been holding student conferences, which sometimes means meeting with students for five hours a day) and Boskone, which was a wonderful convention but also exhausting. I have all sorts of things I need to get done, most of them by the end of the month, and I’m simply overwhelmed with work. I suppose the good thing is that it’s work I want to do: teaching and writing, mostly. But that doesn’t help much when you’re feeling the overwhelm.
That’s what I call it, the overwhelm. It feels like a place I’m in the middle of, as well as a state of mind. It’s a place where I haven’t gotten enough sleep in a long time, and so I’m tired and a bit despondent, and wondering why I’m doing any of this anyway. It’s a place where I doubt myself.
It’s a place where I don’t want to talk to people anymore. Where I just want to curl up in bed, eat almonds and chocolate, and read murder mysteries. Or watch Murder, She Wrote, one episode after another. Anything having to do with people killing other people, and then a clever detective (preferably female) figuring out how and why. I suppose it’s a misanthropic impulse, as well as a sign of empathetic burnout. The last thing I want to do is feel anymore. I want clean, clear rationality, a sifting of clues.
But of course I can’t do that. Tonight I have to prepare for class tomorrow, and I have emails to send. People people people — it’s all about people, isn’t it? It’s all making contact, either in person or electronically. And the truth is that I love people — I find them fascinating. If I didn’t, I couldn’t be a writer. I love teaching: my students are smart and interesting and funny (sometimes unintentionally so), my graduate students are brilliant. But people are overwhelming, for an introvert.
I’ve been an introvert since I was a child. When I was a teenager, I use to have a fantasy: that I could go away and live in the forest, in a castle, and be a sorceress. That would be my job description, sorceress. I would have a magical mirror, in which I could see whatever was happening, all over the world. But I wouldn’t have to participate. I could just stay in my castle . . . I suppose it’s a classic fantasy, for an introvert.
Sometimes I wish I could just write — live in a small house in the forest and write books, stories, poems. That’s the more realistic version of being a sorceress and living in a castle, I suppose. I would still have the internet: that would be my magic mirror. I could watch the world. But I know people who’ve done that, just written, and it’s very, very hard. Hard to eat, hard to pay rent. Not many of us have the luxury of cutting ourselves off from the world.
So what should I do? The only thing to do, really, is to become the forest, become the castle. To do what I have to, participate to the extent I must, but create a space within myself where I can be calm, where I can rest. Where I’m not so worried about getting up, getting where I need to go, that I set two alarm clocks in the morning. I mean, I still need to do that in real life. But there must be an imaginary life I can create where it’s not necessary. And I do have to get to Thursday, when hopefully I can rest just a little, before I start the mad scramble of trying to catch up.
Sometimes I think life shouldn’t be quite so overwhelming, but that’s what happens when you want to be a teacher and a writer. If I were trying to do less, it would all be easier, so really I have only myself to blame. Still, it’s a hard place to be, the overwhelm. Especially when you can’t see when you’re going to get out of it. (Thursday, I tell myself. On Thursday, I’ll get some rest.)
The truth is that I didn’t even want to write this, because that’s more communication, with more people (although you are lovely people, who read this). But I haven’t written a blog post for a while (and this is why), so I thought I should. And also, it’s good sometimes to talk about the things that aren’t working, that aren’t the way you want them to be. I want to do everything I’m doing, but I don’t want to be overwhelmed by it, and I want more than five hours of sleep a night, and I want to be able to do laundry, and shop for groceries. I want to write new stories . . .
This is what it feels like, in the overwhelm. It feels exhausting, and anxious, and filled with doubt. Will I ever be the writer I want to be? Will I ever be able to do the things I want to?
And then, because I’m a big girl, I look at my to-do list and think, one step at a time. Do the things, cross them off, it will get done. Have dinner, rest for a little while, get back to it. Sometimes you just have to keep your head down and do the work. That’s what it’s like in the overwhelm, but there is another side. I remember what it was like, that summer I went to Budapest and lived alone for six weeks, and wandered around the city, and took Hungarian classes. I remember being blissfully happy, waking up in the morning to birdsong in the park and sunlight through the windows. That exists, and I’ll get back there. In the meantime, I’m going to do the work, hoping it will get me to my goals. As, honestly, even writing this blog post has.
(This is future me in my castle in the forest. I have invisible gardeners, because of course I do. The illustration is by Charles Robinson.)