A while back, maybe a year or even two ago, I read Steven Pressfield’s book Turning Pro. I then read the War of Art, not knowing that I had gotten the order out of whack. I really enjoyed everything that he had to say, and of course, like any creative I was inspired. That could be me! I thought. Of course, I had not yet hit those moments that he talked about, which are mostly getting out of your own way. Procrastination, perfectionism, distraction, vices, all of those things are what keep us from achieving our goals.
There’s a part in the book where he discussed knowing that moment when you turn pro.
He says that just like you remember where you were and what you were doing on 9/11, you’ll remember that moment when you realized you turned pro. For me, back then, I still hadn’t hit it. Recently, however, I believe I have.
I think it happened recently, amid all of these lockdowns and layoff threats and all the other crap going on in my life. But first, I want to talk about my Resistances.
Marriage and Divorce
I have mentioned before about my very messy, high-conflict divorce. My marriage and subsequent divorce was one of those distractions. In a weird way, it was self-imposed because I needed to hold myself back even then, and my ex-wife was sure as hell happy to oblige. Whatever money I made, she spent every dollar. Any time I had to myself, unless it was making money for her or spending time with her, was considered useless. Or I was abandoning her.
When you have kids, it is endless distraction and endless expense. It’s a law of diminishing returns, as a good writer friend of mine always used to say. Or as my girlfriend always says, “I’ve had to be Little Miss Responsible.” These are both true. I was the sole breadwinner when my kids were born and I was expected to stay the course at a job I never intended to make into a career just to keep the lights on. I wrote to escape. I wrote to keep my sanity, and most of the time, it was considered something that detracted from the Family. I could never hope to get good enough to do it because my labor was needed. Of course nobody else was stepping up to the plate to work, but yeah.
Even though writing was something my ex-spouse knew I wanted to do when we first met. It’s baffling how bad people want to bleed everything that is good out of you, to change you into something you are not.
After my divorce, I made the mistake of chasing someone who never had time for me, but insisted I was always available for them. They never outright said it. It was conditioning, and honestly, if I had better boundaries, I would have just walked away from it for good instead of getting sucked back into it. Well, fuck that noise. It was on-again-off-again, but it sure was a good way to distract myself from turning pro, that’s for sure. Since then I’ve discovered stability in a relationship, and how a healthy one allows you both to lift each other up instead of just walking on eggshells.
People just don’t get it
My family, my friends, and all sorts of people I know just don’t understand why I’m doing what I do. A couple times, I have even been told “well, you’re not a real writer.” You’d think that would get me fired up, but it really doesn’t. Especially depending on the source. Someone projecting their own doubts of their potential onto me, whom the are just illustrating they know nothing about.
The day job
The day job has been a major element of Resistance. Sitting at my desk for eight hours a day, I can honestly say that in the last 13 years of being there, I have become very efficient at what I do. The same crap that took me several hours to do might take half that time. So basically I respond to tasks, I fight fires. Above all else, I listen to a bunch of people in the office who never shut up because apparently they don’t have enough to do. Most days I put in my earbuds and I try to block out the jabber, because when you work in a fishbowl, you can kiss productivity goodbye.
This lockdown has shown me that in working from home, I can get a lot more done in the day because I don’t have endless distractions. I don’t have to physically or verbally respond to someone who reads an email or a text or an article online and just has to share it with everyone else. Even if (fuck that–ESPECIALLY if) it has nothing to do with the day job. This experience has been a lot like when you open a bag of potato chips and you discover how much of the bag is just air.
Everyday I get the passive aggressive emails of people announcing themselves, proving to everyone else that they are at their post and ready to work. Reporting for duty, sir! When all throughout the day, I can see via Microsoft Teams that their computer has been asleep for most of the day. Those icons are all yellow and red. You ain’t doing shit.
Epiphany hits and leaves welts
So, recently, I had a weird moment. My day job is laying off 65 or more employees within the next month. Then we will get to sit around for a month after that to make sure all the work gets done so the University doesn’t go to complete shit. Because even though that would happen if they cut us all loose, we aren’t important enough to keep around. We must be such a drag on the system. A system that pays people high six figure incomes to go to lunch with other important people.
Sitting at home, batting back all the random emails to do crap, something hit me. Without all the distractions, the job was simple. Honestly, it has allowed me to be incredibly lazy. It has taken up so much time in my day that by the time I get home to actually write anything, I am mentally exhausted. Not from the amount of work I have to do, but the sheer amount of distraction, and suck that comes from the job. Some days there isn’t a lot to do except for look busy. This is a time-honored tradition of State employees. It is fucking exhausting too.
The little pings from work. The nagging little distractions. It takes up a lot of my time. I used to be terrified about the concept of writing full time. I was still tied to child support and my lazy ex-wife who still won’t work a full-time job, even after nearly six years. How are you supposed to have the option of cutting back on expenses to live your dream when someone else is walking around with their hand in your pocket? I have a part time job writing SEO content, and if I have time to write for them, I can make enough to live on. The problem is finding enough time.
The problem is not letting myself get distracted. The problem is not procrastinating. The problem can be solved by getting out of my own way.
It’s not you, it’s me
The moment when I realized my job doesn’t need me, that it is just a time suck. It gets in the way of writing, which even if it’s writing about coilover shocks for Toyotas or gutter repair, is infinitely more fulfilling than changing schedules around so spoiled professors get a four day weekend every week. (Yes, because we should all be lucky enough to get paid $80k a year and only work three days a week for nine months out of the year).
My amazing girlfriend said something the other day that stopped my breath right in my lungs. She called me a professional writer. It’s true. I supplement my income with it regularly. I’ve worked years to get where I am with it, in spite of child support hearings, people at work looking down at me from their lofty Ivory Tower, and my own sense of impostor syndrome looking over my shoulder all the time. It’s true! Even on those nights where I’m hating myself and thinking “tomorrow I’ll do better.”
The Game Changer
On this lockdown, I have been able to write. On the days when I haven’t been flat out depressed over the uncertainty of what the future holds, I have written. I have written paid blogs, and I have been working on my book. Without distractions, I have been writing my ass off. It’s amazing how much time you have in the day when you don’t have a “real job.” This last weekend taught me that!
I can write and do laundry and keep a clean house. The only thing missing from a day like that is annoying co-workers talking about ham or taffy for two hours and expecting you to chime in.
And maybe like Pressfield says, you remember it like 9/11. That moment when you turn Pro. It’s a weird feeling when you go from “Well, that isn’t for me. Not yet.” to saying “Why the hell not?” It’s just like anything else. You suck at it until you don’t. Then you keep working at it until you are confident enough to ignore that voice inside your head that says “You’re going to starve to death!”
Right now, when I lose my job, I will be no worse off than all of the other office schlubs I worked with. Or the people working for small businesses. Or retail. Or service staff. Except I actually do have a trade. I can string words together. Very well sometimes. Everyone I work with is freaking out about being *this* close to retirement and how will they ever live?! Not that they have been doing much living as it is. I’m over here, thinking to myself, “why would I ever want to retire from writing?” Some people actually start writing when they retire because they finally have the time for it. Well, not a long time, but time enough in the day at least.
Imagine that: getting to do what you’ve always wanted to do in the prime of your life instead of those twilight years , wondering if today might be your last. Well, folks, in light if this virus, tomorrow might indeed be it. Why not live everyday with the understanding that one day, we will all die? It’s in everything from Ecclesiastes to the Hagakure. Why does it take so long to listen to those words?
It’s easy enough if you try. And once you pass that point, you wonder how you ever lived before.