I am not a morning person. I loathe getting up early, as in before 10
a.m. For a few years, when my husband
and sons went camping for a week each summer, I'd work from noon to four,
have lunch/dinner, relax, do chores and errands, see a friend, then work and
read again from 10 p.m. to 2:00 a.m., turn in around 3:00 and awaken,
refreshed, around 11.
Sadly, this is no way to conduct a responsible adult life when I’m not
alone. Instead, I get up every
weekday by 6:45. I eat breakfast with my younger child and deliver him to
school before 8:00. Then I often go to a breakfast meeting I've willingly
scheduled, I sit at my desk and open my computer. I work, I write, I edit, I
talk to students or clients.
I pass for normal every morning and function mostly, I'm convinced, because
of the lie I tell myself when the alarm first rings, which is this: I'll just get my son to school, and then I'll
come straight home and go right back to sleep. I tell myself this lie nearly every
morning. Except for a morning or two each winter when the annual major
cold arrives, the lie doesn't become the truth. I know this –
that I am not going to come back home and go back to bed – but I persist in
telling this to my semi-conscious self in order to make myself get up.
This came up the other day in a conversation with a writer who told me that if it weren't for the lies she told herself on a daily basis,
she'd never have gotten her memoir completed (now signed by a small literary
press; translation: it will be published though little money will likely ensue).
Some of her sillier daily lies went something like this: The house will clean itself. My kids will fondly remember
this time as the wonderful year they got to watch endless TV, eat
peanut butter sandwiches for dinner, and their silly mother forgot to make them practice piano.
Her more serious daily lie goes like
this: Just go ahead and write whatever
you want because no one is ever going to read it anyway. She tells herself this lie, despite two traditionally published novels, dozens of
essays, and a poetry chapbook. The lie
is necessary, she says, because it allows her to be daring on the page and to
block out thoughts of what comes after the final draft – agent review, finding
a publisher, critics, readers, marketing. Yes, she admits that it's a lie, that
deep down, she's fairly confident what she writes will make its way to readers,
but if she thought about her words existing anywhere out in the world while
she's still at work on early drafts, she'd panic and possibly stop writing.
Driving home from our (yes morning!) coffee chat, I wondered if there
were any lies I tell myself while I am writing. One that bounces around my
brain when I'm in the first draft of a personal essay is: I'll never be able to
finish this in a way that satisfies me. I believe I persist in this particular
lie so that I won't skip over the necessary mental (and often emotional) steps
involved in writing the all-important middle of the story. Even
if I already have a great ending in mind, I am still convinced I'll never get
there, and that's a good thing. It means
I won't just skate over the middle, never going deep enough. If I never really believe the end is in
sight, I'll spend more time getting that middle right.
Another lie I tell myself is: I have no business writing this; I don't have
the skills or experience to tackle it. Why this lie? Because if I feel too confident,
if I don't have a simmering case of being a bit of a fraud, then I tend to write
too quickly, with less care, and less respect for the particular piece. So I
tell myself, You can't write that, and in some counterintuitive
way, this keeps me going. Maybe I want to prove myself wrong. Or perhaps a part
of me recognizes that one always has to write that very first….book review,
scholarly article, prose poem, short story, lyrical essay, something… and so the fear is
necessary. Then, while I am scolding myself that I shouldn't be writing the
thing I'm currently writing, I can remind myself that in the past I've written many things I had no experience with the first time around either.
I suppose there are other lies I tell myself too, but I can't think of
them now. It's 8:15 a.m. and I'm thinking of going back to bed.