Noise, Part III: It’s All in My Head

LIFE in Atrisco

It’s been a challenging few weeks for the long, deep, quiet stretches required to work on my book. It’s been a challenging few weeks for the short bursts of quiet required to write a weekly blog post.

It’s summer. June camps are over, and kids are home. My friend Lauri said that when she went back to work after having children, the only way to get through it with a measure of sanity was to forget that she had an outside job when she was with her children and forget that she had children when she was at work. Being self-employed AND a writer means that I am my own boss, a freedom I would never willingly trade for a 401K or group health plan. Being my own boss also means that I could, conceivably, always be working. There are no vacation or sick days, no weekly staff meetings or other check ins. So when Henry has July 4 and 5 off, and he and the kids are gearing up for the zoo or Explora, I could just as easily be hustling a new gig or working on the book or clearing out my email inbox.

I understand the concept of pacing myself, doing a little at a time so I don’t have to cram at the end. I get that “inch by inch, life’s a cinch.” But I forget to practice and too often end up translating a dozen “I am From” poems into Spanish the day before the deadline because time, somehow, slipped away from me. So while Henry and the kids were at the zoo last Tuesday, I was editing and translating interview transcripts for the Otro Lado exhibition at City Hall. And because I was behind on the edits and translations, and I wanted to spend some fun time with my family, I did not write a blog post.

Yesterday I began a month-long residency at the National Hispanic Cultural Center’s Institute for Creativity, Consciousness and Community. The project: write a series of monologues based on the stories of my elderly neighbors in Atrisco. I am trying to remember what it is like to have a month to write, a gift of time and space, as well as a deadline. The only other times I have done this, I have gotten on a plane, once to Minnesota and once to Washington and traveled, respectively, to a mansion and cottage in the woods. Meals were prepared for me. Laundry was simple because it was only the clothing I went through in a week. Someone cleaned my bathroom. I was responsible only for writing.

I arrived at the center late yesterday morning, after Henry and I tidied the house so the women who clean it twice a month wouldn’t have so much to do, and P. & K. had eaten breakfast, and Henry had taken them to their mom’s house. I didn’t sleep well the night before. K. woke up once or twice, and though Henry was the one to tend to him, I did not have an easy time falling back to sleep, my mind noisy with unfinished tasks: ask nieces to serve cake at wedding, replant tomatoes that came up in the flower bed, call Mom and Dad before they go on vacation. So I made a mental task list, shifted to my back and began relaxing one body part at a time (my toes, my toes are relaxed; my feet, my feet are relaxed), hoping sleep would come before I reached my shoulders and neck. But then, a more insidious noise crept in, one that masks itself as organization or concern for my wellbeing. Michelle, are you sure you have everything you need for the residency? I know that you felt unprepared for your other residencies, so I’m just checking. Gee, it’s too bad you can’t sleep. Maybe you should get up and write a project outline, but then again, you’re so tired, it might not do you any good.

My writing coach calls this psychic leakage, and I am a long-time sufferer.

Once I moved into my residency office and worked on the blog and revised some dialogue for the book and made notes for two of the monologues and made a list of things to do this week, I drove home for my power cord and some lunch and a hit of coffee. I switched out the towels in the drier for a load of socks and underwear while waiting for leftover broccoli rabe to heat in the microwave. Henry worked at his desk in the office, and as I approached the door to leave, I turned to him and announced, “I feel sad today.”

“What’s going on?” he asked.

“Well, not sad, just weepy. I guess I’m not really sad. I just feel like crying.”

“What are you thinking about?” he asked.

“Does anyone out there ever feel completely caught up?” I asked.

He shook his head.

“I don’t finish things,” I said. “I have been given opportunities, and I don’t finish. And now I’m starting this residency. And I don’t know enough.” Even as I said it, I knew I wasn’t telling the whole story, so I said, “I do know enough. I’m just afraid. I’m anxious.”

The noise that keeps me awake is toxic, and the worst thing I can do is keep it all in my head. The best thing I can do is use a lifeline: write, tell a friend, accept a gift of time and space.

Published in: on July 12, 2011 at 1:41 pm  Comments (5)  

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. As usual, you knock me out but this one hit home with this one little line: “I don’t finish things,” I said. “I have been given opportunities, and I don’t finish.” Yes, yes, good stuff, thank you for sharing it!

  2. Yes! Use all your lifelines.

    Does it help you at all to think that it’s “only” fear? Somehow that usually helps me.

    And when even that doesn’t do the trick, I’ve been thinking of a phrase I recently learned from a friend: “where there is fear there is power.”

    Congrats on the residency!

  3. primero. the thing your friend said about kids is totally true. its the only way i got through law school. their time is only their time but when it’s not theirs then it’s mine.

    segundo. i’m feeling weepy lately too ‘mana. maybe it’s the stars. no te preocupes. i’m sure it will pass. at least thats my abuela would say and it’s what i’m telling myself.

    suerte with your residency. i’m sure it will be difficult, challenging and a great learning experience.

  4. Mija, I don’t think anyone ever gets completely caught.up. I’m glad you realized you were/are prepared for this residency. You are a writer., so most definitely you are prepared and extremely qualified. I love you.

  5. The more I read the stuff you write ,the more I feel I am getting to know you. You seem to have a style of writing that connects to my way of thinking and you seem so real.I just kick back and take it all in, but one of these days I will invite you and Henry over for a studio visit and tell you about my childhood and the connection to Atrisco.
    One word of advice if I may, as one of your elders, “when you feel like you need to cry— Just take the time to cry- Your soul is trying to tell you it needs your attention, just like the kids need you no matter what else is going on. So you take those few moments and let your soul line up with the rest of you and everything else falls into place.
    Now go and do what you do best and kick some butt.
    es todo!

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