In Season 3 episode 14 of 30 Rock, Liz Lemon walks gleefully into Rockefeller center loaded with bags from the container store. With uncharacteristic hope and glee, she explains:
“I went to the new flagship Compartment Store on 5th Avenue and I’m going to get my life in order. There’s a stacking thing to separate your junk mail from your humidifier catalogs, a thing you stick on your laptop that hold your keys, a round plastic deal that holds your shoes with a pocket for a photograph of what shoes are in there. I’m going to become wonderful. It’s a new beginning, like a phoenix rising…”
Liz Lemon, you know my sins!!!!
For many years, I pathologically and compulsively acquired all the things I believed I needed first before I could achieve my goals. I knew that if I just had the right things and the right situations, I would be perfect. I'm going to become wonderful!
I made a list of goals I thought would help me remember.
A.) eat right
C.) not procrastinate
E.) keep my room clean
F.) Get good grades
I bought a red plastic container shaped like a tomato that was supposed to keep vegetables from browning early. I got new pens and a notebook in a bold graphic chevron pattern. I set alarms for getting up, for leaving on time, for turning off the TV. I bought a hot pink elastic exercise band and a yoga mat. I would become wonderful.
Vegetables, though, are gross and I did not eat them.* I think used the tomato jar to store peanut butter. I lost the notebook. I ignored the alarms. The yoga mat ended up being a bathroom mat when an unfortunate freshman vomited on the shag bath rug.
Years later, I've got much better at learning to set goals and work hard. But even now, I go through phases - particularly in times of change and stress - where I cycle over and over between an intense need to fulfill a fantasy of productive adulthood and intense disappointment when the fantasy is - as it never is - not like reality.
I can not tell you the number of nice pens I've bought that sit un-used, of new calenders I don't write in, of expensive make-up I never wear, of silk pajamas and nice wine glasses and chapstick that I buy thinking It's time I stop wearing nearly destroyed T-shirts, I should probably drink out of real glass, I'll stop chewing on my lips if I get a good chapstick. I own so much chapstick.
For a while, when I first became an agency assistant, I was all "I'm gonna be an agent!!!" and I imagined brownstones and independent wealth and culture and a personal library in the attic that I built to look like the turret at Hogwarts. ** I would be in Europe a lot. Paris is good for agenting.
Mostly, I edit at home. I'm still broke. always covered in cat fur. The dishes pile up. There's a weird smell in the fridge. It was a little disappointing, but being an agent is about the glitterati. I sell books to editors and look after my clients.
So, why tell you all this? To remind you not to cling to the idea of writing, but to writing itself. your goal is to write. That's it. It doesn't mean cafes where the baristas make art with your latte foam. It doesn't mean book tours. or fans. or money. or time. or a tidy place. It is almost never, sadly, a room of one's own. To assume writing means you will earn all these things sets you up for disappointment, and to assume you need them before you start means you're never going to begin.
There will still be the sticky, poop-covered business of children. Your cats will still puke on the floor. The dog will ruin the screen door. Someone is going to put a red pen in with whites. There are dishes. There will be days where you do not feel like a writer, where you do not feel taken seriously.
Don't get so paralyzed by ideas that you don't end up writing, or that you do end up writing and get disillusioned or even a**hole-ish because you thought being a writer meant something else. It doesn't. It means you write.
*not all vegetables are gross. butterbeans and tomatoes are good. Carrots are okay. I like spinach and snap peas.
** I will have my hogwarts treehouse library.