“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living.” —-Annie Dillard
I’ve run across Annie Dillard’s words several times in the last few years. This one sentence, “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives,” rings in my ears almost everyday. I am acutely aware of how time passes and how fleeting our days really are, as each moment swallows up another. This way of living is sometimes too consuming. The pace is filled with a quiet terror.
In my twenties and early thirties, outcomes, results, recognition and amassing an arsenal of degrees offered a way to measure my time. Like a drum, my mind kept beating in the same rhythm. Success meant using time to accomplish a certain something. If it did not lead to a recognizable outcome, then I rendered it meaningless. I spent 7 years in a legal career, convincing myself that my time was well spent, because I “won” cases for my clients and collected a more than decent paycheck. Some of the undercurrents of this philosophy stem from my childhood. Artistic pursuits were hobbies, meant to be done after obtaining a degree that offered solid financial security. In other words, if the work lacked a tangible result, namely money, the effort was invisible.
Fast forward to now. This moment. I am writing these words in this space to share with you. I pen notes in my journal and read. How do I spend my days? I work on freelance articles, meet with my writing groups, and surround myself with as many words as I can. In the other hours, I am shuffling my daughter to playdates, tennis lessons, and summer camp. We sometimes sing and laugh and cry together. There are seconds where she sits in my office and keeps me company while I write. I am lucky because my husband supports my artistic pursuits, but yet he tells me in the most gentle way, what I also realize. I am not writing enough. My memoir has taken a backseat.
Do my current pursuits necessarily lead to outcomes? Not in the ways that I remember. I landed my first job when I was 16 and worked every year since until after our daughter was born. If we met in my twenties, financial security and a career with longevity were my main goals. I never predicted that my past would lead me to this place.
I am in a free-fall right now.
Here I go. I am saying it for the first time in this space. The fear of the outcome keeps me standing in the same place. Convincing myself that the memoir is only worth it if someone wants to read it, I mull over the outcome, instead of spending my days just writing it.
How do you break this cycle? How do you tell yourself that you are a success despite the outcome?
I am not certain I am any closer to answering this question, but I do know that I need to spend my days enjoying the process.
Isn’t that the whole point?
I love your posts and I will definitely read your memoir. Whether that be next year or next decade. Keep spending your days doing what you love. 😉
What a kind and supportive compliment. Thank you, friend. xoxo
That was my first response, too. I would love to read it!
Continue spending your days doing what you love. You are blessed with your husband’s support which means so much. Keep writing, I will be looking forward to reading your memoir.
I loved your post, since I catch myself contemplating about the actual meaning of success. Whether success is measured through happiness or living a life bogged down by endless schedules. I also hope to read your memoir, and thanks for writing this post!
It is so hard to change the messages we grew up with, isn’t it?
Have you read Frank McCourt’s memoirs? He wrote Angela’s Ashes after he retired, and did so only for the sake of unburdening the hardships he had carried inside of him for so many years. A close friend had to convince him to publish it and, as you probably know, it went on to win the Pulitzer Prize.
Knowing what is holding you back is significantly half the battle. Maybe you can keep in mind your family as your audience – at the very least your memoir will be an important history you can leave for them – and let the rest fall in place.
I understand your free-fall, my friend, and I want you to know that your writing community is here to catch you. You are an important voice, with a beautiful story to tell. It is time to tell it. I’m rooting for you 🙂
I know how you feel. I’ve been trying to work on my novel, and I have the same fears. The most important thing is to let go of the fruits. Do this for you, do it for what it will help you learn about yourself. It’s the act and process of writing that’s the most important part, whether anyone reads it or not. That’s really hard to believe, but it’s true. I think any successful writer would say the publishing is the least exciting part. The more you focus on being honest, on getting to the core, the more likely you are to do something magical.
Hope this helps. It’s what I try to tell myself every day.
I just tried to leave a comment, but it didn’t post. I can only hope that when I post this one, that two comments won’t show up.
My husband would say something very similar to Jana: Being a successful writer means that you write. Just write. It has nothing to do with somebody reading it.
Of course, writers want readers. You can’t have readers unless you write. I will buy your memoir if you write it. I love your storytelling; especially when you share stories about your family. Also, your writing always gives me something to think about – it has substance.
As for success: Someone once told me that success is measured by the relationships that you have and not by what you do. I believe you are rich in relationships, so you are already a success.
We must learn to write our own definition of success and not allow other to write it for us. Write for yourself and the rest will fall in place. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of fear, fearing it’s not good enough, fearing it won’t be bought, fearing what others think of you…I went through (and still am) with both of my books, and it has put me in a stand still yet again with my novel in progress. I wish you the best, Rudri. Whatever you choose to do with your time is success if your motive is positive.
I absolutely love this, the sentiment and the expression of the sentiment. Plus, the Annie Dillard quote is a gem. It will no doubt be ringing in my ears for a while now, too!
Thanks, Lauren. I appreciate you stopping by and commenting. That Dillard quote has such staying power and I am certain resonates with so many.