Air & Light & Time & Space; or, A Room of One’s Own

Part of the New Year’s goals, Gentle Reader, is daily writing and reading.  It’s what was so lacking in my routine of last semester, when I found myself falling into bad habits and depressions about my lack of work.  I am a workaholic.  I enjoy work; I like reading and writing and teaching and yes, even going to meetings and serving on committees.  I am grateful that I’ve found a successful job in a profession that works for me.  But sometimes, I forget I have to work for it, too.

Helen Sword’s book Air & Light & Time & Space: How Successful Academics Write is named after a Bukowski poem about that “perfect” meeting of all aspects of place, and time, and energy for writing.  Bukowski sums it up as, basically, “shut up and write,” But Sword takes a slightly different–and more encouraging–approach.  I’m only partway through the book, but her encouragement seems to be both “write every day” and “accountability” but also, and here’s what is important, “personal respect.”

Many of my friends do not have the space and time that I do, their lives often not their own because of family responsibilities–an older parent, young children–and I hear them bemoan their lack of “air and light and time and space.”  I have all four, and a room of my own, two rooms in fact, a home office and a work office.  So with all this space, and time, and air, and light, why am I not a writing machine?

I was, for a long time.  I produced, and produced, but a few things happened along the way:

  1. I moved from “binge” writing to everyday writing, while I started my Ph.D. program (2002).
  2. I quit smoking, while writing my dissertation.  I had to relearn how to write without cigarettes (2006).
  3. I was diagnosed OCD, and received treatment for it (and depression and anxiety), which changed my brain’s wiring (2012).

The last was the biggest, and most recent, change in my writing, because I now had to conceive of writing differently.  It was almost like dropping binge last-minute writing all over again.  I wrote, and wrote, in large chunks of time, obsessively.  Now that my brain was rewiring itself, learning not to cope with life in an obsessive manner, I needed to change the way I wrote.

It’s hard, because one of the bad side effects of OCD is that bad habits become habitual.  That is to say, your coping mechanisms become part of your routine and losing them feels like losing part of your life.  I had to relearn how to write.  And it was as painful as it sounds.  It was so easy to fall into not-writing, and because I’m a writer and I love writing, that was another painful part of my life.  And because it’s my career, I felt guilty and became depressed, so even more so, I didn’t write.

This semester, this year, I’m determined to get past this not-writing.  Part of treatment for OCD is creating new routines and habits that are healthy.  So I am not scheduling time as much as I am giving myself time to create.  Every morning, I will sit down and write until I feel like not writing anymore (creatively).  Every day, I will sit down and work on my academic projects until I feel like not working anymore.  I am three days in and proud to say I feel better, more rested, more excited than I have in some time.

Most importantly, I feel grounded.  The writing world is finding its place, and I’m finding my place in it.


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