“People don’t procrastinate just to be ornery or because they’re irrational. They procrastinate because it makes sense, given how vulnerable they feel to criticism, failure, and their own perfectionism.” –Niel Fiore, The Now Habit
I GOT DINNER the other night with a new friend here in Phnom Penh, and after a few pleasantries about how we got here and for how long, she asked me about my work.
I write. I’m a writer.
“Have you published books?”
Pause. Then, the question so many people who meet artists adore forcing into the circle of conversation, most especially if they’re non-practicing creative types themselves.
“So, how can you say you’re a writer? Do you sell a lot of books?”
I sell very few books. I’m not going to lie about that. I’ve got very few people in my corner, but the ones who are there, I adore. And they get it. This is a process. We are all learning and growing, all the time.
“I don’t sell a lot of books,” I reply, as honest as I’ve been in my three books about true things that have happened. (An elopement, for example. An abortion.)
We talked a little bit then, about the real and hard realities of going public with those things.
I used to be upset about it. I’d get teary and have to go to the bathroom and cry or something if people asked me howcome I broke up with my parents or why I wasn’t sure anymore about wanting children. It is some seriously personal stuff.
By the end of the evening, before we even got to the end of the meal, the place was closing and my new friend was the one in tears. Our first 1:1 conversation and by the end of it, she was really opening. Telling me about her own fears, doubts, and insecurities. About children, or more specifically, the guilt associated with not necessarily wanting them. There are worlds of things to say, and I respect the choice to be child-free, I’d said, and that seemed to have opened the floodgates.
The staff replenished my water about five times. It’s hot here in Cambodia, and you want to stay hydrated. Since I come to the same place about three times a week, they seem to be okay with this kind of thing I like to do. Bring people around for conversations and food. And water. Lots of it. Because quenching our thirst feels good.
As we walked out, I finally answered her other question. No longer worried about what it would sound like not to have an identity as a professional journalist or a fat printed book with my name on the cover, I could be open about it. I could say, with my full heart, what I really think it means to be a writer:
“I think you can say you’re a writer if you write things that other people read. And I mean, all the way to the end, because it moves them.”
Writing with that kinduva goal takes time. We’re all still in the throes of thrashing towards this horizon. Through practice. Trial and error. And learning to fend off the feelings of guilt, inadequacy, and pressure. Procrastination enables the keeping of those feelings. Getting to work eclipses them.
(This post is for CB. Got your email, Ms. Can you dig it?)
Read about our COJOURNAL project, which kicks off next Monday, at this page.