Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Winter of My Discontent

My cross and cantankerous condition continues and is now leavened with disgruntlement, ennui, and a generalized miasma of stagnation. I think this happens every year at about this time, but each year there are different contributing factors. I’m afraid the shopping trips to spiff up my wardrobe did some damage. I feel as if I'm hurtling headlong into premature Camilla Parker-Bowlesdom, after seeing myself time and time again in fluorescent lighting. I have this very bad habit of holding my mouth in a clenched-lip scowl, just like CP-B, and I’ve got these extremely unwelcome little lines around my lips to prove it. Do I want to wind up being taunted on the cover of The National Enquirer? No. I do not. So quit it already! I’ve been trying to cultivate a more affable and relaxed default expression. It isn’t easy to reverse that habit, as I'm pretty sure I've been doing it since childhood. It didn’t help at all either that I went out to dinner with a friend on Saturday night who as good as told me that women my age are essentially over-the-hill. That frosted me. He, by the way, is a whopping six months younger than I am, but, of course, he considers himself to be in his prime.

Creatively, I'm feeling like I'm regressing, stagnating, or deteriorating—possibly all three. My writing doesn't seem very good lately. Perhaps it is never very good. Here's what caused this splinter of angst. My friend L in Chicago has been asking for years that I send her some of my writing. (She doesn’t know about this blog.) She got really excited about the NaNoWriMo novel, so a few days ago I got around to sending her an excerpt. I also included a slightly edited blog entry, since she said she wanted to read my nonfiction as well. She sent back a nice e-mail, telling me she liked both the fiction and the nonfiction pieces and mentioned that she’d just watched Grizzly Man on DVD. Emboldened by her praise, I sent her my blog entry about Grizzly Man.

The next day I got an e-mail from her that really shook me. She took issue (in a kind and tactful way) with my statement that "it's impossible not to like” Timothy Treadwell (the Grizzly Man) and then proceeded to give a brilliant and totally spot-on analysis of him and his actions. I’d viewed the movie almost entirely uncritically, focusing on Treadwell’s wackiness and its attendant entertainment value. I didn’t engage deeply with the film at all, obviously, because if I had I would have realized what an incredibly pathological person he was. As L pointed out, he didn’t just get himself killed, he was completely responsible for his girlfriend’s death. L made several other keenly insightful points, too, that apparently floated right over my (air)head when I watched the film.

And here’s the most disturbing thing about the e-mail, it was way better written than any of my blog entries ever are, and L has always claimed that she can’t write! This is just patently untrue—to the nth degree—I am belatedly finding out. She's self-employed like I am and she and I do pretty similar work, but she’s always on the brink of penury, whereas I never am. Maybe I have more business acumen than she does, or maybe I’ve just been luckier with my clients. Seriously, after reading that spectacularly written e-mail—which she probably dashed off in 10 minutes—I felt deflated, unworthy, and guilty. This isn’t the first time something like that’s happened to me. I’m constantly running across blogs that contain just the most amazing prose, and often it turns out that these fantastic writers are slogging away at poorly paid crap-ass jobs that make no use of their wonderful talent. It just isn’t fair. It dredges up a host of uncomfortable emotions for me that I don’t quite know what to do with.

Anyway. I’ve spent way more time whinging than I intended (isn’t that always the case?). I’m not going to quit plugging away at my own writing, even though there are people out there who can write a better e-mail (with one hand tied behind their back) than I can write a blog entry. My blog is what it is—even though I’m not sure what that is.*

On to the nostrums for all this self-disparagement and self-pity:
  • Get the frick out of the house!
  • Put on some red lipstick!
  • Wear boots that instantly transform me into a statuesque 5-foot 7-inch person! (Thanks, Marilyn!)
  • Move yer bloomin' arse!
  • Resolve to never again wear shapeless, frumpy clothing!
  • Eat some dark chocolate with orange peel!
  • Get the frick away from the computer and the siren song of the Internet!
  • Walk tall! (“We always walk tall! We’re Jets—the greatest!” Remember that? That line kept running through my head as I walked in those boots.)
  • Listen to Led Zeppelin III and Kurt Weill's Threepenny Opera! (Love the "Jealousy Duet")!
  • Take a yoga class!
  • Breathe!
  • Off-gas all anxiety and angst in a blog entry and buck up for crying out loud!
I accomplished all of the above today, and I can attest to their effectiveness. I had some work that didn’t require the computer (a rare occurrence), so even though it was raining cats and dogs and hyenas and werewolves, I marched out of the house (in boots and red lipstick), opting for an umbrella and a rain jacket rather than my 100% waterproof get-up, which includes these freaky overshoes and makes me look like the abominable rainwoman.**

I walked to a coffee shop on Alberta Street (about 20 minutes away), ordered myself a decaf latte, and sat down to work. It’s been a fantasy of mine ever since I started my own business to go work (from time to time) in a coffee shop. When I first started out, I thought I’d be doing this regularly, but I have never in more than seven years of being self-employed done one iota of work in a coffee shop, because A) I almost always need the computer; B) I thought I’d be unable to concentrate what with all the raucous conversations, music, and the continual comings and goings of other customers. Turns out, it is less distracting to have all that going on than it is to have constant access to my e-mail and the World Wide Web. Even Dingo the Clown’s presence in the coffee shop didn’t keep me from staying on task (much). (He'd left the grease paint and the red nose back home at the Clown House.)

While diligently applying myself to my work, I passively soaked up the atmosphere at the coffee shop. It’s a real neighborhood hangout, where people bring in their own mugs and where customers know the name of the guy behind the counter and discuss with him where they might score an extra mike for an upcoming gig. I made a mental note of the outfit one wraithlike woman was wearing (longish skirt, leg warmers, cropped sweater ) and pondered whether that might or might not be a good look for me. About an hour later, it dawned on me that the woman was a man. So much for my observational skills! Miraculously, I was able to absorb all this stuff and keep working at a pretty good clip. It was exceptionally nice to be there—I was sort of a part of something and yet sort of not. I have got to do this more often.

*This isn't a compliment-fishing ploy. I know you guys think I'm a pretty OK writer, and I appreciate and thank you for being such loyal and wonderfully supportive readers. It's just that there are lots of people way more talented than I am.
**There are circumstances that call for the abominable rainwoman get-up, e.g., a hike in the rain, but it's not the most fetching attire for the city.


Post a Comment

<< Home