It came up the other day among my writing friends that it had been nearly a year since I finished my novel (I was wrong about that–it had actually been about nine months. But still, same general point follows). And I’ve yet to make any real headway with selling it. Nor have I been able to tackle that next novel, despite some good intentions. In fact, I’m not writing at all. Besides blog posts, obviously, and even those are rather sporadic.
We sat there in the late summer sun, our children escaping the heat in the sprinklers, pondering the passage of time and the ways in which we spend it. “I should be able to write,” I said. “I mean, all I’m doing is training for the half-marathon.”
“But that takes a lot of time,” one delightfully gracious friend offered.
“But not the same time,” I said. “I run in the mornings. I used to write at nap time. There’s no reason I can’t do both.”
“But why should you? Last year you were writing a novel. This year you’re running a marathon.”
And there it was, so simply stated, an option I’d never even considered. As a professional multi-tasker, I never do one thing at a time (as I’m writing this, I’m also shopping online for Halloween costumes, writing an email to a friend, and watching a video with the kids. Really). I imagine that I have at least a dozen hats I can wear, and why shouldn’t I wear more than one at a time? Why, one at a time–that would take FOREVER to get through. I might DIE before I got to wear them all, going at that pace.
But one thing about multi-tasking is that you never actually do any of those things well. I imagine that the email will get abondoned as draft, the Halloween windows will get closed at nightfall without a real decision, and this post, well, has honestly been in the writing since that summer day (and yes, it’s already September). Wearing one hat at a time means that I at least get to enjoy that hat, wear it well, even dress to coordinate.
I’m taking this metaphor too far, aren’t I? Bear with me, then since I’ve already marched down that path. Running now, I don’t do a lot of other forms of exercise. I eat differently–eat more, but healthier, too. I need rest during the day because I’m pushing myself so hard in other ways. It may not be that any of the time overlaps, but the life is one and the same, all stretching the limits of the same mind and body.
And yes, I might die before I wear each of those hats. I think that’s highly unlikely, but still, what if I do? The worst thing that happens is that I never get that novel sold, or the scrapbook done, etc., etc. But it also meant that while I was alive, I spent time doing one actual thing for a time, instead of little scraps of actual things. Because how demoralizing would it be to get to the end of your life and realize that all those little pieces didn’t sum to anything real at all?
So this year, the marathon. It’s rapidly approaching–only a little over a month now–and I’m already seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Ideas are coming back into my head, my thoughts returning to writing. Maybe I’ll finish that 2009 scrapbook first. Maybe I’ll be an essayist/short story writer for a little while again. Maybe I’ll use the fall cool down to perfect my muffins and stews (and get to that promised boeuf bourguignon). It’s liberating to focus on one thing at a time, especially in a world that, logistically, just requires me to multi-task whether I like it or not. And speaking of that, it’s time to spend the rest of the day with the family. Period.