Just do it.
Don’t put off ‘til tomorrow what you can do today.
If you wait for perfect conditions, nothing will ever get done.
If you want something done, ask a busy person.
For years I have fueled myself with some version of these sayings, and I know I’m not alone. Without them, almost nothing would get written in this world where time and attention are in ever shorter supply. I’m not alone, either, in the truckload of perfectionism, self-doubt and just plain guilt I haul to my desk every time I sit down to write. Sometimes the only way to get past all this is to blast violently through it, or distract myself with a full schedule. We all do what we have to do. Lately, though, I’ve begun to think all this relentless doing may be costing us all more than we care to admit.
I recently finished a contract which stuffed twenty-five to thirty extra hours of work into an already-full schedule. Throughout the year I continued to organize the Draft reading series and carry on my Feldenkrais practice. I also completed a draft of my novel. And I was oh-so aware, during this time, that among the writers in my community, I am a real lightweight. Some have forty to sixty-hour a week jobs, and/or children, and/or elderly parents, and/or health problems, themselves. Some of these responsibilities have come by choice, some, not so much, but they keep on writing. Every day during this busy year I admired them, and counted my blessings that I had so few demands to juggle.
And then the contract finished, and I went from being insanely busy to moderately busy, from responding to someone else’s expectations, working in someone else’s office, to establishing my own framework again. I felt my whole system slow down. The alarm which had never failed to wake me at five a.m. all year, now feels like a joke. Where this time last year I’d whip through each day’s agenda, I now require half an hour of pacing up and down the hall, staring out the window, and researching the most recent outfit of the Duchess of Cambridge, between every item on my “to-do” list. Chores which I’ve been stashing in stray pockets of time have expanded to fill whole weekends. How did laundry get to take that long?
Decision-making has slowed down, too. The tiny implications of each course of action weigh on me, my naturally detail-oriented mind ruminating for days over how to word a three-sentence email. My body has become a veritable symptom factory, each rash, each sore throat, each bout of dizziness providing fuel for the epic sessions of worry that precede sleep each night. And I’m sensitive. I – who inured myself so brilliantly to office politics in the interest of getting through the day – now find myself bursting into tears if someone looks at me wrong.
I am, in short, going crazy.
I should just get busy again, right?
That’s what I’m starting to question.
In Feldenkrais lessons, there’s an instruction that often accompanies repeated movements. If you are raising your leg a number of times, you’re asked to lay it down and pause between the movements, starting each one from the very beginning rather than being carried along on momentum. It’s easy, verging on automatic, for most of us to let a mechanical rhythm take over, and if the goal is the raise a leg in the air twenty-five times, then we achieve the goal. But it’s not about the goal.
I’ve always been fascinated with how much of every movement is present from the beginning – and by ‘beginning’ I mean even the intention to move, even the way the system mobilizes to do it. If I tend to clench my jaw when I lift my leg, the seeds of that action are there at the very, very start. It’s only in being really quiet, taking time for the transition, that I become aware of it. To me, this moment of awareness is the wellspring of creativity, the moment when something truly new can happen. On the other hand, if I don’t pause, the habits and preconceptions that were there at movement one, are likely to be there at movement twenty-five.
I know this on a kinaesthetic level, from the quiet and introverted context of doing Feldenkrais work. I also believe that everything I write is infused with my whole world view, my whole way of being in the world. If the very tiniest part of that world view is picked up by only one reader, it becomes part of a much, much bigger conversation. And most of this never reaches the level of conscious discussion or even thought. That’s where I think just do it exacts its price.
We need to hear what parents, care-givers, busy working people have to say, and usually the only way they can say anything is in fits and starts and late night fifteen- minute scribbles. Just do it. Of course. Whatever it takes. Yet there’s a fine line between making the best of a tough situation, and normalizing an unjust one.
Here’s where I start feeling really tired. Do I make a plea for more arts funding at this point, or maybe a total reorganization of society? I truly despise the stereotype of the artist as special, and exempt from the responsibilities and attachments of adult life. Yet I’m starting think we need the space to get a little bit crazy, to receive credit for just how hard it is to get up every day and make something from nothing. Sure, we can just do it, but really, we should have time to stop and worry about which word to use, even if it also means worrying whether having trouble finding it might be a sign of dementia.
It’s not just about the words, but about the thoughts behind them. And there needs to be space to question habits of thought before the words spread too far to take back.