Measuring Success

I’ve been busy. And a little bit lazy. But mostly busy. Since May, I’ve traversed numerous streets in Turkey, read a ridiculous amount of books, and prepared an outline of my thesis chapters that has been sent off to my supervisor. I’ve been thinking. I’ve been wondering. I’ve been laughing and smiling. I haven’t been writing.

And that’s OK.

Because sometimes part of writing is living. So this week, when I spend more hours wondering how to generate income next year, I’ll be living. In three weeks, when I go to Bhutan and Nepal, I’ll be living. In a few months, when I am crunching numbers and organising boxes, I’ll be living. Right now, I am living. And that means I am writing, too, when I have the chance.

And I’m OK with that.

I’ve felt guilty for not writing every day, but I’m sick of feeling guilty. Instead, I’m proud that right now I’m writing. On days I’ve been lazy and spent hours in bed with a book, I’m OK with that, because I need to read to keep my brain filled with words and ideas.

I’m trying to dwell less on my failures and more on my successes.

I don’t write every day like I used to; I write when I can.

I don’t have grand plans of writing the next bestseller; I want to write a novel (or several) of which I am proud.

I am successful. I have my mind, I have my notebooks. I am successful because I know what makes me happy. That doesn’t mean I am always walking head-up towards my own happiness – some days I need to sit down and feel miserable. I am OK with that, too. What I keep reminding myself is that I am where I wanted to be ten years ago, and that makes me pretty damn successful.

Fear and Loathing in My Writing (but don’t worry, it’s gone now)

I’m not sure when it happened. I think it was in December, my NaNoWriMo novel complete, my backpack on my shoulders, and my ticket to India in hand. I arrived in Delhi and introduced myself to the man transferring me to my hotel.

Yes, I’m Stephanie.

Yeah, that’s my booking.

Australia. Here’s my passport.

Oh, I’m a teacher. English.

Yes, that was it. That was when I introduced myself as a teacher.

Remember when I ranted about labels and definitions? Remember the countless times I’ve raved about my need to write? I knew this was a risk and begged my Muse to keep visiting me right from the start, right from the moment I stripped my hair of vibrant colour and gave my purple knee-high boots away. Right when I acknowledged writing until the early hours of the morning and staying in bed all day might not be the most viable option for a “grown up”.

And my Muse, my Genius, has been here the whole time.

And yet, it’s been six months since I’ve written anything.

Sure, I’ve posted the odd book-review in the past few months. I’ve travelled. I went to China for a week in March and I’ll be going to Turkey for two weeks in June.

Did I mention I started my PhD research a month ago?

Yeah. I’ve been busy.

And I’ve been scared. It’s easy for a day to become a week to become a month to become six months. And then I started hating myself. I started hating that I wasn’t writing, and hating that I was letting myself do this, letting myself ignore the words, ignore the ideas, ignore the Genius in the corner staring challengingly at me. I couldn’t meet his eyes.

I’ve been busy reading and travelling and teaching.

Teaching.

And I’ve been introducing myself as a teacher. And I hate being a teacher. I’ve tried really hard to be optimistic about teaching, and to embrace it as something I’m good at, something I was born to do (my mother’s words).

I think good teachers are amazing. Good teachers. The kind of teachers you wish you had, the teachers who believe – truly believe – in their students’ potential. They’re incredible. I know some of those teachers. I work with some. I see some of my friends becoming those teachers.

I’m not that teacher. I’d like to be. But it’s a means to an end for me. I’m a good teacher. I’m nice to the kids, even the ones I want to drop into a pool of laser-wielding sharks. The fact that I don’t do that is indicative of my kindness.

I’m not that teacher because I’m not a teacher. There are a lot of things I do well. I can make incredible mustard chicken in white wine sauce, but I’m not a chef. I can name a woman’s bra size before I notice the colour of her shirt, but I’m not a bra fitter. I can teach children the difference between an adjective and an adverb, but I’m not a teacher.

Yet for the past six months I haven’t been a writer, either.

Which is why I’ve been avoiding my blog. I’ve felt like a fraud. A big fat liar, liar, pants on fire. How can I write about writing when I haven’t been writing? I’ve been thinking about writing. I’ve been thinking about my WIPs and their need for attention. But thinking isn’t doing. Thinking doesn’t put the words on the page.

I’ve isolated myself from my writing friends. I’ve isolated myself from the writing communities I spent the last year building. It’s my fault, and I own that mistake. I take full responsibility for the fact that my fear and loathing drove me to make stupid decisions. I take full responsibility for the dejected expression my Genius has been hurling in my direction for the past six months.

So this morning, while cooking breakfast, a sentence came into my mind. This happens a lot.

And then, while eating breakfast, another sentence came into my mind. This also happens a lot.

Then I had a paragraph. No surprises. I also had runny egg dribbling over my hands from the hole in the bottom of my breakfast wrap.

Then I washed the dishes. And my hands.

Then I thought.

Then I grabbed a notebook and pen and wrote nonstop for half an hour.

This meant I half-ran for my dentist appointment (I had my wisdom teeth removed last week – see? I’ve been busy!) after a rushed shower, words churning through my mind the whole time.

I came home, typed up what I’d written, and then kept going. My Genius is happy again. It’s a tentative happiness, because I think he’s scared I’ll resume ignoring him. But I won’t. I can’t.

Hi, I’m Stef.

I’m a writer.

Thank goodness we got that over with.

Back to it!

There’s a lion dancing in my driveway.

I can see the way he moves, rippling and moving in a blaze of colour, the drums loud and pounding and almost too much for a lazy morning doing laundry and packing a suitcase for a stay-cation twenty minutes away.

It’s another year.

When in Rome, you visit the Colosseum; when in Asia, you celebrate the lunar new year.

I find myself, like last year, eager to use this as my new year, my time to make resolutions and consider all that I have and haven’t done in the past year. The “usual” new year was hectic and afforded me little opportunity to really sit down and reflect. I was busy seeing people, getting on planes, looking for a new home, getting back into routine … Now, I feel much more at ease with the simple act of sitting and thinking and deciding.

This is a compatible year for me, an Ox. Actually, it’s the year. I try to make every year my year, but I’m especially optimistic about this one. I am comfortable in my space, now. I know where I am and I know what I’m doing – there is still a lot of ambiguity in my life, but this year I am comfortable with the ambiguity because the paths are clearer, more easily discerned. Like every year, I have choices to make, but this year … those choices have clear consequences.

This year …

This year I am travelling.

I already plan on visiting China and Turkey, and a return to India. I also want to visit Cambodia and Vietnam – ambitious, I know, but I have so much to see and experience.

This year I am writing.

Last year I wanted to write three novels and I see now that was a little too ambitious for me. This year, I want to finish two novels I’ve started before. They both mean a lot to me and I want to see them become whole and ready for the world.

This year I am reading.

I’ll record the books I’ve read as I did last year – I am aiming, again, for 52 books in a year.

This year I am working.

And I am making a conscious decision not to let it get to me, to breathe in and out and not let various aspects of my job bother me in such a way that I end up crying in the middle of the night wishing I was anywhere else. Yeah, 2012 did get that bad. And I don’t want it to happen again this year, so I won’t let it. That’s my choice.

This year …

It’s going to be busy; I’m excited.

And I’m beginning it with a stay-cation at a resort. I am going to read, think, and make some more decisions. And maybe dance with the lion in my driveway.

Making a Plan, Losing the Plot, and Reaching The End

I’m a planner.

When I travel I organise a detailed itinerary featuring costs and day-by-day breakdowns of my time to maximise sight-seeing opportunities.

When I arrive at my destination I am almost immediately swept away by the place, its culture and food and people … My budget becomes apparently endless and all that hard work I put into the itinerary is replaced by the sheer euphoria of going along with whatever happens to be taking place around me.

But I’m really a planner.

<<read more>>

Pete Denton invited me to write a guest post over at his blog, and you can read it if you follow the above link. Or this one here

So which are you? A planner or a pantser?

A Letter from the Future

Dear Seventeen-Year-Old-Me,

I would like to tell you that everything will be easy, that everything will fall into place and the next ten years will be a breeze – no worries, no challenges, no surprises. It would be nice if life could follow such simple processes; step one, step two, step three … For some people, it does. Finish high school, graduate University, get a job, get a promotion, find a partner, marry, get a mortgage, get a promotion, have children, get a second mortgage, watch those children grow up and find their way in the world, continue on your career path, splurge on a new car at least once, eventually retire.

Middle-class process.

But I remember you. And I remember what you think of the world, and you already know that this linear life of steps and stages, this middle-class process, is not for you. Not for us.

I would like to tell you that you celebrate this fact, but there are days when you will wish you had gone with the easier option, the career and the marriage and the mortgage.

But then there are days when you are in foreign countries that do not feel strange but feel like home.

I know you. I know you’re terrified of getting it all wrong but you present a facade of knowing what you’re doing to protect yourself. I know you have days when you smile and laugh but secretly hate yourself so much you wish you could simply disappear. I can’t wave a wand and make things easier for you, and I can’t tell you that they will get any easier, but I can tell you that everything you want right now, you have. And everything you hope for your future, you get.

There are days when you will envy the lives your friends have made for themselves – envy their wedding gowns, envy their laughing children, envy their lived-in homes with photographs on the walls and cats curled up on the backs of sofas, envy their supportive husbands.

There are days when you are told that your friends envy your life – envy your freedom, envy your lack of financial commitments, envy the lack of any commitment to anything other than your need to do something different.

There are days when you will regret every decision you have ever made.

There are days when you will recognise that everything you have ever done has brought you to this place – to the steps of the Taj Mahal, to the produce market in Chiang Mai, to the corner cafe in Lyon, to the gelato stand in Syracuse, to the ruins of a great city in Peru … And you have no regrets.

You get to do everything you wanted to do, some things you never thought you’d ever do, and a few things that seemed like a good idea at the time … You learn new languages and experience new cultures. You meet fascinating people and collect their stories. You fall in love. You fall out of love. Your heart will break into so many pieces that it will take years to pull it back together again – but you do.

The next ten years will not be easy. You will love, learn, travel, write, experience … and you will mourn, hurt, worry, fear, whimper.

You will never be homeless, though you’ll spend a few nights in interesting places. You will never be poor, though you’ll have some moments when you panic over your bank balance. You will never truly suffer, though you’ll feel the weight of the black dog in your lap pinning you down on more than one occasion.

What you will realise ten years from now is that happiness is not a permanent state of being. Happiness is in a constant state of flux. Happiness flows in and out of your life because it is not permanent. What I can promise you is that you will come to understand this, and you will come to recognise moments of joy and delight and happiness – some last seconds, some last days, some last weeks. And you will know that, ten years ago when you were seventeen and eager to hold the world in your hands, you could not have dreamed it would actually come true.

You are passionate, wild, and wonderful. Stay that way – for us.

– Future Stef