It’s 2 in the morning. And, as usual, I’m at my computer.
I wish I could say this was out of the ordinary. But this summer, I’ve tried to make it a priority to actually work on my creative projects more than once or twice a week. So no matter how late it is, I try to get at least 500 words of whatever silly fiction I’m working on in before I pass out for a handful of sleep-hours.
By 3 PM Thursday, I’ll probably be manic and froth mouthed, buzzing with caffeine and grinning maniacally at my co-workers; by Friday afternoon, I’ll be sleeping on every form of public transportation until I face-plant on my futon in the early evening. This happens every week like clockwork: I start out on Saturday morning with grand aspirations of schedules and 8-hour REM cycles, and by Wednesday I’m chewing at my shirt collar and hissing at anyone who comes near me.
It’s not just the sleeplessness, though. It’s that feeling of tightness that comes, for me, when I haven’t had enough time to myself. It’s what happens when I think about my last two weeks of evenings and can’t find a single place where I just lay in bed and idly stuck my hand down my pants.
“Hey, do you have time for a chat later?” one of my friends texted me last Thursday. He lives in Boston, and I haven’t actually spoken on the phone w ith him since at least last November. I almost sad-laughed aloud at the screen.
“Um, I’m busy tonight,” I messaged back.
“What’s your schedule like, say, next week?”
Yeah, that’s right. I’ve gotten to the point where I have to pencil in phone dates for people a week and a half in advance.
For a California-raised hippie-dippy vegan, I sure act a lot like an investment banker. This is primarily odd because, in reality, my life is not that important. I don’t fill my time with setting broken puppy bones or gently smoothing the foreheads of babies. I just suffer from FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).
Call it the Leo in me, but the idea that I could be sitting at home reading “Little Brother” or sewing curtains while the rest of the world goes out and has adventures gets under my skin in a way that is truly unproductive.
Every time I read a story about someone building a castle in Dolores Park from foot-by-foot cardboard boxes or hosting flash dance parties, I get inexplicably anxious, like life is passing me by unnoticed. I already spend 60 hours a week either in a cubicle or en route to one; why miss even more shenanigans?
I think that part of it stems from Zooey Deschanel and her floral-patterned, adorable ilk. I’m a 20-something living in one of the coolest cities in America! By all rights, I should be able to come over all blue-eyed and blunt-banged at the drop of a hat, talking breathily about the coolest espresso bar/goat farm fusion that the neighborhood three miles over has to offer. So whenever one of my friends wants to go check out a new music venue or try a different take-out option, I feel almost obsessively compelled to say yes.
On some level, I think I’ve been trying to live what Peter Sagal, host of NPR’s “Wait, Wait! Don’t Tell Me!” once referred to as “an anecdote-driven life.” And it’s true: Some of my loveliest moments of the last year have been the near-cliché snatches of time where I’ve watched a silent post-thunderstorm sunrise on the banks of the Puget Sound, found myself half-naked on a boat in Lake Shasta, or played soccer in the rain with a group of strangers.
All of those instances were the eventual consequences of things I decided to do at that moment rather than take time for myself, and I remember feeling stressed about that decision even at the time.
The problem, though, is that constantly seeking out those story-worthy moments is gradually driving me and my loved ones insane. It leaves me cranky, stressed out, and doing things like grumbling at co-workers for offering me wine on the train. For offering me wine.
I’ve written before about time being my most valuable resource, and it’s felt even more evident recently. It may seem to me like I’m seeing my friends every single day, but to them, I’m being a giant flake whom they haven’t hung out with in a fortnight.
“You’re smothering me!” I’ll snap at someone I haven’t spoken to in three weeks.
This is amplified even further by the whole “grumpy writer” thing. When I don’t work on my stories (or, as I call them, “projects”), I start getting actively bitchy, similar to how I used to act when my mom would interrupt me playing the SIMS as a teenager. How dare these people impinge on my creative time? Can’t they see I’m busy writing the Next Great American Novel (read: Lesbian Sex Detectives)?”
Even professional writers recognize the conundrum. Sarah Manguso recently advised young writers to cut out the “hangers-on,” which she classifies as anyone (including family) who dares get in the way of your work. Of course, she doesn’t say what to do when you genuinely like spending time with your so-called “hangers-on,” and that you don’t want to hurt their feelings by blowing them off. No wonder the isolated novelist frantically smoking and tapping at a typewriter is such a common trope.
I realize that this is sort of a fake problem -- "Oh, poor Kate, too many friends who want to hang out?" -- but it is a source of genuine anxiety for me. I love being around people, and meeting new ones, but I also have gotten to the point where sometimes the thought of leaving the house and smiling at people is exhausting.
At my birthday party last week, one of my dates was so bothered about my recent cageyness that she tried to process with me while I was semi-plastered. In retrospect, maybe it was one of the few times she thought she could get ahold of me.
“I just feel like we don’t hang out anymore,” she said, petting my tipsy head. “You’re always so busy.”
“I’m trying to take time for myself,” I told her truthfully. “I’m trying to put myself first.” Then I dumped her off my lap in search of more beer. Asshole Conway on deck!
Because Allison is a nice person and a wonderful date, she let it go. Of course, I’ve spent this week doing just the opposite of what I promised.
Between voice acting classes (Monday and Wednesday), a magazine launch party (Tuesday), an Of Monsters and Men concert (Thursday), and my friend’s wedding (Friday), that whole “time for myself” thing is probably going to get penciled in for an hour on Saturday morning. Right between picking up a three-week-old prescription and maybe, maybe, calling my mom on the phone.
Clearly, I’m a compulsive extrovert who needs to learn how to be an introvert. I don’t have Hannah’s gift for solitude, though I’d love it. Do you guys have any tips? Or am I doomed to forever be palming my Google Calendar like it bought me a lentil-steak dinner? Tell me your secrets!
Kate is trying not to flake on our plans in favor of sleep at @katchatters.