Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Whimsical Wednesday: Guitar Lessons

For most of my life – well, the parts that I can remember anyway – I’ve been a procrastinating workaholic-perfectionist, with a touch... oh, okay, a massive dose of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Terrific combination, right?

In high school, I often went to bed way too late, due to some paper or project. In college, I studied until sunrise way too many times. And, now, at the ripe old age of thirty-two, my sleeping habits have begun to resemble those of a vampire. I wish that I could say it’s because I party all night long – or that I am, in fact, a vampire – but, no, it’s usually work that keeps me up past a normal bedtime.

Fact-checking a travel guide, maintaining my blogs or perusing others’ websites, editing my novel, catching up with emails – you name it, I spend most of the day doing it. And everything suffers because of it: my marriage, my familial relationships, my chores, even my health (both physical and mental).

I realize that mental disorders like depression and OCD run in both sides of my family, but that’s no excuse for having a one-track mind. I’m a grown woman, for Pete's sake, and it’s my responsibility to find some balance in my life.

Just after college, I thought I had. At the time, I had a job that I didn’t take home with me; I got sleep on a regular basis; I’d met a cool guy (who later became my husband); I was writing travel articles on the side; I belonged to a Unitarian Universalist church (where I served as secretary of the board); and I was even making time for hobbies. In particular, I was earning free guitar lessons at Chicago’s
Old Town School of Folk Music in exchange for serving as a volunteer during their frequent concerts.

Eventually, however, Dan and I hit the road in a little RV – and despite the fact that I was a freelance writer and should have had more free time on my hands, I soon discovered that my life had lost its balance. Don’t get me wrong – I wouldn’t trade my experiences for all the sleep in the world. But, without structure (imposed upon me by others), I finally recognized my shortcomings in the time management department.

Now, nine years after leaving Chicago, I’m once again struggling to find some balance in my life. I have a wonderful husband, an amazing kitty, a terrific family, and the freedom to organize my schedule on my own terms. But, despite my myriad interests (from photography to baking) and a strong desire to have more fun with my husband, what typically happens is that the workaholic beast within takes over every second of the day. Last summer, for instance, I was working around the clock on a rewrite of the Moon Michigan guidebook, and all else – my exercise routine, time with the hubby, even work for our two film festivals – seemed to fall by the wayside.

Although it could take me years to figure out my inner workings, I know that one solution for my lack of balance would be to reform my sleeping habits and create a day-to-day schedule for all my varied activities – from yoga to work to chores to fun. Another solution, of course, would be to ignore my perfectionist streak and spend less time going over and over everything I write (which might be easier said than done). A third solution would be to make more time for my hobbies – like, for instance, playing my poor old guitar again.

I know that it would help to have some lessons. After all, I’m often more productive when someone (say, a teacher) is forcing me to practice and demonstrate some improvement. But, alas, the Old Town School of Folk Music is no longer accessible – just one of the many reasons I miss living in the Windy City. So, I’m on my own.

Luckily, though, I still have my old songbook from my Old Town days, and not long ago, I finally mastered all five verses of “Amazing Grace.” And while my practices have been sporadic this summer – due to overworking as well as distracting family visits – at least I’m on the road to recovery.

Why, just last night, I went to bed at 10 p.m. – an unusual occurrence for me. I was so excited to embrace so-called normal sleeping habits that I inadvertently rose at 3 a.m. – unable to go back to sleep. Refusing to feel discouraged, I did my morning chores, ate some breakfast, and went outside to watch the sunrise over foggy Big Bear Lake. And now, here I am, posting early to my blog. Who knows? Maybe I’ve turned a corner.

In just a little while, I’m going to do my yoga routine, and maybe, just maybe, despite the fact that some friends are coming for dinner and my mother is flying from Louisiana tomorrow (which means, of course, that the house needs to be cleaned from top to bottom), I’ll find at least a half-hour to strum my guitar. It’s about time, too – I’ve had a Willie Nelson guitar songbook for well over a decade, and it’s high time that I learned to play a song or two. I should at least master "On the Road Again" - you know, in honor of our nomadic lifestyle. Won't Willie be proud of me then?


Weronika said...

Oh, Laura --

I don't know what to say. This entry made me sad, though I know you've made the choices you have and neither of us can change the past. I just wish you the best in figuring it out, and I urge you to not blog, to not comment, and to look to your personal life first -- if that's necessary. :)

Good luck!

Anita said...

Huh?! Listen, I've got a part-time husband (two long to explain that one), four kids, numerous pets and a regular freelance job. Embrace the fact you don't have to go to bed at a decent hour so you can take on responsibilities like mine in the morning. Stay up all night working on a revision. Wake up at 3 AM and play the guitar for four hours straight. Sleep another day for 12 hours straight. Embrace your freedom!

Stephanie Faris said...

I've learned that I have to focus on the things I can control instead of the things I cannot. Because the things we can't control will really mess us up if we let them. Sleep is one of those things that I used to really get undone about. If I couldn't fall asleep it would stress me out that I'd be tired at work the next day. But I learned, over time, that only getting a few hours' sleep wasn't the end of the world, and most of the time I'm fine all day and just catch up the next night.

Laura Martone said...

Weronika - Oh, oops. Well, I'm sorry to have made you sad... perhaps I was a bit TOO honest with this post. I just need to figure out a better routine - one that includes blogging and commenting on others' blogs, because I'm really enjoying meeting such good friends - like you! So, thanks for the words of encouragement!

Anita - Wow, you are a busy lady! I admire your ability to juggle so much. I guess what I'm saying is, while I do appreciate my freedom (and I really do mean that), there are certainly "cons" to it as well. One, of course, is that I don't make nearly as much money as I did when I was employed full-time. More significant than that, though (since I'm not terribly materialistic), is that I'm the kind of person who needs structure in her life. That's what I lack right now - and I'm trying to figure out how to balance everything better. But thanks for the insight - I appreciate your advice!

Laura Martone said...

Stephanie - You're so right. Having a weird sleep schedule isn't the end of the world. I just think if I could straighten that out, some other things would fall into place. But your perspective sounds a lot like "The Serenity Prayer" - which my mom is fond of quoting. May we all have the courage to change the things we can and the serenity to accept the things we cannot. Like wonky sleeping habits. :-)

Morgan Xavier said...

I kind of hear where you are coming from. Especially the 'procrastinating workaholic-perfectionist' bit. And I DEFINITELY get the whole editing and editing and editing thing so that nothing new gets written. SO frustrating.

I work full-time, 9-5 Monday to Friday, so I have my evenings and weekends free. I have time to get writing done and yet I don't do it. I do housework or look at blogs and comment on them or surf the net or think about my writing or look over what I've written and edit it, but nothing new has been done in a long time. I know this is my own fault. Unfortunately, I've always left things to the last minute. Since I have no time limit with my novel, it is turning into a lengthy process. I also am one of those that needs my sleep, so I wish I could stay up to all hours, working on my novel, but then I would be a basketcase the next day.

I think my main problem is that I am all or nothing when it comes to almost everything in my life. I am afraid to really start into my writing again because then that is all I will think about. It consumes me. I wish I could have a good month to lock myself away in my apartment to just write. I could do it. I would love the opportunity! I may actually get that chance this fall because I may be losing my job. Part of me is unhappy about that (because money to pay the bills is always nice) and part of me is rubbing my hands together with glee, thinking, 'yes, more time to do the stuff I want, like write!'

Laura Martone said...

In retrospect, I felt very exposed for writing a post like this one. But I think that many writers - like us - struggle with the editing beast... and the difficulty of finding time (or, rather, energy) to write amid other tasks like paying jobs, chores, family, and the like. So, believe me, I understand why you spend your "free" time on other things. I juggle a lot, too, and I find that it's sleep and/or fun that often gets sacrificed. But I'm also finding, as I get older, that sleep and fun are required staples, which is why I have to rework my "routine."

As a longtime freelancer, I've sometimes been able to put aside long stretches of time for my novel... which is wonderful. I remember that a college writing professor once said that that's what any novelist needs - the time to write and, if you're lucky, someone to take care of you while you're focused on your writing. Fortunately, my husband is very supportive of my dream - but he's somewhat anxious, too. I've been working on this novel for years now, and I think he feels it's high time I get it out there. But, as I've told him a lot this summer, I'm in research mode right now - which I should've been a long time ago. Although the novel is done, it's still too long... and though I haven't been editing it lately, I'm nevertheless in a critical phase of my "career" - researching the publishing industry and letting others finally read and judge my work... a process that's both enlightening and scary.

So, all I can say is... I'm very much like you, Morgan, and although I don't hope that you lose your job, I DO hope that, if you do, you'll spend the time off on your writing (well, that, and sending out resumes, of course). I'm eager to know what happens...