I'm still in that last stretch for Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned, and at the rate I'm going, I will have wrapped up the first draft of that opus by the end of June. Those damn goalposts have grown legs and started skittering downfield. I hate it when that happens.
Some of this slowness have been the aforediscussed time dilation business, some of it has been — and I was loathe to admit this at first but here goes — simple exhaustion. The last few months have been really harrowing for me personally, for reasons I don't want to go on about in public, and there's some other low-level anxiety-grade stuff (again, not for public consumption) that could theoretically explode into something more full-blown at any point.
None of that would ruin me, I should stress. At worst it would make life inconvenient for a while. I'm probably better off not obsessing about any of it since it's nothing I have any direct control over anyway, and I've been assured by people I trust that it is unlikely at best. But then again, we got President Trump, so anything is possible, and not in a good way.
Anxiety is an old friend, and like any old friend, it is not easy to show him out the door.
It's taken me a long time, and a fair amount of practice in ways I wasn't originally accustomed to, to become even this sanguine about things. I used to be impossibly high-strung when I was younger, and it took me a while to realize that was because I assumed that every single emotional state that presented itself to me had to be acted upon lest I commit the mortal sin of being "dishonest with myself". Bullpuckey; all I got out of it was lost sleep, stomachaches, and more than a few lost friends. I'm nobody's idea of perfect now, but I'd like to think I'm a whole lot less messed up. (To everyone I have ever pissed off because I was a jerk to you: I'm sorry. Write me.)
Educator John Holt once wrote, in his book Why Children Fail — and I'm paraphrasing greatly here, so forgive me if I muddle the exact wording — that one of the key differentiators he noticed in his students was those who were comfortable with not knowing something vs. those who were not. The former were okay with things being experimental, tentative. They didn't mind "being wrong" — and even that term right there's a misnomer, because they didn't think of it as "being" wrong. They didn't associate getting a wrong answer with some state of personal failure. To use a point I made earlier, they weren't making the whole thing into a morality play.
A lot of life skills revolve around learning how to be comfortable with, and practice with, uncertainty of some kind. We don't like the idea that any of us could drop dead in the next five minutes, but let's face it, it does happen. I don't have any gigantic spiritual framework for dealing with something like that, and I don't think I would be any better off for it, either. Just figuring out how to meet every moment head-on is tough enough, and work enough for a lifetime.
The one thing I'm still trying not to do ... well, two things I'm trying not to do. One, I'm trying not to bury my anxieties with work. "Work" can mean this kind of work, creative work, which anxiety can curdle like so much milk left out all day. It can also mean the work I do to put bread on the table — and when that is spoiled in the same way, the negative consequences are a whole lot less easy to write off.
Thing #2 I'm trying not to do is more general, which is not confuse my anxiety with my "self". This is one of those subtle little things that you pick up after years of practice. Spend enough time just sitting with things, and after a while the distance between "you" and the stuff floating through your head becomes a little wider. Maybe only wide enough to slip a finger into when things get intense, but sometimes that's all you need to pry it all apart from yourself.
If there's any other big thing I've learned from teaching myself how to put some remove between me and my mind, it's this: All the time I spent wallowing in anxiety about This Thing or That Thing was largely because somewhere in the back of my mind I had the unquestioned belief that if I just worried about whatever it was that was bothering me hard enough, then an Absolute Answer to that problem would eventually present itself, and I could go enact that Answer and STOP WORRYING.
Not once did this ever happen, but that didn't stop me from trying again ... and again ... and again.
With enough care and introspection, eventually I got it through my head that a) there was a difference between thinking and worrying, b) the problems we think are big, deal-killing ones often aren't (and the real problems in life are the ones we can't see coming, and can only be faced in the moment anyway), and c) the worry was far more destructive than the problem itself.
This isn't to say real, worrisome problems don't come into our lives. It's that we don't do ourselves any favors by compounding the problem. Zen has at its core the idea that you have to get out of your own way before you can really get anywhere at all. You still have to do the heavy lifting yourself; in fact, you have to do even more of it than before. But you can do it a little more efficiently because you're not cluttering up your mind with all sorts of false starts and dead ends.
So, I'll most likely be back at the keyboard tomorrow morning (I'm writing this late in the evening on Friday), and doing my diligent best to put myself a thousand words closer to the end of this thing. The worries can take care of themselves. Somehow!
If you're curious what kind of a novel would be written by this worried man, check out my (new!) novel Welcome To The Fold, and showing your support for it by registering at Inkshares and adding the book to your "Follow" list! Failing that, you can always buy one of my existing books, available on Amazon Kindle and in dead-tree format.
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Other Lives Of The Mind