Saturday, January 26, 2008

A Room of My Own

I need a room of my own. Virginia Woolf unearthed this nugget of truth years before and I'm finally conceding the brilliance of this simple notion.

I read "A Room of One's Own" when I was far too young to appreciate the importance of this piece of advice. I appreciated the beauty of the prose and the clarity of her ideas but I didn't truly understand the meaning. It's the same way you can't fully appreciate the joy of sleeping in on a weekend morning unless you have young children and can no longer abandon yourself to the pursuit of guiltless leisure. I read those words from a great distance for I was still a child with the whole world at my feet. What care did I have for a room of my own, I already had that, I was seeking the stimulus of the outside world.

Since I firmly set my course on becoming a writer, I've resisted the idea of creating my own space. When my ex-husband and I moved from our tiny East Village apartment to a three-bedroom co-op in Brooklyn, I entertained the idea of creating a real office for myself. I was pregnant with my son at the time and thought my daughter and the baby could share a room and I could have a room with a door. But the master bedroom was the only large bedroom, the other two were quite tiny, eventually I would have been forced to relinquish the room when the kids were too big to share. So I opted to set up an office in the alcove off the living room which felt much like setting up a work space in Grand Central Station.

Then we moved to a smaller apartment which did have three bedrooms. It was a temporary place we rented before moving out of the city. I turned the third room into an office but the room was small and uncomfortable ( too hot in the summer and freezing in the winter). I also moved from a desk-top computer to a lap-top and felt free to roam about the house to write. What need did I have for a stuffy office? I could write whenever the muse struck. I squeezed in the writing when I could. When we moved to a real house, then I'd get some real writing accomplished.

So we moved into a four bedroom house with two adults and three children (number four made his appearance two years ago). The two girls would share a bedroom and so would the boys. I didn't want to put an office upstairs in our bedroom not liking to confuse my sleeping space with my working space. This left the fourth bedroom. Once again the opportunity was presented but I backed away. This would be our tv/guest bedroom, the place where the kids could hang out, play video games, watch movies and use the computer. I set up my office in the dining room. I loved the view and believed it would be better to be in a central location where I could keep an eye on a busy household. Big mistake! This was Grand Central Station all over again.

By not allowing myself a private space in which to create, my writing is not taken as a serious pursuit by anyone, not even me. I attempt to squeeze it in around the needs of a household which seems to need me incessantly. Yesterday I escaped to Borders just to have time where I was left alone. Even as I am writing this my husband is cutting my son's hair while his best friend looks on, my daughter wants me to test her in Spanish, and my toddler is tossing shoes.

In the name of creativity and sanity, I need a room of my own. Not want, but need. I need to have a door that can close with the understanding that when that door is shut, only an emergency requiring fire-fighters, ambulance or police warrants the opening of the door.

I have decided to claim the tv/guest room for my own. Like the early explorers, I have planted my flag and claimed it for my own. In this case I don't need to enslave the natives, only displace them to other parts of the empire. I am filled with excitement over the birth of my creative oasis. Like all births, the labor will be tough and there will be a rough period of adjustment but it's well worth it.

Do you have a room of your own or sacred space just for you? How have you been able to maintain the integrity of your sanctuary?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Suffering With TDD (Time Deficit Disorder)

"I just don't have enough time!" It's the most popular complaint in my unscientific study of casual complaints. A lack of time comes in first pushing money and weight to a distant second and third.

A friend confided that the one thing she wanted more than anything was time. Time to stop and catch her breath. I had to agree with her on this one. Days rush past me in such a blur that I'm left dazed and confused. What the hell did I do today? Of course once I lay in bed, I can conjure up the rushed series of events- errands, writing, chasing toddler, homework help, cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc, etc, etc. But this exercise just makes me even more anxious in the middle of the night as I begin to realize that there were hundreds, maybe even thousands of things that I didn't even get to. AAH!!

Then a couple of days ago, while rushing around the kitchen trying to get dinner ready at a decent time, after picking up my son from drama rehearsal, helping my daughter with her homework, keeping my toddler from throwing pencils at his brother while he did his homework, put dry laundry away, and tried to write one more page in my novel- I realized that I wasn't breathing. Not in the technical sense, the heart was still beating, the lungs were indeed working but I wasn't taking those rich cleansing breaths they teach in yoga. I was one giant cramp, struggling to complete all these tasks at the same time. Is this what I do every day? It's no wonder I'm exhausted all the time.

I realized that I was suffering with TDD- Time Deficit Disorder (my professional diagnosis). It's a tricky little disorder which causes the sufferer to believe that they can maximize time and actually create more time by packing as many activities into one segment of time. Basically, it's the equivalent of trying to read a page from five different books all at the same time. Sure you'll finish five books but it won't make a heck of a lot of sense in the end.

We're slaves to multi-tasking. We praise those who get a lot done. It's not quality but quantity. I read an article not too long ago while waiting for an appointment. It was a feature on a woman who had just been promoted to some new corporate title. Not only was she just promoted but she was taking classes for her MBA at night, she was president of several women in business organizations, she was an active member in local politics, she taught continuing ed classes, she volunteered at local charities, and she had published several non-fiction books in her industry, while raising three children. I was tired after reading the article. I was exhausted for her. She wasn't an exception, she has become the norm.

We're all cramming as much as we can into our waking days because we think we're supposed to. People won't be impressed unless you're a administrative assistant who is also training for a black belt in karate, is president of the PTO, reads to the blind, and run your own business at night while homeschooling your seven children. There's absolutely nothing wrong with having a rich multi-faceted life but when you cram so much into your day that you don't have the time to read a book, call a friend, have a casual chat with a neighbor or play a game with your children then something is wrong. We're not living life anymore but chasing time.

I've had enough. I'm off the multi-tasking roller coaster. I've pledged to focus on one thing at a time before moving on to the next task. This isn't as easy as it sounds. I'm the high-priestess of busyness. The first day I gave it a real try, I found I was actually relaxed and had accomplished a pretty fair amount. The next couple of days, I failed miserably as I found myself trying to do three things at once but I'm determined to conquer my TDD.

How about you? Are you guilty of doing too much? If you've conquered your TDD, please share.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Tired of Being Broke

I've had it. I'm tired of being broke. By broke, I mean the act of holding one's breath when looking at the bank account balance; the chill of fear when you stare in shock at the negative value in red. "Someone's stealing our money!" is the first thought. But then that kick in the stomach comes when you stare at the statement and realize that the only crime perpetrated is your inability to think before you purchase.

Now, we're not shopaholics. We don't have cable, we try and keep our purchases down and attempt to avoid impulse buying but still we're riding close to the edge. It's not just because we're a one income family. Most dual-income families I know skirt just as close to the edge. The only difference is that they have more income for discretionary spending so they can buy even more stuff they don't need. Generally one income goes just to pay for all the extra stuff they really can't afford.

The New Year has come and I realize that I can't go on this way anymore fearing what each month is going to bring. Doom hovers around every corner. We're constantly holding our breath and wiping the sweat off our brows as we sigh into the next month, hoping that this one won't be as bad as the last. Lately, we're saying this every month.

I think back to my childhood and see how patterns have repeated. Both my parents worked but it was my mother who paid the bills. My father's salary essentially supported his active social life (politely read- gambling and hanging out with his pals). My mother's financial system was based on the "rob Peter, to pay Paul" method. She was no spendthrift but she was also no planner. If she didn't have the money she often wouldn't buy it but there were those times she'd put it on the credit card and cross her fingers. She always paid her bills on time but things were pretty tight. She kept all the anxiety to herself and I was unaware of how close we were to the precipice.

And here I am repeating the same pattern. There are times when I should just shake my head, cross my arms firmly and say "No" to some purchase but I don't because I don't want anyone to feel bad. I cross my fingers and hope that it won't leave too big a dent in the end. Generally it doesn't and we're able to find the money somewhere to pay it off but I'd like to give up the mental anguish that comes when it's time to pay the bills. So I've taken on the gargantuan task of changing the financial mindset of my family and let me tell you this is not going to be easy.

Just as I am writing this entry a cold draft is wafting through the house. My first thought is that something is wrong with the boiler and now we were going to have to pay even more of the money that we don't have to fix it but then I discover the culprit. My eight year old opened the window in his room because... (his rational not mine). I wanted to scream. We just had a conversation yesterday about money, global warming and the future of the planet. Aah!!

We also have two pre-teen girls who are being marketed to heavily from every source imaginable. They're continually confusing their wants with their needs. They're at the age where they are deeply cognizant of the power of the consumer market. Unfortunately they don't want to slay the beast like I do but want to party with it.

I know I have my work cut out for me but in the end I look forward to a good night's sleep, knowing that we're not going to awaken one morning to find that we've rolled into the precipice with no hope of rescue. Plus, worrying about money sure takes a lot of time from my creative pursuits. I think I might be the first person to make a clear connection between financial planning and creativity.

Okay, the first step is to create a budget.

Anyone out there going through dozens of what-if nightmare scenarios about their finances too? Let's commiserate together.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Another New Year, Another Chance

It's another year. I've had to allow myself a couple of days to settle into it. The holiday vacation was quiet and like a princess in a fairy tale, I slept. I didn't realize just how tired I was until I didn't have to wake up early to get everyone in the house moving. It was terribly indulgent but I must say I came to the New Year feeling relaxed and ready for what comes my way. This is a far cry from the past.

The approach of the New Year filled me with dread as I agonized over the mistakes of the past year. I'd remember all the expectations I set up for myself and how I failed miserably. And yes, it was failure for I was still the same imperfect being. I'd then fill a sheet of paper with a list of impossible resolutions. This would be the year I attacked this wishy-washy behavior and rooted out imperfection. It would be war. Battle would commence on New Year's Day. New Year's eve night would find me unable to sleep feeling jittery about the enemy. My plan rested on my ability to hit the ground running on January 1st. One slip-up and that was it; I'd slip back into the pit of imperfection. Geez, no pressure there!

Now I'm older and wiser. I've lost the resolutions and the anxiety but I am still excited by the prospect of the New Year. It's the idea of that clean slate that gets me all the time. Sure you can have that at any time. You can tell yourself that on Monday, you'll wake up earlier and exercise or that on the first of the month you'll start saving money but this doesn't have the same thrill as the start of New Year. It's like telling people you ran 26.2 miles the other day. They'll probably be impressed but it won't have the same affect as saying, I finished the New York City Marathon. It's all in the presentation.

This year finds me relaxed, focused on the goals that I've chosen for this new year. The list is manageable and achievement rests on my ability to plod along, taking one day at a time but making certain I take those first steps. Failure no longer rests in the one slip-up which would absolve me of all further activity, beginning the terrible process again at year's end. Now I pick myself up, dust off, and continue on greeting next year with the same relaxed awe.

So how did you approach the arrival of 2008?