Monday, January 24, 2011

New Resolutions, Old Habits, Ugly Bathrooms

A dear friend of mine missed seeing her psychiatrist last week because of a blizzard. She called him and said, “Don’t even think about going in today. I want want you to get hurt.” He said “If you were as nice to yourself as you were to others, your depression would be cured.”

I believe it’s the wisest thing he has ever said and she didn’t have to even drive in snow to hear it.

This relates to my New Year’s resolution, which relates to my writing resolution. I told my husband, “I’m going to try to stop beating myself up all the time.”

I lied. Knowing something would be good for you is not the same as changing the habit of a lifetime. Much as I try to be as gentle with myself, it’s almost a reflex at this point to be self-critical. It starts with “Why aren’t you writing faster?” and ends with every revision suggested by every editor and any complaints from readers, including the one that says, “Would you please write another book because I’m tired of waiting?” I’m a quick study, but tend to remember the bad and forget the good, turning even left-handed compliments into complaints. Lately, I’ve been so afraid of repeating my mistakes that I freeze.

As of today, I’ve written several hundred pages on my work in progress. Unfortunately, they aren’t one book but several I’ve begun anew, trying to get at that ping I held in my head but couldn’t seem to find on the page. Still, I keep trying, knocking my head against the wall until I finally throw up my hands and decide to start over.

In the meantime, I've been stuck in the purgatory of perfectionism, otherwise known as perfectionism. My latest obsession?

A super-hideous master bath, whose image I've tried to upload five times here but I cannot help but think that GOOGLE must be protecting the viewers. I'll describe it instead. Peach tiles, with interspersed decorative shells in baby-shit brown, beige CARPETING, light boxes constructed from plexiglas and fake redwood trim, and fixtures from a Las Vegas wet dream.

No matter how bad my writing was, the bathroom was an offense from Hell. It must be defeated.

I spent the month of January vascillating between fretting about the bathroom and my newest self-diagnosed ailment, ADHD.

Even I recognized the irony as as I recently picked up my daughter from school.

“How was your writing day?” she asked, knowing how frustrated I’ve been. I explained that I’d spent the morning downloading and reading the book Delivered from Distraction.

“Which you then used to distract yourself,” she said.

True. But what I loved about the Hallowell book, which I highly recommend to all artists, is how he makes an argument that instead of seeing ADHD as a disability, we might think of it as a collection of traits that allow for great creativity and ingenuity, and just plain having fun. The point is to try to cherish those traits and allow ourselves to blossom while acknowledging there are things we can do to try to maintain focus. Structure is important for example. So is exercise and meditation/prayer and even fish oil tablets.

Can I say in my defense that I tried them all, but the fish oil tabs brought me front-and-center to thinking about those awful brown shells in my grotty grotto of a double shower? Can I also say that I realized my redecorating up until then had always been trying to work with the colors in the room, which I didn’t care for, rather then reverting to those things I loved. I was worried about resale, about neutrality, about matching. Mostly, I was afraid I’d screw things up.

Having had trouble feeling a sense of agency about my work, I decided impulsively, since my husband was going away for a long weekend, to just throw myself into a quick redo. Did I mention impulsivity is one of the hallmarks of ADHD?

The difference between my mindset with this creative venture was my determination to proceed without worrying that I’d make a mistake.

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