The Christmas break is the longest, least pleasant pauses in the school year. I am not a party-pooper or one who bah-humbugs the season away. People can only blame me for generosity and good will, at this or any other time of the year.
Break is long because I am finally motivated to do something creative and can do none of it. A peasant work ethic infuses my being. Part of me says that life is work and work is life. Another, more cerebral part of me considers work and productivity nonsense. Since just about anything to do with me occurs in polar opposites, it’s natural that the grasshopper and the ant inhabit the same body, mind, and spirit.
Many of my letter recently concern lack of motivation. I suffer from that inertia plenty. But, now, as I work it out in word, I see that inertia is only part of the problem. I have a family. Family deserves attention. I am not disciplined with my time, or I’m not right now. Since I am not disciplined, my family is not disciplined. This is my fault. Without clear lines that signal when I am creating and when I am not, they cannot possibly understand when I am working and when I am not.
Then there’s all the other distractions. Dogs need walking. They need food. The fish tank’s dirty. Leaves clog the gutters. Thick oil slicks, from when the truck was leaking, cover the driveway. My wooden sculpture of the Pioneer Woman rots away. Pioneer Woman’s head and throat fall away from her upper body. We will have to burn her soon. The iron pink flamingos I bought from Auggie three years ago need paint.
You see what I’m saying? All these necessities and desires distract me from accomplishing any work when my family’s not bugging me.
I wonder how Joyce did it. He wrote Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man and The Dubliners while drinking his way through Europe and working mind-numbing jobs. Mehlville was a customs inspector. Wallace Stevens worked as an insurance clerk and went on to head the Hartford Insurance Company. Neihardt wrote endless pieces of literary criticism while penning his life’s work, Cycle of the West. Bukowski wrote thousands of poems and his novels while he worked at the post office and stayed drunk all the time.
I do not pretend that I have the talent or drive of these giants. I am not an innovator. I write and love to write. I do what I can. When I don’t have the time, I am full of inspiration. When I have the time, I’m too worn out, don’t have the creative spark, or lack enough motivation to write anything.
Before school let out this semester, I dreamed of writing tomes during my free time. But it was an awful semester—uninspired students, endless lectures where I spoke to the dead, and grading that became burdensome and tedious due to the students lack of ability or incentive to study. When the semester ended, I had one good week of essay writing. I think I finished five decent 1,000-word essays during that week. Then, kid had his Christmas break. He is of the age when he still looks to me to fill his time. We did what we could—played golf, took hikes, walked the dogs, did things around the house. After a while, you run out of things you really want to do and are left with the things you don’t want to do and can put off for an indefinite period of time. But then, the kid is still sitting there asking, “What are we going to do today?”
He wanted to build things, which meant he wanted close heart-to-heart contact with me. I didn’t want that. I don’t know that I’m capable of that kind of contact for very long or able to have that very deeply. Poor kid. I felt like a cad, sitting here trying to do things on the computer while he pined away. He satisfied himself with watching endless videos and playing computer games, which only deepened my guilt and feelings of remorse.
So, yeah, I feel like a crappy father. The break has been something of a disaster.
But wait. As I say that, I realize just how much we did. I’m not the bad guy I want to make myself out to be. Some of this feeling of uselessness comes out of my inability to satisfy the ant while I’m being the grasshopper, and vice versa. I live in a world of my own making. Every night comes the resolve to make the morrow different. I will do something with the kid, something more than we’ve been doing. I will do more creative work. I will do those pushups I keep thinking I need to do. Etc.
What it comes down to is this: I’ve gotten myself into a rut that only I can get out of. I seek the satisfactions of career and fame without wanting to do the things that bring them. On the other hand, I don’t want a career. Talk about getting into a rut. The only career I want is that of a writer. I don’t want fame but I’d kill to win the writer’s lottery—best-selling book, movie rights, interviews on radio and television. I want what writers Joyce, Mehlville, and Bukowski achieved, even if some of them didn’t get it until after they were dead. I want, more than anything, to have the drive and purpose that these and other writers had when they worked those shitty jobs, kept their good home lives (when they had them, I mean, no one can argue that Joyce or Bukowski had great home lives), and wrote, wrote, wrote.
Maybe tomorrow. Certainly not today. I have to take a nap.