Being A Writer Has Made Me A Bad Wife, Dog Mom, Housekeeper & Employee

Writing takes up a lot of mental real estate.

You need room for characters to be born and mature. You’re always observing–people, the environment, situations–for beautiful descriptions, interesting turns of phrase, or plot inspiration.

If you’re outlining or revising a story, your mind is completely overtaken by the minutiae of perfecting your plot. Without warning, an idea will come to you–perhaps in the middle of a conversation–and you have to stop what you’re doing to write it down before if flies away.

If you’re a writer, you’re always lost in those made-up worlds, oft-times oblivious to the real one around you. And that’s why being a writer has made me suck at life just a little.

I’m an absentee wife. Neglectful dog mom. Distracted employee. And a really crappy housekeeper.

Knock, knock. Who’s there? Your marriage! Care to join me?

People with busy minds need exterior calm.

Seriously–I have entire worlds unfolding in my head. Characters being born, then talking. To each other and to us. Works in progress, playing in my subconscious. Visions–of faces, or homes, or entire plots–that pop in and out like intrusive neighbors.

So when my dear spouse has a story to tell, or a problem, or simply wants to go do something, I may not be in any condition to listen, advise, or leave the house.

Of course, the natural state of the writer isn’t a comatose, selfish, and temperamental pain in the ass. That’s just how we feel when we’re in revision mode. Or waiting for our editors to return a manuscript. Or trying to work through a thorny plot issue.

So just don’t just burst in, interrupting my characters’ very important conversations. Wait a minute. Let me take a breath, calm my mind and prepare myself for real-world activities.

Given this preoccupation, I simply may not be emotionally available at a moment’s notice. And that’s not very convenient, nor does it make me a very good partner. But of all the shortcomings I try to mitigate, this is the one I work at the hardest.

‘Want to play mom?’ the dog pleaded. ‘Just one more minute!’ the writer answered.

Violet, the redbone coonhound, is just over a year old. When she was little, we spent our mornings in my office, where I write. She was a rambunctious, very energetic and mischievous puppy. She’s still all those things, but now thirty pounds heavier.

She went through this phase where she wanted to play but didn’t know how to ask. So she’d sit in the middle of the floor and stare at me while barking incessantly. Or she’d tug on my clothes–sleeve, hem of a dress, pant leg.

That phase has passed. She asks to place nicely now. But it’s often when I’m writing, since that was the routine from her puppy days. We’ll tug, we’ll play catch. I’ll indulge her for maybe five minutes, then I’ll turn back around to my computer.

If it’s not enough, she’ll ask again and again, until she’s all played out.

I never say no to play time. But I always stop it before she’s ready, because I’m on a deadline, self-imposed or determined by my editor. I write in the mornings, and need a break before I go to work. This writing time is precious, and I only have so much left over to play.

And every time I cut fetch or tug short, I feel guilty.

Writing, then work

My day job is perfect for writing.

It’s easy. It requires little mental energy. It’s (usually) stress-free. I work at the family business, a very busy restaurant that serves pizzas, subs, and wings. I run the kitchen, manage the employees.

My mind is able to wander while frying wings or rolling pizza dough. I can mine the customers for character quirks, and use their personal stories for inspiration. And it gets me out of my head and into the world, doing something physical. That’s important for a writer.

I work with my husband and in-laws. I’m allowed to be on my phone, which is the life line to my creative world. I can jot down ideas that pop into my head. Receive emails from my editor. Do some quick, furtive research.

My job is second in my list of professional priorities. I’m never fully present when I’m there–I always have one foot in my imaginary world. I care about my job, in so far as I appreciate its value in supporting my writing career.  Though I enjoy it, immensely, I’d still rather be writing.

Writing comes first. It’s a good thing I work with family, because chances are, anyone else would fire me.

Move over life, I’m trying to be creative

Here’s a list of things that need to be done in my house.

Clean the fridge. There’s some sticky stuff on the shelf. It’s been there for a long time and I have no idea what it is.

Organize the cupboards. They’re full of crap I don’t remember buying.

Clean my office. It’s a mess; there are piles and piles of random stuff everywhere.  I wonder what’s hiding beneath them…

Sweep my floors. The aforementioned redbone is expert at making messes. I need to start cleaning them up.

I could go on, but I don’t want to give the impression that I’m a hog. I’m not. I keep my house just clean enough. That’s what I have time for. It doesn’t stink, I keep up with the dishes and cleaning the bathrooms. It’s fine.

But could it be cleaner? Yes. Absolutely. Do I have time? Maybe next week…

Despite all my failings at life, I’d argue that it’s a small price to pay for what I’ve achieved. Three books under my belt, soon to be published, and I think they’re pretty darn good.

And after all the damage I’ve probably done, my husband and dog still love me for some reason, and the house will get cleaned.

Eventually.

Click here to read the first three chapters of my book, “Wicked Innocents.”

The Allure Of Other People’s Lives: Why We Can’t Mind Our Own Business

You never know what goes on behind closed doors.

My mother said this often when I was growing up, usually after learning something unexpected about an acquaintance, co-worker, celebrity–whomever.

The thought always frightened me and I often studied friends and strangers with suspicion, wondering: “what do you do that no one knows about?”

Perhaps they did drugs. Or their house was unimaginably filthy. Or their family had nightly, ritualistic fist-fights. I usually imagined abuse of some sort, and I think this is what my mother was alluding to.

As I’ve gotten older and society has become so open, I’m often aghast when I learn what people do in their private lives, from the obscene to the bizarre. And I’ve only grown more interested.

But why do I care about what other people are doing? Why do people care about what I’m doing?

Why can’t we all just mind our own business?

You Won’t Believe What He Did!

Talking behind each other’s backs is hard-wired into our brains, so it seems. Where there are groups of people, there’s gossip.

Anthropologists think gossip is the glue that bonds people together. We also use it to exclude and isolate people who aren’t contributing to the well-being of the group. Think of a group of hunter-gatherers like an ancient version of an office. There’s always that one berry picker who doesn’t pull her weight, taking breaks while the others fill their baskets. Gossip may be a way to motivate her to try harder. If she doesn’t, she’ll end up alone.

In other words, we bond over shared frustrations and sometimes hatred. It’s a survival tactic. If we align with other people, we have a better chance of surviving. If we tick off the group and become the subject of gossip, we may just die.

Underlying gossip, of course, is judgment. And this common human habit also serves a purpose: it’s much easier to judge than it is to understand.

Who Does He Think He Is?

We judge because we don’t have time to figure out why everyone around us is doing whatever it is they do. We don’t have time to figure out their motivations.

It’s easier for us to conclude someone is being rude to us because they’re a jerk than it is to figure out why they may be acting like a jerk in that moment. It’s a difference between situational versus personality attributions; the former is the understanding kind, the latter the judgey one.

In order to truly understand someone else, we have to know the actual motivation behind their actions, which is a very complicated thing. In the absence of that, we draw our own conclusions. So being judgmental is just plain lazy.

As part of this laziness, we speculate, we offer opinions based on our speculations, we condemn and demean based on those opinions.

But we never actually look behind that closed door.

He Should Be More Like Us

People like to tell me the intimate details of their lives. I have one of those faces, apparently. Or maybe they can sense I’ll actually listen.

The other day, a perfect stranger told me about his lifestyle choices. He has a kid he barely knows, but never wanted kids at all. He divorced his wife after seven years of marriage. He has no interest in getting married again, but has had lots of girlfriends.

He wisely acknowledged two things about himself: he doesn’t want to negotiate every decision in his life with another person, and he’s selfish. Good for him, I thought, for knowing this about himself. He knows what he can give to another person, and what he can’t. Most of us don’t understand ourselves this well.

But people judge him, brutally, for his lifestyle choices. They think he should live like them, and if he doesn’t, something is wrong with him. “Like them” means the heterosexual, nuclear family. Mom, Dad, two kids.

I listened to this man explain the “why” behind his choices. It was simple: he just doesn’t want the same things as everyone else.

But the people who judge him don’t ask why. They compare his life to theirs, and determine theirs is better. They isolate him through gossip, because he’s not contributing to society by adhering to its norms. Perhaps their beef is with the fact that he’s not reproducing. Perhaps they feel he’s not doing his share or he has it easy. Unlike them, he’s not struggling through life to support a family, but instead coasts through with freedom and plenty of money and no responsibilities. Regardless, what this man decides to do with his life is still nobody’s business. He’s not hurting anyone; if anything, he’s hurting himself.

But despite all the natural drives that explain gossip and judgment–which make sense–I’m still left wondering why we care how other people live.

With some exceptions, what other people do behind closed doors doesn’t affect us. So are we interested out of morbid curiosity? In general, we’re afraid of what we don’t know–not knowing the private lives of our neighbors is a scary thought if they’re evil people. What about insecurity and jealousy? We have to know that what we’re doing and what we have is better, so we can live with ourselves and, theoretically, be happy.

Perhaps the human habit of “not minding our own business” is a way to measure ourselves. Alone, without anything to compare ourselves to, we’d have no idea how we’re doing. When we pry into the lives of others, we’re really searching ourselves.

YOUR TURN

Why do you think we’re so interested in other people’s lives? Have you ever been the subject of malicious gossip? Have other people ever openly judged your lifestyle choices?

Photo Courtesy Pexels

Lifestyles of the Jittery & Terrified: Why Nervousness Is A Magic Power

I come from a long line of nervous people.

Every time there’s a storm outside my grandmother stares out the window, groaning and praying that someone she knows isn’t on the road. She knows a lot of people.

My childhood memories are filled with images of my grandfather sitting in his rocking chair, lower lip protruding, sighing deeply. Worrying, incessantly, about everyone.

My sister has a nervous breakdown when she sees spiders. My mother is afraid of many things. Mice. Driving. Calories. Her children; mostly her children.

I have inherited my own nervous nature from many relatives. Though my anxiety has improved a lot over the years, I can name many phobias, past and present.

Agoraphobia. Emetophobia. Mild claustrophobia. Also driving. Planes…

But this isn’t about me.

I think it’s safe to say that everyone on planet earth has anxiety in one form or another. To declare “I have anxiety!” is simply to identify yourself as a human being. Hell, my dog has anxiety. It’s a side effect of living.

And I want to challenge what it means to be nervous–maybe not just run-of-the-mill nervous, but something a tick above that. The kind of nervous that can easily rule your life. The kind of nervous that, to the outside world, looks like weakness.

Nervousness shouldn’t be equated with weakness. As a Certified Nervous Person, I believe it’s a strength, even a magic power. Here’s why.

A Threat Around Every Corner

A nervous person is fine tuned to threats. Emotional, physical, existential. Real and imagined. Things you would never even think of.

What if I have too much soda before the plane lands and then the plane gets stuck on the tarmac and the flight attendants won’t let me go to the bathroom, and if I defy their orders and go the bathroom anyway the air marshal tackles me and I end up on the news?

What if I’m standing in this line forever, so long that I start getting hungry and then I miss lunch, so my blood sugar plummets and I start to feel dizzy and nauseous, and I cause a scene because I either faint or vomit on the person standing in front of me?

What if I walk through that tall grass and a tick latches on to my ankle and I don’t notice for a week, and by the time I do, it has given me Lyme Disease and I end up developing celiac disease?

Are these reasons to be overly nervous? Not really. They’re silly worries, unlikely scenarios, and only serve to add undue stress to a situation that might not be stressful at all.

But the important thing to remember, before you laugh at a Certified Nervous Person, is that all of these scenarios are possible. Who do you think is going to take the proper action to prevent such a crisis: the calm fellow who never worries about anything? Or the nervous Nelly who has imagined exactly that chain of events?

The nervous Nelly, of course. She would drink soda sparingly as the plane reached its destination. She would pack a protein bar in her purse before heading to the DMV. She would wear tall socks and tick repellent before going hiking.

Nervous people are always prepared. We expect the worst, and worse than the worst. So when a crisis arrives, we’re not upset. We don’t falter or cave. Instead, we give that crisis a dirty, unimpressed look and ask why it arrived so late. We were born ready.

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

Every waking moment of a nervous person’s life is a struggle.

We are constantly fighting an internal voice that points out new things to be afraid of. We have no control over it. We also talk to this voice constantly, telling it to shut up or telling ourselves not to listen.

When I’m nervous, I feel like I have two minds: the rational one and the irrational one. One side tells me I’m not in danger and I don’t need to fret over something so silly, while the other maliciously reminds me that I should be very scared of everything.

It’s a back and forth that doesn’t give up. A prompting to be scared, fighting with a determination not to be.

And that inner battle is perfect preparation for any real life obstacle. Nervous people possess expert coping mechanisms and stress relieving techniques. Our brains may be a tad fragile, but they’re protected by emotional callouses formed over years of fighting.

We’re also used to crawling through and over our nerves to get what we want. The nervous person knows very well that if you give in to every single little fear, you’ll never do anything at all.

And this makes us are unstoppable.

Sensitive Souls

I believe that nervous people are simply people with overactive emotions.

We experience the difficulties of everyday life on a higher frequency. Call it Mountain-Out-Of-A-Molehill Syndrome: we have a hard time distinguishing between an actual big deal and something that we just think is a big deal.

After a social function, my mother will lie awake at night recounting every single thing she said. As the hours in the dark tick by, she gradually convinces herself that she insulted someone or made herself look like a fool. And of course, she did nothing of the sort. But it doesn’t matter, because she’s worked herself into a nervous state and will end up falling asleep, finally, at 5 a.m.

There is no calm for a Certified Nervous Person. Quiet moments are just free, undisturbed moments to fret about something. Our base line is bothered. Our emotions are always on the surface.

And these emotions aren’t always directed at torturing ourselves. We direct this energy at other people, in the form of constant worry. We agonize over what can go wrong in the lives of the people we love, following that “if, then” thinking to its terrifying conclusion.

With our minds attuned to every emotional stimuli–internal and external–nervous people often absorb the emotions of complete strangers. When we see anyone suffer, we feel it, too.

Nervousness and empathy, in my personal experience, go hand in hand. One causes and feeds the other, allows the other to exist. And the ability to intimately understand and appreciate the internal lives of other people is the most powerful skill you can possess.

Of course, there are plenty of Certified Nervous Persons who are held captive by their over-active nerves. There are certain aspects of my anxiety that I can’t overcome.

But perhaps if we look at nervousness as a unique way of seeing the world and a special struggle that makes us tough, we can convince other people that we’re not weak at all.

We are stronger than they–and we–think.

Photo by Kat Jayne from Pexels

Why You Have More In Common With Drug Addicts Than You Think

Certain people are very easy to judge. Bad reputations remain unchallenged. Opinion becomes truth.

It’s easy to judge a drug addict, for example. We’ve all heard and perhaps repeated common beliefs about such people: they’re weak, selfish, self-destructive, they’ll do anything for a hit, they don’t care about the people who love them.

I disagree with all of these descriptions, mostly because they’re far too simplistic. In my short life, I’ve known many people who’ve abused substances and I’ve listened to their stories. What I’ve learned is that nothing is ever simple as a list of adjectives.

And I’ve always ended up wondering why. (As a writer, I’m programmed to do this. I can’t help it) Why does a person become addicted to drugs? What were the choices and circumstances that led down that path? What personal struggles contributed? Was it some inherent quality or something that happened to them?

It takes a little effort to try to understand another person. All you have to do is look inside yourself, to some point of similarity. Because it’s there.

Have you ever wanted to forget a difficult memory? Wished your mind would stop chattering? Felt you couldn’t overcome something because it was too hard? Hated yourself with every fiber of your being?

If you can answer those questions honestly, that’s a start.

A Life Without Love

The compulsion to use drugs was explained to me once like this: “no one cares about me, so I’ll do what I want. If I had a woman, or a kid, that would be different. But I don’t.”

Beneath that statement is a very sad truth–a lack of self-worth.

All of us look outward for reassurance, for confirmation that we are valuable as human beings. We instinctively expect certain people to shower us with love–our parents, siblings, extended family.

But if, rather than reassurance, those people instead berate and abuse us, we are left believing to our very core that we are worthless.

Very few people are strong enough to look inward and believe that they’re good enough, with no outward confirmation. If the outside world says we’re ugly or stupid, etc, we believe that rather than love ourselves.

Return to that quote again: “If I had a woman, or a kid, that would be different. But I don’t.” Most people live for others, not themselves. While we may act selfishly and do things for ourselves on occasion, our true motivation is the happiness of the people we love.

Imagine you already believe yourself to be worthless, because that’s what the world has told you. Imagine also that you are alone, with no one care for. It’s just you, hating yourself, with no motivation to be better.

If drugs erased these feelings and replaced them with a euphoria you can’t experience otherwise, do you think you could resist them?

Leaving Your Problems Behind

This one is pretty obvious: people use drugs to run away from their problems. The fellow reporter I worked with at a newspaper years ago drank himself into oblivion to forget about the day his daughter was run over by a snow plow.

Drug addicts are weak, right? The rest of us deal with our problems, you may say. But do you, really? Think about it. Avoidance takes many forms.

We all escape. To clear our minds of the day’s stresses, we play video games, watch TV, read a book. Go for a run, hike, go “out” with friends to dance or drink.

Healthy escapes, yes, but this is the point if similarity.

Do you avoid confrontation by refusing to have an opinion in an argument? Or do you use passive aggressive tactics to get your way? Are you well aware that your cholesterol is too high, yet you put off changing your diet because it’s too hard? Or maybe you know your spouse is cheating on you, but bury yourself in distraction–work, hobbies, you name it–so you don’t have to think about it.

We all close our awareness to problems we can plainly see, stupidly hoping the problem will go away. It doesn’t. It never does–not until you deal with it. But dealing with it is too hard. As you read this, you’re probably thinking of that thing in your life you want to avoid.

Now imagine that thing is bigger. The death of a child. A rape. A failed marriage. Being in a car accident. A combat tour overseas. You already avoid the small problems, the things you probably could deal with if you tried. Do you really think you could handle something worse without turning to an unhealthy escape?

I doubt I could.

The Power of Chemicals

Think about the people in your life. I bet, like me, a handful of them are addicted to pain killers.

I know three people who are. The opioid crisis in my county is so bad that the foster care system can’t handle all the children taken away from addicted parents.

Anyone could end up in this place. You. Me. Your brother. Your grandmother. The path is easy, because it often begins with a doctor.

You get hurt, you have a condition, and you need pain relief. The doctor gives you a pill. And you think–“it came from the doctor, it must be okay!” Before you even know what’s happening, your body can’t live without that little pill.

I’m not saying anything ground-breaking here. The point I’m trying to get across is that the path to drug addiction can start innocently, the point of entry guarded by someone in a position of trust. It doesn’t have to be illicit, the drugs purchased in secret and illegally, injected with dirty needles. The drugs can be in a prescription bottle you pick up at Walgreens.

In my experience people underestimate the overpowering and insidious effect of chemicals on the human body and mind. I did.

My own point of similarity is birth control. It was prescribed to me at sixteen, by a doctor who listened to my problems for five minutes and took the easiest route to fix them. For eighteen years, my body grew accustomed to that chemical support and didn’t know how to function without it. Over the years, the pill gave me numerous health problems, among them irritable bowel syndrome and chronic anxiety.

My point is that we are not our true selves on chemicals. Our bodies and minds aren’t functioning naturally while under their influence. And that’s the point, isn’t it?

Some of these influences are necessary to improve our health, of course. But others can have drastic consequences. And though it may be a far cry from more illicit drugs, the use of legal ones proves at least one point: that we are at their whim.

Photo Courtesy Photo by Rene Asmussen from Pexels.

Your Turn

Has drug addiction effected your life? What do you do to escape?