Better Boundaries

One of the things I have encountered while trying to write full time is how much it just looks to other people like you are screwing around.

Yes, there is some screwing around to be expected, but a lot of what you don’t see is mapping out your thoughts, drawing in information, and trying to get to a state of equilibrium where the outside distractions are at a minimum and your work can begin.

I was talking with a friend last night who was in the middle of helping out a friend with some divorce drama. She had work of her own to do, but being a good friend, she took the time to work things out with her friend who was struggling. After a few hours of this, the end of the evening was closing in and she still hadn’t written her paper. The friend was fine, she probably would have been fine, but for my friend, there was still a paper to be written, an impending deadline, and now a whole bucketload of frustration and exhaustion.

Yesterday was a lot like that for me too. I started off the day after a rough night with the dog wanting to go out at 7:30am. We headed out into the snow, where she took care of business, and then we ran into my dad, who always wants a conversation. I am not much of a morning person. Unlike a retired man who begins every day at 5am and always has some kind of project to fiddle with, my brain refuses to engage until around 10. The reason for this is I often work until 2am. That is when the house is quiet, no kids are throwing Star Wars trivia at me, and nobody has to use my computer for endless busywork projects their online school throws at them throughout the day. Even the dog chills out from her need to be petted, a toy thrown, or let out.

My dad likes to visit. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s just I have a finite number of things I have to say in a day, and trying to fill out the early morning pre-coffee with conversation is really pulling the rope a long way in a dry well. So, my day started with guilt.

Are we going to fix the heater in your car today?

No. I hadn’t been planning on it.

Oh. Gonna write some blogs today then?

Fuck. I was. Now that I’ve been guilted about it, I think I’ll do a couple loads of laundry, and about a hundred thousand other things that aren’t writing. Maybe feel like I’m not doing enough to satisfy the production level which is expected of me by my family.

A buddy of mine once told me when I was struggling with some writer’s block and I couldn’t stay off social media, “Avoid garbage words in the morning.” he said.

The old legend of Samuel Taylor Coleridge who sat down to pen Kublai Khan and how he was interrupted by the Person from Porlock and most of the great bits of the epic poem evaporated from his head is something that happens almost daily for me. When I have to struggle to talk to people in the morning and force some semblance of conversation, which usually ends in some sort of criticism, I’m not happy. Between my recent daily emails of how I am lacking as a human being from my ex-wife and my dad’s critivisits, it’s a wonder I get anything done.

Sometimes I just don’t want to talk to anybody! Much less someone whose negativity I have to match to make a connection.

The hardest thing about the creative process, whether it is painting, poetry, art, writing, singing, songwriting, broadcasting, etc. is convincing people who don’t have to come up with shit from thin air that you are actually being productive. The same goes for writing papers, writing copy for companies, studying, etc. It’s work. It requires concentration. If roles were reversed, could they just sit down and put their thoughts into some kind of media? Those who can do it well make it look easy. It doesn’t mean that it is. It doesn’t mean that we don’t agonize over details to get them just right, so that a reader can just breeze through it and not appreciate the artistry that went into it.

Think of a cabinet. Somebody planned that, measured the wood, cut it to specifications, planed it, assembled it, stained and finished it, and all the rest. And you just stick your coffee mugs inside of it. Do you ever think for a moment the work and effort it takes to put something together like this? No! Because it is so basic and utilitarian you aren’t meant to throw yourselves at its feet and worship it for the art that it is! It doesn’t mean that passion and thought didn’t go into it. It doesn’t mean that they didn’t step back when it was done and say “I hope somebody really enjoys this.”

We all consume. We all just carry on. To the next one. And the next. And so on.

Stop it.

If you don’t make better boundries, people will come in to your life and grab everything they can carry off. If they get mad about the boundaries, then those boundaries were made exactly for that person. Boundaries filter out the people who just take and never give back. Feel about as guilty at the outrage they exude as you would someone flipping you off in traffic. It’s a meaningless gesture. If what you are doing has meaning. If you are chasing your dream or following a plan to achieve a goal, then keep moving forward. Put up those boundaries and do it without remorse.

Because when your energy is spent, they just go home with a full tank and a comfy bed, and you are the one questioning your life choices at 11:40pm. They won’t feel ANY guilt about it. They won’t be the ones without shit written, a late paper, another sleepless night, a sense of failure, and the whole thing to try to avoid again tomorrow.

We don’t get an unlimited number of tomorrows.


A rough week

Sometimes weeks can be rough as a single parent.  File that in the big cabinet drawer marked “No Shit, Really?”

This week was a little rough with my son.  He’s turning 9 this month and for the last several weeks he has been Needy.  This last week, he was fighting a cough he brought over from his mom’s house and also decided he was going to have insomnia.

So, for nearly every day for the last week, I have been awakened to the sound of my son coming into my room, tearing up, whining that he can’t sleep.  And wouldn’t you know it, when you are awakened to the sound of crying in your room in the middle of the night, you don’t exactly sleep well either.

My usual go-to of giving him a big hug and sending him back to bed hasn’t worked this week.  He’s just up an hour later, crying again, this time asking for some kind of sleeping aid, whether it is being able to play music on his iPad or melatonin.  I’m not a big fan of throwing pills at a problem, and I tend to suspect that the iPad has a big influence on whether or not he will sleep sometimes.  I’m fighting that electronics addiction tooth and nail at my house lately. I’m just as guilty as he is about it sometimes too.

I think most of us are these days.

Electronics have been around in this capacity since the 1980s. I know I spent an inordinate amount of time on my Nintendo at his age.  I also used to get super cranky with my parents and forget to eat and also fight with my friends after several hours of Mario Bros. or Ninja Gaiden.  The stupid B button sticking was probably more rage-inducing than any violent game the media wants people to blame for school shootings anyway.  That and lack of glucose going to your brain.

Electronics are the same as the cathode ray nipple of television back when my generation was growing up. Only back then you had to wait for your show to come on and suffer through commercials.  Kids these days are all about instant gratification.  Like Veruca Salt, they want it NOWWWWW!!!!

My son is actually pretty good most of the time, but I think lately, since I have started a new relationship he has the Fear of Missing Out, because sometimes it isn’t about him.  Single parents I know often saturate their kids with their time because they don’t have a whole lot of much else going on.  I have a friend whose daughters are often up until 11:30pm with her, and she feels overwhelmed.  I’ve had other single friends whose kids accompany them everywhere and they become the center of attention wherever they go, basically dictating what the adults do at any given moment.

Sometimes it’s like he keeps a tally in his head of exactly how long I am required to spend time with him.  If I am texting or calling someone, not even just my girlfriend, he demands extra attention later.   These bouts of insomnia seems to correspond with nights I’m on the phone when he should be in bed.  I get that.

When dealing with anyone, sometimes you need good boundaries.  I also get that for the longest time, it was just him and me.  A past relationship also tended to dote on him and give him 100% of her attention whenever she was around, which I think didn’t do him any service.  Sometimes, kids have to just entertain themselves and not be the center of attention.

This bit is hard.

This weekend was rough because after going through an entire week of needy kid waking me up all night, it was 90 degrees.  My GF, son, and I went to hang out in Ft. Collins.  Some genius decided to turn the splash park off in Old Town, so now instead of watching my son play in the fountain while we relaxed, we were dealing with a kid who was “Bored.”

Most parents crap their pants at these words, especially my generation and those after it.  The dreaded temper tantrum.  The clenched teeth, the whole panic sets in of a bored child and how heaven and earth have to be moved in order to placate them.  Which is also why teenagers are a pain in the ass these days.  The word No isn’t used enough on kids.  And I have seen enough parents toss their phones to their kids so they can sit around like zombies watching YouTube or playing games on their phone rather than deal with it.

The adults in our party wanted to just sit and relax, so we went to an open area with cornhole, and other kids running around, and chairs and live music, and my son proceeded to pout and whine and bitch and moan the entire time.  It was all about what he wanted to do.  As much as it set my teeth on edge, I waited him out.  I didn’t throw ice cream at him, and I sure as hell didn’t give him my phone to play Pocket Mortys for an hour of peace and quiet.  I just kept telling him to go play.  And he would shuffle back, “bored” and only do things when he thought I was looking.

These days are hard because as a 9 year old, he should be able to figure out ways to entertain himself.  Do I do this stuff at his Cub Scouts events?  What about his school concerts?  Or some animated kids’ movie I would rather never sit through?  No.  Because when I was his age, I learned to amuse myself.  My parents weren’t required to hover over me as though their total engrossment of my adolescent life determined whether or not they got divine reward or cast into a fiery abyss of hellish torment.  Not like my generation feels the pressures of.

His being “Bored” has no impact on his needs as a person.  Sometimes, we are bored. Like my meetings at work. And it isn’t anyone else’s job to entertain us.  I think the sooner kids learn that, the less entitled they will become.  I get that sometimes he needs some TLC, but sometimes kids need to be reminded that it isn’t always about them.

That part was hard, because he does enjoy his time with me and with someone new in the picture, he gets even more attention.  But attention is bad sometimes, especially when kids will take every ounce of it you give them and still expect more.

It’s a balance.  And being a parent is a work in progress.  Sometimes it sucks and you fall flat on your face.  For the most part it is thankless. You get more blame for years of therapy than you do for the character you hope you can build in someone.

Anyway, I’ve got nothin’.  But what I don’t want is advice.  You’ll get a lot of that as a single parent too. Unsolicited.  Useless advice.

My advice to you…stick to your guns, and even if it pulls at your heartstrings, boredom never killed anyone.  But would it have killed the city of Fort Collins to run the goddamned splash pool in Old Town Square when it was 90 degrees on a Sunday?


The Journey of Being Creative

I was feeling a little bit down today.  This hasn’t happened like this in a while.  Maybe I can blame the clear blue Colorado skies, the thunderstorms in the distance at night, the hum of the cicadas outside my window.

I can blame the day job, which is more or less a lesson in redundancy and a monumental waste of time.  Work comes in.  I do the work.  A few days later another request comes in to change the whole damned thing back to how it was.  There’s a lot of entitlement in the Academy.  If a prof wants a four day weekend, they will move their times to Tuesdays and Thursdays, at a respectable hour, and I have to figure out just where the hell they can teach when there are hundreds of others doing the exact same thing.

There’s a lot of blame going around, but like Jimmy Buffet says, it could be my fault.

Today I hit the realization that I haven’t been writing for myself much.  I’ve been working and catching up on paid blogs.  The fascinating work of tree removal, boats, and HVAC companies.  The work has slowed down a little bit with the writing gigs, which isn’t good.  I rely on that income to make sure I can do things like pay the light bill or buy gasoline for the week.

It has been over a week since I’ve written something for myself, whether it is the travel blog or here on my personal blog.  This morning I chatted with a friend of mine, the only woman who has inflicted more pain upon me than my ex-wife; and we are still friends.  She’s my dental hygienist, and she is also a creative.  Not only does she do a mean scaling and root planing, but she also paints amazing watercolors.  When we visit, we almost always talk about the Work.  Not scheduling or cleaning people’s teeth, but the work of being a Creative.  It usually gets me fired up to write something, which is great.  Today, that sorta fell flat for me.  With two posts to write about boat epoxy and dinghies, I didn’t feel creative.  I felt overwhelmed with deadlines and suddenly wondered why she had concerns about my teeth grinding.

Another friend of mine was venting on Facebook today.  She is an award winning horror writer, and today hit her hard too.  She was feeling rough and though it felt good to try to lift up a friend, I thought the struggle is very real when you are trying to make a name for yourself in writing.  There are a lot of truly talented people out there who are your competition, but also a lot of jackasses who phone it in and seem to be doing much better than you.  Why even bother?  As a creative, the production of writing, art, and just about anything else always seems to be along the lines of entertaining for others, but “don’t quit your day job.”

Of the three creatives I encountered today, the last is my lovely and talented girlfriend.  She is a self-taught graphic artist and writer.  She is also one of my biggest fans, and I cannot begin to explain how much enthusiasm and encouragement she gives me everyday.  I am blessed to know her.  Today, we were talking about places we want to travel together.  Also we discussed Comic Cons and getting inspiration from other writers and artists and creatives.  It dawned on me why I was in a funk.

How many creatives I know do the work as a side gig?  How many never get a dime for doing something they love?  At the end of the day doing and redoing and redoing work you are just beat to hell and really all you want to do is sit back and watch the sky go from blue to pink to deep blue and throw wishes out at shooting stars. Only you have learned to stop wishing because they rarely ever come true.

Sometimes it is hard to keep going, to keep motivated when life happens and things get in the way like bills and kids and back to school and child support and Cub Scout meetings and sometimes it seems like everyone has a piece of your day.

Time is the only non-renewable resource, and unfortunately we all think there is plenty of it.  Days like today, a whole week passed me by without engaging my brain and doing the Work and I could feel it, like withdrawals.  My London trip occupied so much of my creativity, and with the final post done last week, I felt an emptiness.

With a few days left to go on the deadlines for boat blogs, I decided I needed to dust off the creative part of my brain and get these words down.  For me.  For my readers. For anyone who is feeling a little lost on a hot summer day and they are watching their days slip past them, marching towards the inevitable.

Sometimes our muses remind us who were are.  I might not be in a place where I can write full-time just yet, but I do have a goal in my head.  I want to travel and write, I want to dream up new worlds and write, and I want to fall asleep every night knowing that I didn’t waste a minute of my day fussing with someone else’s bullshit, so they could sleep in and have four day weekends. And still make three times what I do each year.

At some point, you get tired of working for someone else, when there is real Work to be done.  So, for now, I keep punching the clock.  I keep my heading and my course as true as I can make it in spite of the waves and wind.  I have a good crew with me and hopefully I show enough gratitude for them.  But the important part is continuing on with this voyage until I reach my destination.

Steady on.

Thanks, boat blogs.