Rhythms are the best for working.
Break the rhythm and it’s like
starting cold: creak and puff and
grind away, write reams of garbage
until the garbage becomes
a lubricant. Lift that dead
arm you’ve been sleeping on. See
it sway and flop: half corpse you
are. The arm is useless. Paralyzed
for life. Can’t do it. Won’t work.
Imagine yourself dead: this
is it, kid. Body won’t work.
Feel it dissolve into the
sheets. It’s noon. Last time I looked
it was nine. I don’t remember
sleeping. The rhythms of the
world have gone awry. Who can
trust a clock
That’s the first stanza of a poem I wrote, first draft, some time around 1976 or so. More than 36 years later I still have trouble establishing a rhythm for working.
There was a time, back when my daughter was an infant, that I did manage to do that for, oh, about 6 months, starting in September of 1973. She was just a year old. I was suffering from horrible migraine headaches, and decided that they were caused by the fact that I was not writing, since at the time I was full-time mom and had no time for myself. So I found a parent-participation day care center (the only one then that would take a child still in diapers) where I took her every Tuesday and Thursday (with every eighth day my day for required participation). I would load her up into the car and drive from Ontario (Calif.) to Claremont, deposit her there at 8:30, drive back home, sit down at the typewriter (a manual!) and pound away for a few hours, drive back to pick her up at noon, come back home, feed her lunch, put her down for a nap, and then write for another hour or so while she slept.
It worked very well for a while. During that time I wrote the first drafts or portions thereof of nearly everything that ended up in my masters’ thesis (a collection of my own short stories). But then I hit a wall. I would sit at the typewriter and nothing, absolutely nothing, would come. And of course, my daughter decided to change her schedule. No more naps after lunch, mom. Thanks anyway!
There were many other things that interfered, not the least of which was my crumbling marriage, and internal conflicts of which I was only dimly aware … it took me three decades to understand the forces that were driving me then.
I am now 64 years old; 65 next August. An age when most people are getting ready for retirement (although that is taking much longer these days in this economic climate). Because of the various health issues I’ve struggled with, I’ve not really had a career yet. This in spite of all the wonderful gifts I have. I know in good part, aside from my health issues, this is a result of being ADHD, a diagnosis I did not receive until age 45, a few years after I completed my PhD. I read Sari Solden’s Women with Attention Deficit Disorder, on the hunch that ADHD could be a major factor in the struggles I have had throughout my life. I read chapter after chapter with tears in my eyes. Tears of recognition and relief. Most important in what I got out of all that was the realization that I was not somehow morally deficient. My inability to establish and maintain order in my life was not a character flaw. I was not a terrible wife and mother.
One of Solden’s key arguments is that women are expected to keep order in the home. They are expected to keep everyone else organized and on track. When they can’t, it’s a reflection on them as women. Women who don’t keep their family lives in order are defective as women. Their entire identities are at stake. If you have a husband who demands order, and who responds to the lack of it by hitting you below the “emotional belt” with attacks on that very identity, reinforcing your own sense of inadequacy, you spiral downward. Not knowing that it is something you cannot help, that you were born this way and you can’t fix it without help, leaves you feeling worthless.
So reading Solden’s book came as a huge relief to me. At last I had an answer for the long years of feeling I was completely incompetent and a failure at being a woman, and particularly a wife.
I haven’t been a wife for more than three decades now, having divorced my second husband in 1984, turning instead to focus my attentions on becoming a college professor. It took me ten years to finally finish that PhD. Getting the ADHD diagnosis (I insisted that my psychiatrist send me to a specialist for that) helped also in understanding why it took me so long. I remember working three times as hard as my cohorts to get my assignments done. I had to read first, marking the texts, then go back and type verbatim sections from those texts as notes, then review those notes several times before I could get the gist of the material. Not because I was stupid (far from it — once my work was turned in, everyone thought it brilliant), but because I would read for a bit and then my mind would go wild with new ideas applying what I had just learned. Hour upon hour would be spent in these flights of fancy. The dissertation journal I kept at the time is chock full of materials for at least TEN dissertations!
Whenever I would go to talk to my adviser about my dissertation, he would always ask me, “which one”?
My filing cabinets are also full of kazillions of articles, creative non-fiction essays, short stories, poems, novel ideas, novel chapters (different novels), and the like. Not to mention all the ideas I would have for solving social problems, or practical problems with the various institutions I worked for, flitting about from job to job.
I am, indeed, an “idea person.” What I am not good is setting up and maintaining that rhythm for work that is absolutely essential to bring an idea to fruition, suitable for sharing with the world and (one hopes) resulting in financial remuneration.
So, in addition to providing this blog as a means for my clients to connect and to get help sorting through their own blocks with writing, I am hoping this will also help me work through my own.
I am going to try to set up a rhythm for my own writing, and I suggest that others who are struggling like me figure out how to do that as well. You can post a reply here, or those who have “author” status can create their own posts about the blocks you are up against.
My first big block is that I am up against a life that is in complete disarray, mostly due to health issues that keep getting in the way. At this point I can’t even commit myself to a particular time of day at which I would concentrate on my own writing. I need to start by committing myself to 15 minutes a day just planning what to do with the rest of my day, even if it doesn’t include my own writing!
What about YOU?
Great post! We have much in common. I’m a college professor, sometime writer, and diagnosed with ADHD two years ago at the age of 40. I’ve struggled with that lack of rhythm, with the self loathing, with the enormous difficulty of “follow through.” I’ve been working on acceptance: trying to know what I can change and what I cannot and how best to make my creative yet fickle brain work in an executive functioning world.
I don’t know that I have real answers yet. After a long period of steady progress, 2013 has been a setback so far. I’m grateful to read work like yours.
Jonathan, I encourage you to CELEBRATE your ADHD as a quality that makes you stand out from the crowd. People with ADHD are generally very intelligent and have a wide variety of interests about which they can be equally intense. Instead of seeing it as a disability (except when you need support for it), see it as a “misfit” between your brain wiring and the expectations of a rigid world that likes “a place for everything, and everything in its place.”
What I try to do is follow my interest for as long as I can, and then pick up the thread of something else when interest wanes. The trick is to keep track of all your various interests and have a way to remind you of all the work you’ve already done on as-yet incomplete projects. So when you run up against a blank wall, go back to your other projects and see if you can spark some interest in one of them again. If you keep going, eventually you will complete something!
I have been writing almost all of my life, and I have saved everything, whether on paper (earlier work) or electronically (I’ve had a computer since 1984). At 64 I decided I needed to go back to old work & pick up where I left off, writing an autobiography. Well, guess what? It is already 3/4ths written, between my journal entries, emails, facebook posts, completed autobiographical short stories (names changed, but otherwise, autobiography), novellas, fragments, and poems. Right now it’s a matter of bringing it all together, filling in the gaps, and planning the story I want to tell (which affects how I arrange the materials), and then writing an ending. These days my age is pressing on me — I’d better get this done now, or I will never do it. And so I find myself carving time out for it, whenever I can fit it in.
There will always be setbacks. For instance, in June 2010 my son-in-law committed suicide, and I chose to move closer to my grandchildren. This has caused a major upheaval in my life, as all moves do, but particularly moreso for people with ADHD and for people with my various chronic pain conditions.
Nonetheless, it is the experience of all of that that has brought be back to my writing as a way of healing.
Setbacks are barriers only if you allow them to be so. Setbacks can be stepping stones instead. You may have to step back for a while, but something will gestate if you allow it, and eventually you will be a better, stronger person, and a better writer!
Thanks for that reply—and sorry to hear about your son in law.
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