I’m not writing.
Well obviously I’m writing, but not really writing. I’m not forcing myself to sit at the computer after dinner and type, no matter how tired I feel. I’m not making myself slog away at writing the historical novels that I have suddenly lost interest in. Instead, I’m sitting in the living room and reading, or watching TV documentaries and Netflix movies with my husband, ALL EVENING.
I’m going out more too.
I’ve been not-writing for about six weeks now. I usually do less writing this time of year anyway, what with leaf raking, window cleaning and general fall/winter cleanup I run out of energy. Then the holidays came and anywhere from 12 to 18 people to dinner. This year I have also been helping a grandson study for his Russian exam as well as caring for an aging spouse who deserves every attention I can provide.
I’ve taken time off before, when I was working on the decrepit house we moved into twelve years ago, or when I took a four-day trip out of town, for example, but this is different. It’s the longest I’ve been not-writing for years and the only time I haven’t felt a guilty pressure to get back to work.
It may have started with having visitors here for ten days. I knew they’d be fun and I decided to not-write while they were here. I certainly wasn’t going to neglect them to go off and write. I was going to enjoy myself. And I did. Even more than I expected.
Aha! Perhaps I didn’t need to work hard all my waking hours to be happy and satisfied, or to earn my space on the planet!
After that it was all downhill—or do I mean “uphill”? After a few weeks of uneasily wondering where I was going and what I was doing (would life be meaningless and empty without writing?) I slowly metamorphosed into a carefree, pleasure- loving creature.
Oh, I’ve always relished the good things of life, a sun-filled house and garden full of flowers, wine, even a good cup of tea on a cold day, music, dance. I’ve fully appreciated the blessings that have come my way, a wonderful marriage and now-adult kids, a few good friends, but I’ve always felt useless if I wasn’t working at something—and after about 100 years in graduate school followed by a professional career this has always meant some kind of sustained mental activity. The kind of house-and-yard work and care- giving that often tires without satisfying somehow never counted as real work.
I’m not even doing much of that anymore.
All things conspire. I got a laptop and no longer have to run upstairs to the desktop computer to check e-mail or addresses or serial numbers of misbehaving appliances; I damaged my shoulder and had to find stress -reducing keyboard and dictating shortcuts. Having moved the laundry and food-storage from basement to kitchen I’m no longer running up and down stairs as much. The yard cleanup is done. I can’t work too hard until my shoulder heals anyway. I can’t write except by dictating a limited amount into the laptop.
I have fallen headlong into a whole new way of life, one of absolute luxury and ease; after a lifetime as a mild insomniac, I’m sleeping like a log every night. I like it a lot.
I think I may adopt not-writing as my new career. I never got to the point of saying airily “oh, I’m a writer,” partly because I didn’t want to be one of those who glibly came out with this without actually sitting down and typing very much. After four novels and a memoir, I was able to say “I write,” when asked what I do with my time now that I’m retired. Sometimes I said, “I’m another of those unpublished writers”. Later, I boldly labeled myself ”a self-published writer”.
Now I think I’ll just say, “I don’t-write”. Perhaps I can get a tax refund for using my computer room for not-writing, as long as I spend the required amount of time there not-writing, and if I can write off some of my not-writing expenses, against the income I hope to get from not-writing.
If I ever give up this pleasant not-writing career and start to write again I shall do it differently. Writing every evening until late at night was all right when I was in graduate school, but it doesn’t suit me now that I’m grown-up. I’m going to do the mature thing and take evenings off, for the rest of my life. I’ll write during the day, and if I don’t get a certain number of words down or put in a certain number of hours, that’s too bad.
I’ll catch up when I feel like it.
Born and raised in London, Anne Campbell worked as a fashion sketcher before immigrating to the States in her early twenties. She lived in California and New York before settling in Minnesota, where she has worked as a university lecturer and psychotherapist.
In addition to not-writing, Ms. Campbell has written four novels and a memoir.