In the 2 weeks since the paperback release of The Great Offshore Grounds, I have had the chance to peer out above the work I do as a union organizer into the life of different mind.
I returned to union organizing 2.5 years ago because I had finished writing my last novel and had been feeling useless in the world. I get asked frequently about activism and art, if art is sufficient citizenry in times of crisis and unfettered Capitalism, and I find it hard to say that (my) art is enough.
And yet I plan to leave organizing for writing.
Options on perspective seem insufficient.
- Stay in your hula hoop. Make what you can touch or control better and (see below) to the rest of it.
2. Become a martyr to the movement(s) so that you can say truly swear you did everything you could.
3. Swing between extremes, putting it all in wherever you go then when your 110% drops to 90%, run to the other side of the ship.
4. (GOLD STAR) Find some kind of balance where you only give a f*ck about things you can’t control for 7 hours a day, emotionally commute no more than 2 hours a day, limit chores to 1 hour a day, eat a healthy meal while sitting down, hug your or have sex with your loved ones and go to bed at a reasonable hour, saving art and exercise for the weekend.
Some of us can’t turn our brains on and off when we’re done with the world. Some of us must guard our mental health so we have any options to lose our mind over.
I choose option #3.
I have an immersive temperament and a mind that works best when fully consumed. This is how I studied Invertebrate Paleontology, wrote novels, learned how to be a union organizer, learned guitar, and watch a television series. Sadly, the part of me that could have been a lawyer or a polyglot or scientist or a lower-level field General is not the same part of me that writes novels or songs. One thrives on the parasympathetic nervous system, and the other, sympathetic. I can’t switch back and forth throughout the day or week.
Writing fiction requires down time. I see young writers, particularly young women, and particularly young women with young children, brutalize themselves because they can’t write a novel in the scraps of time they’ve set aside. They blame themselves and think it should work, but just because a human can go a long time on water, doesn’t mean they don’t need food. Downtime tells your brain it’s not an emergency. Downtime leads to play and imagination, and nothing in our culture is built for that.
When I was driving cab and waitressing and had a younger kid, I wrote, but I had to stack double shifts back-to-back, glide for as long as I could then snap back fast. After 2013, I was lucky enough to have book money to write for a while and slipped into my own mind.
I went to the store in my long johns because I forgot I wasn’t dressed. I was thinking about something…very, very deeply.
A coworker said that my leaving organizing to write novels was as bizarre to him as if I had said, “I’m leaving to play with model trains.”
I do not argue that my fiction is a sufficient form of citizenry, but it is how I fall in love with the world.