October 31st is the day before November 1st, and November 1st is the first day of the month of NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, a month when writers across the globe form a mutual support group to cheer each other on in each one's individual quest to write a 50,000 word novel in a month.
On Halloween night, I read a fellow writer's social media post about her writing plan for her novel this year. Then I signed onto the NaNoWriMo website, miraculously remembering my user name and password from several years ago when I last participated. I'm still listed there, though my webpage is blank, my past years' records wiped away. I cruised the forums a little, nostalgically. Then I logged off and spent this whole weekend not writing.
It's not that I had other pressing things I needed to do this weekend, just laundry, groceries, and a few errands. I spent half the day on Saturday in my pyjamas on the couch. I read a whole novel, a journalist's series on the contemporary challenges of finding work, and browsed through quite a few pages of Kathi Weeks's scholarly book, The Problem With Work (2011).
Frequently over these two days, the thought that NaNoWriMo had started popped into my head, and I fought the urge to run to my computer and write. I felt sad that I was not participating this year, again.
But there simply is no point. I cannot do my job and be a committed writer too, not both at the same time. My job has been chewing up 12 hours a day, Monday to Friday, and lately it has gobbled up part of each weekend as well. When I come home at the end of the day, I am tired and hungry, and many days I have no words left in my head. Just as often, the work scenarios are still racing through my mind most of the evening leaving little space for anything else.
In the evenings, I fit in some exercise, time with Rob, phone calls to kids and friends, some daily home tasks like paying the bills or sewing on buttons. By Friday, I am in a haze of exhaustion, and barely able to hold a conversation, never mind write.
This weekend, true enough, I could have spent some hours writing. But then I would have had to put it aside until next weekend (if I was lucky), or maybe several weekends hence. It is hard to write with continuity and passion in the little dribs and drabs of time that I have.
I have participated in NaNoWriMo before in the hours between and around work. But work then, although busy, did not demand so many hours or spend me as thoroughly as my current job does. Also, I had to absent myself from everything else for the month of November, which I did willingly in the past. But now, there is less and less of a life outside of work, as work has grown to take up more and more of my time and energy.
This is quite the Faustian bargain -- this job OR a life. The life that is left over after work is a skinny little thing with no room for the writing life.
And it's not just me being overly dramatic, or poor at managing my time. In the macho culture of this type of organization, you have to suck it up and work, work, work, all the time. Or you leave, or get pushed out.
A couple of days ago, I was reminiscing with a colleague about a big collaborative writing project on identity that I was engaged in several years ago. I could hear myself enthusiastically describing that project and how interesting it was. I loved doing that kind of writing and work, and I suddenly realized how much I missed it.
I have not completely stepped away from writing. This blog is my primary writing practice now. I do some writing at work, but mostly of an interactive, functional type (e.g., email, brief reports). Sometimes (rarely), I write a poem. I still think about the nuts and bolts of writing, especially when I am reading a well-written novel or blogs on writing, and sometimes I still daydream about my stories in progress, or ones that I might write someday.
Right now, I am pinning my hopes on retirement. I have not ceased to be a writer. I just will be going about it in sequence rather than in parallel in the current and upcoming stages of my life.