Of the many challenges that I face as a single mother, none is so daunting as finding a balance among all of those things that are important to me. Often, I fall short of reaching my goal to maintain a mindful equilibrium, especially when I am on a deadline with a novel or a script. There’s just not enough of me to go around, and I end up making choices that aren’t always good for me, or the people I love. I write this column today as a bit of a public confession of my shortcomings, and a public promise to my son and my Cowboy to do better.
I’ve spent the past month in what I call a “writing fugue,” sort of a trance-like state in which I exist mostly in the fictional world I’ve created in my head. I did this because I was finishing up the writing, editing, self-publishing and publicity for my new novel, Lauren’s Saints of Dirty Faith, the third installment in my Dirty Girls Social Club series. I’m thought of in the publishing world as a very fast writer, and in fact wrote my first novel in less than two weeks. This isn’t normal. I know that. I’m not normal. But I am me, and this is how I tend to write, in fast, almost insanely intense bursts that wear me out physically, spiritually and emotionally.
When I was married I was able to tell my stay-at-home husband I was entering the “fugue,” and he, understanding how I worked, took over the tasks of raising our son and caring for our house, until I “came back.” I immersed myself in my fictional worlds, and just “disappeared” for a month or so, writing 15 to 20 hours a day. Sometimes I’d write for two days straight. But how do I do this now, as a single mother who is trying to cultivate a new relationship with a man? The easy answer to this question is: I don’t. I can’t.
ONLINE LIFE VS. REAL LIFE
I tried, this time around, to function as I usually did, entering my fugue at 8 a.m. after I dropped my son off, and staying in it until 5 p.m. when I picked him up. I meant to leave work behind at night, but increasingly found myself slipping back to the computer in the evenings for just one last round with my beloved writing and, increasingly, Facebook and Twitter. I began, this time around, to get my adult validation as a writer from social media, a slippery and ugly slope that I am not proud to say I have been slipping down without any self-control. When you spend most of your life alone with a computer, writing, it is far too easy to start to believe your “friends” in social media actually care about you.
My son kept himself busy, but there was a huge wake-up call for me when he stopped by my desk and said, “You’re still doing that?” with a hurt look on his face. Another wake-up call came when my boyfriend, The Cowboy, whom I’d avoided for the last two weeks of the writing burst and whose emails I wasn’t returning for days because I was so focused on my other writing, pointed out to me when I “returned” that he was not interested in playing the role my ex-husband had played because even though he supported my writing and found me talented, he didn’t want to enable me to live in a way that wasn’t good for me or my son. “A wise person once told me,” he said, “that life is all about balance.” Of course, the “wise person” he referred to was me. It seems that this past month, swept up in my own work and my own idea of my own importance, I’ve forgotten my own advice.
Worst of all, I came to realize, in talking to The Cowboy, the extent of my frenzied addiction to online social media. In my capacity as my own publicist, I’ve gotten completely addicted to Facebook. There were days this past month when I wouldn’t return emails from him or other friends—and in fact ended up flaking on not just one, but two friends and forgetting my son’s laundry—but seemed to have plenty of energy to post constantly to Facebook.
The Cowboy and my son both noticed my unhealthy distraction and in their own ways pointed it out to me. It was hard to hear. When I Googled Facebook addiction, it was even harder, because the unflattering description of a typical Facebook addict fit me so well—a narcissistic loner, mostly. That is exactly the personality I inhabit when I’m in a writing fugue, and while it makes me a prolific writer, it is at a cost that I have decided is far too high. “If I’m not mistaken, you write so that you can have a life that you spend with the people you love,” the Cowboy reminded me. “But if all you do is work, and think about your work, you stand to lose everything you’re working for.”
A PLEDGE TO LIVE BY
The Cowboy is a realist, and he’s smart. His advice is often hard to hear. But this time around, he wasn’t just speaking for himself. He was speaking, too, for my child, who lost me to this last project. Even my dog was neglected, unwalked for a month, as I paid all of my attention to my imaginary friends.
So, I am going to make a public pledge to them, and to you, my readers, now. I am paring down my Facebook activities significantly, from having three pages (personal, business and fan) to just one. I am going to post updates to that page once a week, on Mondays only, and I am not going to check the page at all during the week. I am going to write no more than four hours a day, and when I stop writing for the day, I am actually going to stop, computer off, and be present in the rest of my life, and I am going to listen, and slow down, and live. Yes, live. A real life. Maybe it will take six months to finish a project instead of a month, but think of all the living I’ll get done, too.
While my work methods are probably not the norm, I do think many single moms can relate to the juggling act that comes with working too hard to try to provide a life for you and your child, a life that ends up logistically impossible even if your work brings income to build it, because you simply aren’t there for your family and friends. The Cowboy and my son helped me to remember, this past weekend, that financial success and “fame” at the cost of family and love is no kind of success at all.