The last seven years of my life can be summed up in a single line: seeking a balance between writing and parenting.
As I wrote long ago in my 'About' page, this balance has constantly proved elusive. I'd find it one day, only for it to slip away from me the very next day as if it had been nothing more than a fragment of a dream.
As if the instant I want to clutch it and make it a constant fixture in my life, it doesn't seem to like that idea and simply disappears.
Which makes me wonder — am I looking for something that doesn't really exist?
Which makes me certain that I have spent all these years looking for something that doesn't really exist.
I have spent all these years foolishly believing the wrong things.
More importantly, I have grossly underestimated the time and effort it takes to be a good writer and to be a good parent.
Fundamental to both of these is my ability to remain calm and conscious no matter what is going on around me.
I used to think it was the other way round.
- That if I got my words of fiction down first thing in the morning, then I'd be joyful and happy enough to be a calm and conscious parent for the rest of the day.
- Or if I spent the day having a fun time out with D, then it would fill my creative well enough and help me write amazing words the next time I come to the writing desk.
I had come to believe these because the opposites were playing out in my life.
- If I didn't get to write on a given day, that was reason enough for me to feel grumpy and annoyed with KrA and D and myself.
- Conversely, if I hadn't responded well to D in a situation, that too was enough to throw me off track, send me into a spiral of regret and depression, and essentially keep me from writing. I've never been able to write after a shouting match with KrA or after snapping at D.
The truth has been something different altogether.
While a great writing session in the morning would indeed set me up for a happy rest of the day more often than not, not every writing session has turned out to be great. Some days were a struggle, and especially on those days, I'd feel even more dissatisfied at the end of the writing session.
And I'd end up wishing for everything that was not in my reality that day — if only I had more time to write, if only I didn't have to spend the day with D, if only we had more family around to help out with looking after D, and so on, and so on.
Similarly, a fun day out with D, while absolutely amazing, would tire me out so much that sometimes I'd be unable to sleep well at night. Which meant I'd not wake up in time to get some writing done first thing in the morning before D wakes up and furthermore, I'd need a nap the next day to catch up on sleep and rest. My body no longer seems to have the endless supply of energy it did when I was a couple of decades younger.
focusing on what's really in my control
I have long resisted my limitations. I've long refused to accept that I have only so much time in a day, only so much energy to do stuff.
Even though it feels tempting to throw my hands up in the air and give up on writing or pick up a fight with KrA with self-righteous indignation over how much more time he gets to devote to work in a day than I do — and these are the two cop-outs I resort to over and over again — it's high time to focus on what I can do to change the situation.
- I can focus on the time that I get, whether early in the morning or later at night after D has gone to bed, and choose how to spend it. I often indulge in Netflix at night, which ruins my sleep and decimates any chance I may have of getting up early the next morning to write.
- During my writing session, when I come across a difficult patch, I often pick up my phone and start playing this game Royal Match, a version of Candy Crush! It's super fun and super addictive!
- I've also fallen back into the habit of checking email and Whatsapp messages every few minutes.
I refuse to face the essential pain of giving up these three distractions, and I end up facing the pain of not having written, of not being present when I parent, and falsely placing too much blame on the circumstances and people around me.
Yes, I sometimes do find some parts of writing difficult, no matter what the experts say about keeping it fun and free of all expectations. When I'm not able to write well, I do worry about whether or not I'd be able to earn a living as a writer.
Instead of facing this pain of doubt and uncertainty, I run away to Netflix and Royal Match and email/Whatsapp, and then give myself and everyone else around me a lot of grief that I have not been able to write.
Another very important reason why I hold on to these distractions is because I see KrA watching a lot of movies and playing games on his phone. I see him constantly checking email.
It's true he has a day job that requires him to show up for work at predetermined times and stay on top of the emails and messages he receives from colleagues at work. It also gives him the luxury of indulging in movies and online games in his spare time, because — and very fortunately for us — his paycheck does not hinge upon what he does with every single second of his day.
I feel the pressure differently. Every moment I'm not writing, I feel the pressure build. I've become much better at handling this mental pressure than ever before by way of setting modest daily goals I can look to achieve consistently, small enough for a given day but large enough when accumulated over a period of time.
Yet, I can't help but feel envious when he tucks himself away in the basement office, cocooned in headphones, and becomes engrossed in work.
I think it's something I'd love, except the truth is also that when I have a full day at my disposal I've more often than not squandered it.
So it's not really about KrA getting to spend more time at work, is it?
It's about me not having enough motivation to write. With no external deadlines looming over me, no fanatic readers desperately waiting for my next book to be released, some days it can be quite a chore to convince myself to keep writing.
It's easier on those days to blame KrA and his parents, to blame patriarchy and the inherent difficulties of parenting for my woes than to take a look at myself, at my deeply flawed self that wants one thing so badly yet will sabotage that very thing it claims to want desperately.
As if I am afraid that by showing up everyday to write, I'd prove myself wrong. I'd show myself how wrong I had been all these years when I blamed the world around me for everything that was not going in my favour.
But I can change. For instance, today I was determined to write this post and I came to the writing desk right after D went to bed. I chose to sit here and write this post instead of resuming a very interesting and gripping show on Netflix I'm in the midst of watching.
I did pick up my phone to play Royal Match a couple of times, but the irony of doign so while writing this post was not lost on me and I kept the phone away. Besides, the sooner I can finish writing this post, the sooner I can get to that Netflix show.
D turns 7 years old tomorrow.
This is always a bitter-sweet day for me, because when I look back at all the time that has passed, all the love and joy we've shared, I can't help but also remember the times I was caught up in my own mental frenzy and blamed myself or KrA or my little child for all the chaos that life was turning out to be.
Well, I can't do anything to change the past, can I? Besides, I'm pretty sure I'm making it all out to be far worse in my head than it actually was. Why?! Just two days ago, D said to me how lucky he was that he has such awesome parents!
So, let us set forth now ... focusing on what matters, practising living with the uncertainty, with the not knowing, and trusting that all that is asked of us is to do the best we can in this moment and in the next ... and in the next ... and so on.