A Gentle Reminder That Writers Are Also Human

How  do I put this? The last few months have…sucked. I’m gonna take a little while here to piss and moan about how everything happened at once, how I’ve been working my ass off and been the last one to benefit from my labors, and how I have no support system. I remarked some days ago that I don’t remember how it feels not to be stressed. It’s right there in the subject line. The month of September is coming to an end, but I feel like it’s just barely the end of summer, because I’m thinking of the past several months as the Summer Of Having No Life. And that’s not a “have no life” in the fun sense of hanging around at home and blowing up Facebook in between watching movies and reading comic books. No, I don’t have the luxury of having that kind of “no life.” What has been keeping me from having a life?


1. My job is a pain in my ass at the best of times. 
There was once a time at this employer when I could work normal 8-hour days, take full lunch breaks, and still have a bit of time available in the day for blogging. The volume of work going through the company, and my range of responsibilities, have gone nowhere but up since then. I think of my job as “full-time plus.” Outside of the summer months, I usually work only the office hours and go home on time, but sometimes I have to work late. I don’t get paid for extra hours, but there’s no other way to keep my workload under control except to stay late here and there. I rarely ever take a full lunch break. My usual lunch break is to run over to the cafeteria next door, buy a heap of greasy food, and shovel it into my maw at my desk while I get back to work. Seriously, that’s how I keep myself fed during the workday. Take a full hour out of the day just to get lunch? No, that’s not allowed in my position. And did I mention that my commute takes about 2 1/2 hours round-trip on a good day?

2. This summer at my job has been especially bad.
Every summer at my position is a time of absurd overtime and muscle fatigue, and I won’t bore you with details, but if you know what “fiscal year” means, and combine that with an Accounting position, you have some idea of the heap of additional work that comes up every summer in my job. It’s not evenly distributed throughout the Accounting Department, it all falls on me, and nobody does anything to help with my regular workload, because of course they don’t. Seriously, though, everyone is hilariously busy all the time at my job, and if anyone tried helping me out, they’d have to stay late, too, and I can’t ask that of anyone. Summer is the time of year when I have to work late a lot more often than usual, and this year, we got an extra-special audit on top of the usual summertime shit. I think it’s okay to disclose this much since I’m not telling you who my employer is: we’re getting audited by the Inspector General of a certain government agency, and it’s been going on for months. Not that we’ve done anything wrong. There was some sloppy accounting at a field office in another country, but everything in the DC office is fine. They’ve been in our business since March and still haven’t found anything. They haven’t found anything because aside from that bit of sloppy accounting abroad, we’ve run an absurdly tight ship with impeccable ethics. We’re good at our jobs around here, but that hasn’t stopped the IG people from dragging the damn audit out for over half the fucking year. The total amount of additional work that I, personally, have done for the audit has not taken all that many hours over the last six months, but the adjustments we’ve had to make to appease the Audit Beast have interfered with our ability to do our usual summertime work. The practical upshot was that I was forced to squeeze my fiscal-year-end work into a shorter time-frame than usual, and I’m still not exactly satisfied with the thoroughness I’ve applied to the task.

If you can’t see how the audit would make life harder for Accounting staff, picture living in a small house, and the state police show up at your door and tell you they’re investigating your neighborhood for some illicit activity. In order to investigate, they need YOU, specifically, to round up a bunch of shit from your neighbors and show it to the cops. The cops look through it, they don’t make any arrests, but they don’t close the case. Periodically they call you back to tell you about how they haven’t found any evidence of a crime, but they’re still not finished investigating. After a couple of months they make you round up a bunch of other shit for them to examine, and when they’re done with it, you’re the one who holds onto it. You have all this crap from the neighbors sitting around in your house, and you can’t give it back because it’ll be a huge pain in the ass to get it from the neighbors again if the cops ask to see it one more time. This is all going on at the time of year that you normally do your spring cleaning. Picture what spring cleaning is like, logistically, when you’re living in a small house and sitting on mounds of random-ass crap borrowed from your neighbors. That’s what I’ve been dealing with this summer. Picture what it’s like, psychologically, to have the state cops investigate your neighborhood by taking up your time, and for them not to find anything illegal, but they still live up your ass for months on end. That’s what my entire department, especially my boss, has been dealing with for half of this year and counting.

This summer has been a little different in that my employer DID offer me a bit of help with the spring-cleaning work I normally do. They sent me an intern to handle most of the grunt work. That sounds like a good thing on paper, but in reality, they sent me a 16-year-old who wasn’t able to come to work every day, and the administration frequently took up her time with other random-ass shit that frankly wasn’t in such dire need of help as my fiscal-year-end spring-cleaning labor. And she didn’t know our system, which wasn’t her fault, but I still ended up spending a lot of time cleaning up after her mistakes. Ultimately, I got a little bit of help with my extra summertime work. A little bit. I don’t blame the 16-year-old for not being more help, I blame my employer for taking her away from me for so many hours when she didn’t have all that many hours on the job in the first place. I don’t want to get into where I place to blame for my workload being so absurd every summer.

Was that long-winded and tedious? Maybe just a little? That’s a taste of how I feel about my employment situation.

You might be thinking maybe I should look for another job, but this would have been a very bad time to give up my salary-and-benefits position, because…

3. I BOUGHT A MOTHERFUCKING HOUSE.
Remember how I said in my earlier post that good things were happening? Yes, they are. I started looking seriously for available homes late in the Spring, and in the middle of this month, I purchased my very first piece of real estate. It’s the kind of situation where you fare a lot better if you’re fully employed with a decent salary, and even more so if you’ve worked at the same place for at least a couple years in a row. And even if you’re doing everything perfectly, buying a house is a big, hairy project. For those who haven’t done it yet: there is a lot of shit to take care of in the process of becoming a homeowner, and that shit is tedious and time-consuming. Even after I decided on a house to buy, there were so many evenings I spent meeting with my agent to sign forms, or answering emails from my loan officer, or signing even more forms, or visiting my seller to get him to sign forms. (And my seller added his own layer of hair-graying, stroke-inducing absurdities.) There are many reasons why this process needs to be so paper-heavy and life-disrupting, and I’m not complaining that anyone did anything wrong (except for my seller being a pain in my well-nourished ass), but there went a lot of otherwise usable evenings, there went a lot of time spent waiting get a reply to my emails, and there went a lot of time moving house for what I hope will be the last time for many years.

Want to know how my job affects my life? I didn’t even take a full day off work for closing on the house. I bought a house in the morning, then went to work for the afternoon, and for a few days afterwards, I wasn’t happy about the five hours of work I missed on the day of closing. That’s what happens when you’re chronically overworked and unsupported.

Meanwhile…

4. I am the one who didn’t go on vacation.
For reasons which I think have already been enumerated, I don’t take time off work between mid-June and the end of September. It would throw a monkey wrench into a barely-controlled system. I haven’t taken vacation time since early June of last year. My co-workers feel free to go on vacation during the summer, and when one person is gone, the rest of us pick up the slack. (Of course, when I take a sick day, nobody touches my workload, but if anybody else needs a day or two off work, adjustments are made.) When the rest of us are picking up the slack, I can just forget about asking anyone for help. Of course I never ask for help anyway, because reasons that nobody here needs to know, but when everyone else is either gone, catching up after time off, or covering for someone else, then I really cannot afford to perform anything except constant vigilance and compulsive conscientiousness. That’s not really germane to the substance of this post, though.

What’s germane is that my parents and brother took a trip to England this August, and while they were away, I took over looking after my grandmother. The responsibilities of my grandmother’s care are not onerous, but they are time-consuming, and you may have noticed that time is something I don’t have in abundance? While my family was on their trip to the England, they also got some work done on their house which required them basically to move out of the top floor of their home and then move back in after they came back from their trip. A couple with decades of experience at middle-class homeownership tends to have a lot of stuff to move in and out, including a lot of heavy furniture, and I was asked to help with the grunt work of moving that furniture back in. My parents just happened to time their vacation so they’d be moving back into their house right around the time I had to start moving into my new one. This is not their fault, and it’s not my fault, either, we’re just the Family of Epic Timing. Stuff had to be done, and I did it. My parents needed help getting their furniture back into their house, so I used my strong back and reliable arms and legs to help. Just as that part was almost out of needing my involvement, I had a new house and had five days to get everything out of the apartment. For a period of almost four weeks, basically every evening or weekend afternoon was spent working late, looking after my grandmother, helping my father haul heavy furniture, meeting with someone to finalize my home purchase, or moving into my new house. (In case anyone’s wondering if I had any help with my moving in: not really. I borrowed the parents’ truck for a couple of nights, and my dad helped me move my couch on one of those nights, but aside from that I was on my own. The process was mostly just me, a compact car, and no elevators.)

After everything was in the house and the old apartment was all cleaned out, I still had to unpack and put away. Even now I can’t quite relax, as I still don’t have a bed and my Internet access at home is a load of shit.

Are you exhausted after reading all that? Think of how I feel. I’ve accomplished a hell of a lot this summer, and part of the accomplishment is what I didn’t do. I didn’t get sick or have a meltdown. With all those late nights, you might think my body would show the strain, but it seems my immune system runs on caffeine and anger. Good thing, because my employer supplies us with free coffee all day long and I have anger to spare. There have been some occasions when my co-workers have seen me decompensate, but this summer I’ve managed not to embarrass myself. I’ve expressed annoyance, sure, maybe even a bit of frustration, but nowhere near as much as the job deserves.

In all those months of being all things to all people, there are also some things I’m sorry I haven’t done. Those things include:

1. Manage my weight. For a few months earlier this year, I was doing Zumba almost every day and eating carefully portioned mini-meals every day. I even stopped drinking alcohol almost entirely, and oddly enough I didn’t miss it. I seemed to have lost a bit of weight during that time, but since then it’s come back. When the home-buying process took up so much of my time that more of my evenings were occupied than not, I didn’t get a chance to exercise and lost my routine. When I started having to work late, I went back to eating greasy crap from the cafeteria because that’s how I keep my blood sugar in line when I might not get home until around 9PM, and even more so when the intervening hours involve stacking heavy boxes full of paper. Keeping a healthy diet is for people who work healthy hours, and that’s a privilege I’m denied. Let it never be said that I’m letting my muscles atrophy.

2. Go on dates. I could write a whole series of long, overly detailed, inappropriate blog posts about my disappointments in dating, and there was absolutely no reason to allow yet another party to make any claims on my already over-divided time. I can’t find a supportive partner, so I’m not about to put any more glue in the gears by letting another unsupportive partner into my life.

3. Work on my books. I kept on writing and revising, whenever possible, well into the Summer of Having No Life, but then I reached the point where I just couldn’t do it, and I haven’t managed any concrete action in longer than I care to admit. This makes me angry, partly because of what it is, and partly because I just know there are other writers who will tell me that if I really, really cared about writing, I wouldn’t let myself have this long a dry spell, and there’s no such thing as having no time to write, so I really should be embarrassed at all this time I’ve spent doing things that don’t include finishing a book. And this is the part of my life where I say to those writers: no, you’re wrong, and if you want to wag your finger at me and say “Writers write!”, feel free to get on your knees and bite my ass.

HERE’S THE THING.

Perhaps it can be argued that there really is no such thing as having no time to write. Sure, there have been times in the last *mumblemumble amount of time* when I probably could have opened up the Scrivener project and given my novel some attention. I didn’t do that, however, because I’ve been fucking exhausted. I have not had the right headspace to give my novel the attention it deserves. There really is such a thing as being too exhausted for writing, or too stressed, and I think it’s fair to say that my stress levels have been incompatible with the late-stage revising that my latest novel needs. Between being a much better worker than my employer deserves, being a good daughter/granddaughter, and having had enough of paying that much rent to live in that building, I’ve been trapped in the cycle of safety-related concerns. Look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and see that issues like employment, shelter and family are all at a much more basic level of priority than creativity. Working on a book is a pursuit of creativity, which is the top level. I’ll get back to that top level when I no longer have to work so hard to keep the lower levels under control. Writers aren’t just text-generating machines. We also need nice things like shelter, food and sleep to make good writing happen. Sometimes we even need a bit of quiet time to be alone with our thoughts. I am just now getting back to a place where my time belongs to me, and I don’t have to be going mile-a-minute every single night just to keep shit together, so I will take this opportunity to chill the fuck out. My book will take as long as it takes. My characters aren’t going to die of neglect.

4 thoughts on “A Gentle Reminder That Writers Are Also Human

  1. I sometimes wonder what it would be like to be free of family and friends because it feels like having my shit together creates a vacuum which suck in the problems of whom I care for. Some of your challenges were unavoidable, some self-inflicted. At least you’re stepping back and prioritizing. That’s a good start.

  2. My daughter received a promotion over a year ago. She went from working about 45 hours a week to 70/80 and as young as she is (early 30’s) almost had a heart attack. You NEED to consider your health! (She left that position!)

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