By nine in the morning, I’ve done so much already. Breakfast. Some yoga. I’ve taken care of the ironing, and answered student emails. Soon, I’ll have hammered out two pages of a manuscript I’m working on. Lunch is at my desk, while I skim the news.
In the afternoon, I prepare the next day’s lecture.
At night, I grade.
It’s a busy day, but it’s pretty standard at this stage of my life. It’s taken me a while — years and years, in fact— to figure out how to properly manage my time.
After I graduated from college, I held down a bunch of temp jobs — tending bar, waiting tables, tutoring kids — and woke up at a different hour every day. I binge-watched stupid shows, and read a lot of bad fiction. Loads of horrible fiction. Sometimes, late at night, I wrote.
I imagined myself as a writer, kind of, and although I did write — terrible “think” pieces for local papers, poetry and short fiction that was even worse — I should have written more. I should have written a novel or something. Maybe even two novels.
Back then, I used to think people who were writers, real writers, were these magical, otherworldly creatures: cerebral, depressive, a bit weird. I thought being a capital-W-Writer meant living by yourself in a cabin with no indoor plumbing (Thoreau), or being an alcoholic (everyone else). I didn’t think of the stamina and sweat required. I didn’t think of it as a job, as a nine-to-five or, if you were Elizabeth Gilbert, a five-to-two. Farmers’ hours, she calls them.
By my early twenties, I had already moved to Philadelphia, to start a doctoral program. During orientation, I met someone, and my relationship status changed. So did my relationship to writing.
One morning, post brunch, we sat outside reading the paper at our table, the sun bright and high.
“Look at this,” I said. “It says here they’re looking for columnists.”
“You should do it,” he said casually, and I just stared at him.
We’d only been dating for about two weeks at that point, and although they were an unusually intense couple of weeks, I hadn’t told him I wanted to write. I hadn’t told him that, actually, this is all I had ever wanted to do.
I applied for the position that weekend. Tuesday, I got the call. Tuesday night, I started writing again. I wrote badly — so, SO, very badly in fact — but still: it felt like I was getting somewhere. It felt right.
My days were full now: work, class, run, write. Always, I made time to sit, hands at the keyboard, cross-legged on my dorm-room-bed. I marveled at how much I could get done in a single day.
What had been missing from the aimless life of younger me, that sense of urgency, was finally here. But instead of stressing me out, it added a kind of structure to my life; a discipline. A process. Instead of hurting, the ticking clock, and my editor’s deadlines, actually helped.
These days it feels like I’m barreling towards the next decade of my life at warp speed. I want so much — to have a big family, to travel, to teach. Above all, I want to write. Sometimes, I wonder whether I’ll be able to do it all, whether I can do it all. I think back to that young girl, so lost, so scared, but pretending not to be; acting tough, pulling pints. I want to hug that girl.
But mostly, I want to shake some sense into her.
“What are you doing?” I want to say. “Don’t you know you don’t have forever?”
It’s late as I write this. Hillary and Bernie are on, in the background. I’ve emptied the dishwasher and reloaded it. The dryer hums and spins in the next room. The graded papers are stacked in a leaning pile. Soon, it will be time for bed.
Soon, it will be tomorrow, when it starts all over again.
For young women in need of a pep-talk:
As a little old lady, I still rely on Lilly’s (daily!) vlogs to boost my mood. Enjoooyyy: