Getting out of the muck
You wake up tired. It could be Monday or even Friday. Either way, the immediate feeling is leaden fatigue laced with an undertone of dread. You struggle to the bathroom, brush your teeth, and shower. You rush through the morning rituals -- breakfast, coffee, and if you have a family, then there’s the manic ritual of getting them ready for school. And then more coffee before you get on the road to work. And then there’s work and its inherent rituals: emails, spreadsheets and meeting after meeting after meeting. In between there’s gossip and concern about one’s standing in the organization. More coffee, sugary snacks and then, thank god, lunch. The afternoon is a variant of the morning but now you are thinking about the day winding down and escape. You get on the road, either go out to dinner or go home to one. You then detach yourself from reality with the socially acceptable means of drinking a glass (or bottle) of wine or eating a pint of Chunky Monkey or fill-in-the-blank. The day ends with the TV and binge-watching before going to bed with a sense that another day has gone by. And what has been done? What has been accomplished?
This day-to-day scenario is what I refer to as the “muck.” We all have experienced a variant of this. We know there’s something more to life than this working-for-the-weekend treadmill. And occasionally we have moments of clarity: We watch a TED or Big Think video and get inspired for a moment before thinking, I couldn’t really do that. We listen to a Tim Ferris podcast as he interviews high-performers on how we can develop our potential and we realize that we are functioning way below our actual capacity and capabilities. These folks have risen above “the muck.” It can be both inspiring or it can make you feel inadequate. But I’ve found inadequacy generally is tied into apathy; if you take action on your inspiration, you will find energy there.
Now clearly TED speakers are performing at an elevated level of creativity and energy. But it doesn’t mean that they also don’t arc a parabola back down into the muck on occasion. The difference is, I think, that they have developed tools and rituals for yanking themselves out of the muck once they realize they’ve succumbed to it. Again, everyone will have time in the muck — the trick is to not get stuck there.
I’ve been working on finishing up my non-fiction book, The Art of Creative Rebellion, which is coming out in bookstores on January 21st, 2020. The process of working on that book and holding down a full time day job and giving appropriate time and attention to my family can be, at times, arduous. It’s easy to fall back into the muck during this period so I’m throwing myself directly back into another book project.
In the winter of 2017, I wrote a 136 thousand word novel called Ecru Trabant. Responses to it have been somewhere along the lines of “it’s amazing but not accessible.” So I’m rewriting it, which as far as I can tell, will require me to ditch about two-thirds of the original book and essentially write another book from the ashes of the manuscript. Literature takes its own time and, even though I’m very goal and date-driven, this particular book is telling me what it needs to arise, on its own time. Each book has its own unique rhythm. My dark-humor, science fiction book, LUMINAL, was written in a mad 40-day dash and then it took months to edit and tweak it. But I wanted the book to have momentum and consequently, I wrote it every morning, with fire in the belly — that book wanted to get out as fast as it could. Alas Ecru Trabant, being literary, will move at its own caterpillar-like pace.
My current, brilliant editor, Judy Sternlight, ran through Ecru Trabant with a keen eye and provided hard truths and feedback that will help me to streamline the story and hopefully, it will be ready for prime time in 2020. Just thinking about the work ahead on the rewrite veers me dangerously close to the edge of the muck.
The point being, I’m also easily prone to falling into the muck. But I’m aware of it and I have tools and rituals that help me to yank myself out of the zombie quicksand of quiet desperation. It’s a two-step process: commit and then habituate. First, you truly commit to doing something -- it’s not, Someday I’ll learn Spanish. It’s more like, On March 22nd, I will be in Madrid, Spain fluently ordering food from the menu at La Corral de la Morería. And then you make Spanish learning a habit -- every day, at the same time, you put the focused time in for an hour.
For example, for writing while having a day job, it’s pretty basic:
Wake up early. Ideally at the same time daily.
Meditate for 10-20 minutes.
Avoid all social media and work emails.
Write for 1.5 hours without stopping or critiquing the work-in-progress.
Work out sometime during the day, ideally at the same time.
Avoid eating and drinking heavily after 6 pm.
Get 6 hours of sleep.
Don’t feel bad about being in the muck. We all spend time there. Just don’t live there.
Blogs I’m following:
Books I’ve read/reading:
Waking Up by Sam Harris
The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
I’m listening to:
What I just watched:
After Life written, directed and acted in by Ricky Gervais. “We’re not just here for us, we’re here for others.”