I had a bad week last month. I got a couple of my final school papers in the mail and I wasnâ€™t pleased with my grades nor all the comments from my teachers. I thought Iâ€™d done a lot better than I had. (If you didnâ€™t know, Iâ€™m getting my Master of Arts in Creative Writing degree at UTS in Sydney.) Like so many things in life, I didnâ€™t fully understand what had so upset me until a few days after my mini-meltdown.
The shortest explanation is one a friend had to remind me of â€“ the last year and a half has seen a lot of huge changes in my life. Regardless of the fact that I wanted most of those changes (moving around the world, going back to school), they still take a physical and emotional toll. Add in some short-term good things (company from America) and some short-term irritations (accountant needed more tax info from me that I had to find), and I found myself getting angry to one degree or another regularly, finally losing it when I received my school papers.
The reason I didnâ€™t recognize what was happening is that it was all on the inside. Iâ€™d get mad about something, vent, and move on to the next thing. Iâ€™d get frustrated, take some deep breaths and push through. Then Iâ€™d get down about something (grades) and find myself unable to get up again. Because I was focused on trying to push through, to be strong and keep plugging along, I wasnâ€™t paying attention to what was happening on the inside until I couldnâ€™t get out of bed one day.
The day that happened I knew I had some serious thinking to do. It finally occurred to me that I was low-level angry at all kinds of things a lot of the time. In the stress of my first semester of grad school, Iâ€™d let my interior monitor get out of sync. By the end of the semester, I couldnâ€™t even tell I was stressed about anything. But that morning in bed I realized Iâ€™d stopped making a conscious choice about how I wanted to react to the situations around me. Iâ€™d gotten into the habit of letting myself feel frustrated at every opportunity, at the world, at others, and at myself.
So for the last week, Iâ€™ve been practicing choosing not to be angry, frustrated, or depressed about things. Itâ€™s amazing how many opportunities there were for practice! But my interior monitor is getting re-synced. Iâ€™m getting better at reading myself again, and knowing when something needs to give, or change, or be left behind.
I was at a friendâ€™s house who has a reverse-osmosis filter at her kitchen sink. She reminded me to fill my water glass using the filtered water rather than the regular tap water. The parallel between the water and my bad week was instantaneous. She needed a filter so that the water coming through her old pipes would not bring up all the rust and other deposits into the glass.
We need the same kind of filter when we are writing. We need something that purifies the water coming up out of our inner well. For many of us, that filter is the joy of writing. But that filter needs to be cleaned regularly or it stops working as well. Iâ€™m trying to shine up my joy-of-writing filter every time I sit down to write now. I picture myself writing happily on my book, and I let that image seep into me until I can feel myself smiling over how much Iâ€™ll enjoy it. Then I start writing.
Like with any other rejection, I gave myself 24-48 hours to get over the sting of those first semester grades. Then I went back to work on my book, knowing that I understand my target market and believing that Iâ€™m doing a good job even if my academic acquaintances only half-agree.
If you havenâ€™t done so lately, take a minute and check your interior monitor. Do you need to take a break? Do you need a cleaner writing filter? Or is your writing well clean and full of fresh ideas? I think Iâ€™m going to try to add this to my monthly or quarterly routines.
Kitty Bucholtz is the co-founder of Routines for Writers, a web site dedicated to helping writers write more. She writes romance novels, light urban fantasy novels for adults and young adults, and magazine articles. She is currently enrolled in the Master of Arts in Creative Writing program at University of Technology, Sydney.
Thanks, Marianne! That is so encouraging! It's hard to find the middle ground between taking seriously things that you care about and making yourself into a wreck. Friends like you are making it easier! 🙂
Here's hoping you have fewer and fewer things with which to practice not being angry on even the lowest level!
And a grad school secret –don't tell anyone else –No one in the whole world asks to see your grades. All that work and people donâ€™t give a rip (as long as you finish the degree of course). Itâ€™s sort of annoying. Okay, it sort of annoyed ME.
I also suspect that day in bed happens to everyone in a graduate program that MATTERS to them.
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