Monday, July 27, 2009

Differing Perceptions of Time (Cont'd)

Yesterday I put up a post about perceptions of time. I'd cross posted this on the bulletin board at my MFA program, and quickly received a somewhat negative response. Basically, I was told that while my point could be understood, and sympathized with, I was still "a shit" anyways.

When the gloves get thrown down like that, you just have to respond.

One element that was at the back of mind, but which I forgot to mention previously was that of the short term vs. the long term. When you are on call 100% of the time, then I think the only way you can write is to write like a manager, and not a maker. But this is hard to do. Or, conversely, you need to find the right type of job, one that allows time to work on your writing. When I was doing my BA, one of my jobs was as a parking attendant.

During rush periods, you were busy, but on evenings, weekends, and afternoons, there were always long stretches without any interruptions. My coworkers and I thought of it as like being paid to study. In fact, a good friend of mine who is in her late sixties and retired, has been doing degree after degree (she never had the chance earlier in life), while supporting herself and finding the time to read and write while at work.

As for being "a shit" (In all honesty, I don't think I disagree!), I actually do understand the urgency of little ones. This is why I inevitably leap up and take care of whatever needs doing, right then and there. If I was a single parent, or a parent in a two income household, there would never be a question about this. Priorities are priorities. But, you see, I'm in a different situation, not worse, or even close to as bad by a long shot, just different.

There are four adults in this house, three of whom do not work, and do not study. And it's not that I think that because I bring home the bacon, I can sit in a chair and do nothing every evening, because I actually love being with the kids. In this house, Daddy changes the diapers, makes the milk, dresses the kids after a bath, submits himself to an hour or two of being used as a jungle gym, and puts the kids to sleep. All of which, I want to stress, I love doing. I love changing their diapers, I love playing with them, and putting them to sleep. In fact, I would prefer to do all that over sitting on the computer and writing, any day of the week. In that way, I like to think of myself as being similar to Ray Bradbury.

You see, Ray Bradbury, in the introduction to the 50th anniversary edition of Fahrenheit 451, spoke of facing a similar dilemma. He would write in the garage, but then his daughters would come by, and without fail he would put down the pen and go play with them. But the family had to eat and he had to pay the bills, so he ended up taking off to the library every day, where he paid 10 cents an hour to use their typewriter, working as fast as he possibly could in order to keep costs down.

The thing is, I'm not doing an MFA as a lark. If I just wanted to write as a hobby, for the enjoyment of creating something, I could have joined a group of bloggers, or hung out on fanfic bulletin boards. But that's not my intent. That's not why I am taking this MFA. I'm doing it as part of a plan, a plan to open up earning opportunities my family otherwise would not have. Right now I teach high school in Dubai. But our family has no wish to stay in Dubai permanently, which means that I have to upgrade my education and credentials so that when we leave, I will have a better chance of landing a decent job. A secure, professional, and salaried job. One of the jobs we have in mind is the possibility that some day I might secure a tertiary teaching position.

This means that even though I would prefer to just take care of the kids every evening, and give my wife a break, which is beneficial to her, and enjoyable to me in the short term, in regards to the long term, I would not be acting in our best interests.

If I am to get through this MFA, but also develop as a writer, build a profile, and eventually get published and/or hired into a better job, I need to go through the daily grind as every writer must. Just as anyone good at what they do must also do. It would be no different if I wanted to be a pro ball player, or a cutting edge computer programmer. To gain mastery of something, you have to put in a whole lot of time.

On some level, my family knows this. But what I have found is the same as what many writers I know have found - it is impossibly difficult to impress upon your family why it would be good to perhaps structure activities such that, at least on a couple nights a week, you could have a stretch of time to work. Even when they agree, and even when they understand the reasoning, when something pops up, their first thought isn't "let's not disturb him, he needs to work, let's find another way to deal with this" but "he's only sitting there, it will only take a minute, and then he can go back to work."

This is where the problem is, and why I liked Graham's "Makers vs Manager" article so much. I have always felt the problem, but was never able to articulate it.

Back when I was doing author interviews on the radio, I lived on manager time. I would schedule an interview at Random House for 10, one at McClelland & Stewart for 11, and (optimistically) one at Penguin for 12 (so long as I could catch the right train). If I had a spare hour, I could add something in, and while riding the train, or waiting in the lobby somewhere, I would take care of other tasks. I would multi-task, or compartmentalize tasks and complete them in discrete units of time, and this always worked for whatever I needed to do, except for writing.

I found that when I had to write something long form, I always underestimated the time I needed by a massive factor. Though I could and still can type at a relatively fast pace, all that other mental stuff related to writing always slows me down. The reading, planning, editing, revising, and polishing. And it is not just the time as an absolute that is the problem. A project that may take five hours to see through, will not take five hours if there are interruptions, it will take ten, or fifteen hours. Taking out the amount of time lost during a disruption will only account for a fraction of the lost time. The rest of the lost time is lost trying to retrace mental footsteps, get back into a flow, remembering how A was supposed to get to Z.

The same thing happened to my grandfather when he made furniture in his workshop. He and my grandmother, when would get in arguments until they both worked out an arrangement where he would have long stretches of time to work, and other times he would be available to take her somewhere, or help her around the house. If not for those long stretches, he would never have been able to make the many bookshelves, tables, chairs, dressers and more that grace the homes of all of his children and grandchildren.

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