Crossing Over - Author Marina Budhos' Website

Crossing Over aims to capture what all writers do: we cross over into territory both familiar and unknown.

Tag: Balance

Balancing the Artistic Inner Life and the Civic Life

Recently, I’ve handed in a new project and am looking up from my desk, blinking, taking care of the masses of errands, responsibilities that always pile up and languish when I’m immersed in a manuscript. Some of these are purely domestic–camp decisions, electricians, curtain rods–which, I will admit, bring me a lot of pleasure when I am feeling lighter, and less burdened with deadlines.

But I’ve also been shooting e-mails to people around what I would call my ‘civic’ life–two groups that impact the community I live in; a blood donor drive; organizing a cohort of parents for potential study abroad programs for our children. This is the part of me that belongs and joins, and I must admit, I have always been highly inconsistent in this regard. I have bursts of intense, almost executive energy, and then I withdraw into the personal cocoon of my own writing and creating.

I think most artists are torn about how much to give to our civic life. In a way, art is a selfish act. You block out the rest of the world, and only what is right in front of you matters. In fact, when I am deep into a project, I am suspicious of any demand on my time, and regard most activities as a dilution of my real calling. As well, since part of what I do is give public talks and readings, that feels like yet another heavy demand–one I enjoy and appreciate–but which can drain me and leave me rattled. I’ve also watched marvelously creative people diffuse themselves needlessly, and never get that manuscript done.

And yet, some part of me craves something of a civic life, and has real ideas about what what needs to be changed. I admire the people who are far more energetic in this regard–those who serve on boards, volunteer, coach teams, join groups. But I could never be that consistent. Is it good enough to swoop in now and then? How do other writers and artists create this balance between their private and public selves?

The Elusive Balance

Can one write too hard?  Work too hard?  And still not feel like you’ve done enough?

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’ve set this goal of finishing a long novel this summer, since this is the time when I can have uninterrupted time, five days a week.  And so, for the past few weeks, this is exactly what I’ve done.  To some extent, it has worked.  Unlike the rest of the year, when I am dashing and juggling an impossible set of responsibilities,I actually have enough time to go to not one, but at least two yoga classes, while getting work done.  Even a few swims, once the pool opened.  What a miracle!  And taking care of many of the niggling domestic improvements that are the bane and joy of house living.  And still sit at my desk!  The healthful sense of balance was achieved—I felt energetic both  mentally and physically.

But this past week, something went awry.  I plugged ahead, but by the end, I was lagging.  I somehow never made it to yoga.  Forget swimming.  My sciatica kicked in and began to distract me.  My right wrist began to hurt.  I finished out the week feeling run down, headachy, not entirely pleased with the most recent passages.

There’s no doubt that when I don’t take care of myself, physically, and then drive myself to sit at a desk like a prisoner to my manuscript,  it backfires.  Alas, I’m all too prone to this—I can easily talk myself away from all those replenishing activities–a walk, a bike ride, a call or visit to a friend–and instead guiltily chain myself to work.  Friends have commented on ‘my discipline.’ But it’s not always the best discipline because ultimately, if I’m not refreshed, or deeply rested, the work is not either.