Looking for Balance

I suck at this game. Balance.

Except, of course, it’s not at all a game. Between Ferguson and thousands of people dying on a mountain in Iraq and Ma’lik Richmond playing football again as if that pesky rape conviction never happened, there is a never-ending vortex of bad things happening right now that seems worse than ever.

Normally I only spend this much time reading the news during a presidential election year. And when it’s over, I am exhausted, drained of the ability to get worked up about anything at all for months. I don’t mind this. I’m a political junkie and a presidential election is like being offered your drug of choice on a silver platter at no charge. Bad for me, but nearly impossible to resist.

I take a sort of twisted pleasure in that however. Reading about campaign strategies, listening to the talking heads, mining the political blogs, watching debates. These things both fascinate and thrill me.

There is nothing thrilling about what’s happening now.

Watching the news and reading all of the blog posts feels more like bearing witness than staying current. There have been days in these past two weeks when I’ve done nothing but read and watch and witness. It feels like a moral imperative somehow, not to let these events slide by without notice.

It wrecks me, though. Hence the search for balance.

I have the soul of an addict. Finding balance is not my forte. In the same way that I spend hours combing Twitter for the latest updates on Ferguson, when I break from the strain of watching people provoked and battered and stripped of their civil rights, I go overboard with my relief strategies: staying up until dawn, literally, watching an entire season of Orange is the New Black; rereading all of Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell mysteries in a row; eating entire football-sized jars of kosher dill pickles.

This is not balance. This is just exchanging one obsession for another.

It feels petty even to worry about my own bad habits. If feels petty to work on my own writing. Everything that doesn’t involve me abandoning my child and running off to do something, damn it feels petty. How can I possibly justify spending time writing a romance novel when there are tanks and tear gas in the streets? Who could possibly care about whether or not I can redeem this banjo-playing hipster boy with anger management issues when there are videos so horrifying online I can’t even watch them?

So I binge on the news. And then I watch all of Season One of The L Word in another overnight glom. Anything to stop the voices in my head from their shocked chattering about everything that’s going wrong.

Another day of stalking the news. Another night of rereading everything KJ Charles published this year.

All the while ignoring my own writing, because how could it possibly matter, what I do? How could anything so silly matter at all?

Every time I write a Wonkomance post, you know, it’s because I’ve finally realized something so blatantly obvious that a smarter woman would have acknowledged it long ago.

A post-doc in rocket science is not required to analyze the lesson here.

Of course what I do is important. Of course writing romance novels, even ones about banjo-playing hipsters, is important. What am I doing every night to relieve the pressure of merely witnessing events if not losing myself in someone else’s stories? (The pickle obsession aside, of course.) And I’m only watching from the sidelines. I can’t imagine how much more desperate the need for relief, for distraction, is for those who are suffering directly. How much they will need to take themselves out of themselves when they at last, I hope, have more than moments of peace within which to do so.

I have friends and family members who are going through difficult times right now. Deaths in their families. Financial distress. Health problems that have only bleak outcomes. All of these people read books or watch movies to escape. That is no small thing to provide. Escape.

We hear the word “escapist” all the time in reference to romance novels, to genre literature and film in general. It’s a term of derision, of course. But how stupid of those who use it that way, scorning escapist stories. If I can grant, for a few hours only, a mental escape to someone who needs it, I would consider it a privilege to have done so. If someone else’s silly comic books or simplistic romcom flick can provide that escape . . . well, then, that’s neither silly nor simplistic at all, is it?

For myself, and my quest for balance, I might want to tone it down a little. Or a lot. Ten hours of news followed by ten hours of escape, not to mention those measly four hours of sleep, is no way to live. I think I’ll try to take turns a little bit more. Some work of my own, followed by some news and then an hour’s worth of escapism, perhaps. My son has also recently thrown himself headlong into World of Warcraft during the one month of the year that he’s neither in school nor at camp all day. I hear Pandaren monks have a marvelously adventurous storyline.

He doesn’t know it yet, that what he’s doing now for fun may someday be one of the outlets he uses for escape. He already loves reading and superhero movies, so those bases are covered. I think the thing I need most to teach him is that balancing act.

Of course, since he stops every hour or two to switch activities, take a break, move on to something new, it may be that I’m the one who needs to learn from him after all.

On top of everything else, my next book, WHEN THE LIGHTS GO DOWN, releases on September 1st. So, I expect I will both require some escapism and become obsessively unbalanced about that in just a little while. Anyone have any good balancing tips for me? I’m gonna need ‘em.


This entry was posted in Writing Wonkomance. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Looking for Balance

  1. I too feel that futility of bearing witness and the exhaustion accompanying it.

    My out is scrabble though, as I find stories themselves emotionally taxing. It’s only escape for me to re-read stories I already know. Reading new stories is opening new wounds. There is not room in my soul for new wounds right now.

    • Oh god, yes. I almost exclusively reread when I feel like this. I can watch new films or shows, in fact I tend to do that. But when it comes to reading, I go straight for comfort rereads. You say it beautifully: “There is not room in my soul for new wounds right now.” That, exactly.

  2. Pingback: Looking for Balance | Amy Jo Cousins

  3. I’m not sure this is exactly profound, but I’ve been where you are. I get it. I went off the rails again last year during the government shut-down and watched all of West Wing in like 2 weeks. Not the worst response to anxiety, but maybe not the best one either ;-)

    The main things I’ve learned are: eat (3-5 times per day), sleep (7-8 hours for me) and exercise (3 times per week) whether you want to or not, whether you have the time or not. The secondary things are: make routines (get up, walk dog, make coffee, weekly baking on Tuesday, library on Thursday) and really focus on enjoying small daily pleasures. I don’t always succeed at all or sometimes even any of these things. But I’ve noticed that I’m much less anxious than I used to be, I’m no longer afraid of the dark (literal dark, it took me years, but I don’t even think about it any more) and I actually get things done instead of being caught in a never-ending cycle of fear and self-loathing. Balance doesn’t come naturally, but when I focus on doing the above and letting everything else take care of itself, I’m a much easier person to be around.

    That’s what has worked for me. It’s not that simple of course. The trick is that you have to do it all day, every day, whether you feel like it or not. But, yeah. Focus on the small stuff. Without the small stuff, you can’t get to the big stuff. And whatever the big stuff turns out to be, you’ll be fed, rested and healthy enough to deal with it. Maybe along with whatever everyone else has to say, some of that will help. Good luck and can’t wait for the new book! :-)

    • My West Wing habit is the only thing that is under any kind of sane control lately. :) #westwingclub is a lifesaver for me every week!

      You’ve reminded me that part of my trouble in the past six months or so has been my not exercising. I had back troubles this year (a fun new thing I blame on aging) and that killed my running. I haven’t gotten back on track and when I’m not running, everything suffers for sure. It irritates me to admit it, but all of those people who say that regular exercise makes everything better are annoyingly correct in my case. When I’m running regularly, I write more easily, I eat better food, I sleep better at night, and I manage stress more easily.

      Sigh. You’d think I’d only need to learn this lesson two or three times before it would stick, right? *laces up running shoes* Every damn year or two…

  4. Well said, as always, and on point. I have gone to the other extreme. Since Robin Williams’ death, I have avoided the news. I don’t know a lot of what is going on in Ferguson, I couldn’t tell you the first thing about Isis, and Ebola? Let’s not even go there. As someone who grew up just outside Manhattan, where triple murder-suicides were the top billed news items every night, I go into a sort of sticking-my-head-into-the-sand phase when things get bad like this, because I’m sure I will get to the point you did too. What the hell am I thinking, worrying about my petty problems? How can I even be worried about if my next book will sell when there’s shit going down that I could never imagine handling? So kudos to you for having the strength to invest yourself in it. That’s what makes you so awesome. As is also, your ability to redeem banjo-playing hipsters among other fantastic characters, as well as being my friend. *hugs*