Last week I had the pleasure of reading T Thorn Coyle’s Make Magic of your Life (a splendid book, proper review here – http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/556296405). Some of it was eerily familiar. The words about taking on too much and running too hard, and deciding that just working in the morning is still really a day off, and all those twisted paths that lead to burnout. I’ve written repeatedly about my respect for the slow movement and the importance of slowing down, but reading Make Magic of your Life made me aware that no, I haven’t really done that thing properly. I run hard, and I fall over.
I notice that running hard and falling over is something I dream about, in a literal sort of way.
Then, reading, I found this…
“…larger patterns that turn into obsessions, sometimes leading to marriages, trips around the world, or engagements with projects that end up eating our lives, driving us in unhealthy ways toward narrower and narrower corridors of being, and sometimes leading to explosion or collapse.”
It gave me goosebumps. I used to have a rich dream life, but during my first marriage that dwindled away to a handful of repetitive nightmares. One of them involved me running down narrower and narrower corridors, up ever narrower flights of stairs until there was nothing left to do but jump out of a window, fly or die. In this book, T Thorn Coyle explores the importance of desire, of following the calling of your soul, and what happens when we run round because we feel we should, and when we let other people or our own habits of being pull the strings. I’m going to come back and talk about the desire aspect, but at the moment the slowing down is the issue. I’m so used to pushing my body to exhaustion and beyond, and have a long history of getting into situations where that was expected, and then not getting the hell out of those.
I can slow down. I can take more time for me. If I am ill, I can rest and Tom is brilliant about supporting me. I do not have to do everything now. But I’m still, in part, running down the dwindling corridors because I feel like I should. Even though I know it doesn’t work. I’m a creative person, and my ability to do good work is not about a willingness to grind myself into the floor and work ten hours a day seven days a week. That is not the environment in which creativity thrives. It is a way of becoming much less productive in a matter of weeks. One thing to do a long stint because my head is on fire with inspiration, quite another to sit here churning it out because I feel like I should.
I know, because I’ve tested it, that if I make a point of doing less, what happens is that I achieve more, and the quality goes up. Sure, I could churn out 10,000 words a day if I put my mind to it, but a good 9000 of them would be shit, and after a couple of weeks depression would descend and I wouldn’t even feel able to get out of the duvet. If I write a couple of thousand words that are the best words I could possibly have found that day, there’s a fair chance I end the day with 2000 words I feel proud of. That’s actually double the output. To do my very best work, I have to stop, wait, rest, incubate, think, study, experiment and imagine. I have to gather the raw material. It’s not just about coughing up words.
I do not want to keep running down those corridors.
Since the meltdown that hit me early this year, I’ve been doing better in terms of managing my energy, and improving the quality of my work. Win all round. But I have to keep fighting those little voices that demand more and faster. I am not a machine. There are things to be said about the care and maintenance of geese that lay golden eggs.
Make Magic of Your Life was an affirmation for me on this score. To see someone else; an author who achieves so much and is widely respected, talking about those same issues of overdoing it and burning out, makes me realise that I’m not being stupid in slowing down. It’s not laziness. It’s necessary. I have to fight the rhetoric of the factory floor and the production line to keep doing what I do, but it’s not just me. Slowing down is necessary. Not just for me, but for anyone who wants a life, and to be more than a cog in someone else’s machine.