Saved drafts are piling up in the blog’s left-side column, and none of them feel worth finishing and posting. Clean laundry is piling up in the basket and in the hamper and on the bed, and everyone would rather rummage through it to find the one thing the kid wants to wear than fold it and put it away. Papers that need attention are piling up on the counter: a reimbursement form to fill out, a survey to complete, copies to file (“for your records,” which gives too much credit to my record-keeping). Messages I need to respond to are piling up in all the virtual receptacles: inbox, iMessage, other inbox, WhatsApp.
Yes, I just uncovered a series of very sweet messages in WhatsApp from a friend in her first year of teaching at a small college a few states away. She has been sending me adorable pictures of her baby and lovely but not overbearing messages along the lines of “thinking of you and hope you’re doing well!” since October. I was mortified and responded immediately with a thousand apologies about how I apparently don’t have notifications turned on for WhatsApp (probably in an effort to simplify my life) and of course I was so glad to hear from her and did she know how sorry I was? Of course she wasn’t mad. She gets it. She sent more baby pictures, and I sent a few of my own. If anything, we shared a moment of relief and compassion. Life is overwhelming; it’s not just her and it’s not just me.
The things that pile up can do one of two things: they can feed the beast in your head telling you that you’re doing a shitty job of everything, or they can amplify the call for help that you’re not hearing, even though it’s jumping up and down and waving flags and yelling “YOU ARE TIRED!”
Of course I love it when I start something and then finish it. It’s easy to recognize the completed works. The unfinished ones stare me in the face - j’accuse! - and taunt me. Four saved drafts, one halfhearted, half-baked paragraph each. What happened to the closer I used to be?
I campaigned on this promise, quite literally, in the 11th grade, when I stood up in front of my high school class and told them that they should vote for me for Yearbook Editor-in-Chief because I could be trusted to get. it. done. I do not ask for extensions, I said (and this was true). No matter what, I promised. I would stay up all night and I would meet the deadlines. I hadn’t dared to put myself up for any sort of position that would be decided by popular vote, because it was high school and popular wasn’t my strong suit, but damn if they didn’t elect me Yearbook Editor-in-Chief. And we made every deadline, even when the nagging required made me momentarily unpopular. Look at you now with your piles of unfiled papers and your ignored WhatsApp messages.
How many years did I spend believing that I was only worth the extent to which I could appear unfazed by everything? How much value did I place in being a Cool Girl, a Tough Girl, a Down-For-Whatever Girl? How much did I fear that everyone around me would abandon me as soon as they saw me crack under the pressure, cry, leave my things in messy piles, hide in bed rather than go out and do my umpteenth 20-mile run? Everyone would know that I wasn’t really the closer I’d promised to be, and there it would go.
When I say “closer” I do mean the kind of closer that Alec Baldwin is talking about in Glengarry Glen Ross, a movie which I have only seen one time and which I do not know whether I could bear to watch again. I don’t remember much about it besides “ABC - Always Be Closing.” I would say this to myself as I tried to muster the will to go to my office on Sundays and get chapters edited and articles written. The problem was always me and my inability to close. What was wrong with me? What had happened to me? Put that coffee down; coffee is for closers only.
As piles accumulate, I try to be more like my inner WhatsApp friend than my inner Alec Baldwin. Piles are not an indication that you are a loser, I say to myself; they mean that you are tired. And that you’re not seventeen anymore. Even my indomitable coach gets tired sometimes, and she sure as hell isn’t afraid to say so. When you’re tired like this, it’s time to ask what’s going on and what you need. Yesterday, I turned off my 5:00 AM alarm and slept until 6. I went running at lunch instead of before dawn, and I did not go for the full hour that I theoretically could have had. I ordered takeout for dinner. I let the drafts sit. I drank the coffee.