Whip Cracker

I’m sitting in a co-working space in downtown Santa Cruz. I’m here because the business I started in December now has an employee, and this employee needs to see me and speak to me frequently (mostly to show me something hilarious he found on the internet, but who says that startups shouldn’t be like larger companies, wasting enormous amounts of time on the internet looking up fart jokes featuring cats?). And I’ve noticed that for the past couple of days, I’ve been feeling really down.

Could it be the weather? It’s unseasonably warm, although it’s still below freezing at my house in the morning, so I have twelve layers on as I leave, and progressively peel them off as the day wears on. I’m acutely aware that we’re in the worst drought I’ve ever seen. It’s bad enough that my husband has cleared room for a second cistern so that, when it does rain, we can capture it and have slightly less dependence on city water. I’m freaking out that, come summer, we’re going to have to clear-cut a sizable portion of the land around our house and spend the summer in the city, because the entirety of the Santa Cruz mountains will be aflame. This is the first time since we’ve lived in the mountains that the fire danger has remained high into the winter months.

But it’s not the weather.

I’m in the period of time when there’s not a lot of outward evidence of progress in my business. It’s not that things aren’t happening, it’s just that when people ask me how things are going, they don’t want to hear about things like market research or developing pitches. They want to hear about meetings with famous people and big, wealthy companies. They want to hear about helicopter rides and high-powered meetings in expensive restaurants where everyone’s speaking in some kind of code.

And in the meantime, I’m not at home where I can pet my dogs whenever I want, the fridge is full of whatever I bought the last time I was at the store, and I can be doing other things to support my household while I’m doing this boring market research.

But the truth is, I can’t do other things and be as productive as I need to be. The truth is that I can really only do one thing at a time, and it makes me feel like I’m letting myself down. Holy shit – what? I’m not superwoman? Since when?┬áBut it’s true. If I don’t want to feel like I’ve thrown hundreds of thousands of dollars down the drain and wasted months of my own time and several other peoples’, I have to take this seriously, which looks like sitting my ass in an office, doing stupid research, and writing things down on little scraps of paper that I will later assemble into cogent arguments for people to use my product.

But it doesn’t mean that I don’t feel sad about missing my friends, my husband, my kid, and my doggies.

The Post-Graduate

It has now been a solid month since I graduated from Antioch University LA’s MFA program. I’ll be honest – in the two months just before the residency (so, all of October and November), I was convinced that I wouldn’t graduate because I would succumb to a fatal heart attack from the combined stress of finishing my final manuscript, trying to get out the fourth issue of Lunch Ticket with a staff that wasn’t exactly firing on all cylinders, and the amount of paperwork and meetings involved in starting a new company.

At the time, I was self-deprecating in my complaints: “It was stupid of me to be starting a company right now, I know. I should have waited until after graduation.” But self-deprecation was a mask for the unending frustration I felt at the fact that every single thing I did took time away from other things I had to do. And let’s not even talk about the things I never got around to doing. My mother has a long list that I’m sure she’d be happy to send you.

Now that the MFA is behind me, though, how have things changed?

First and most obviously, I’m now on a more regular schedule. Because I have my own company and therefore no boss, I get to dictate when I get into the office and what constitutes an acceptable work day. For me, that looks like getting up at 6:30, getting myself and the kid ready for our day, packing up the car and driving her to school, going to the gym, then heading into the office. A more regular schedule also means that at the end of the day, I’m not hiding in my home office trying to wring another couple of productive hours out of the day instead of hanging out with my family.

Sadly, though, that thing that I went to two years of punishing grad school to learn? Not using that so much. It’s not that I’m not writing at all. In fact, another one of my stories was picked up for publication last week, and I’ve done a few more submissions. But the novel that I’ve been working on is in a holding pattern because I recognize what needs to be done on it: research, rethink, rewrite. Yup, for the third time, I’ll be gutting it and doing some pretty fundamental revisions. That’s not a bad thing, but it does delay my novel’s completion substantially.

The nice thing, though, is that I’ve gotten myself to a place where I recognize that publication is not going to change my life (or anyone else’s) in any substantial way. I’ve come back to a place where writing, hard as it can be, is its own reward. This doesn’t mean that I won’t be pursuing publication. It just means that I’m no longer in a place where that’s the most important goal on my horizon.

I can live with that.