The good news: Nahara, the sequel to Nantais, is now available on Amazon and for pre-order direct from the publisher. There’s also a re-release of Nantais, which I’m told has renovated typesetting.
Now for the bad news.
I wish I could do more to celebrate and promote the release of this, my second published novel and the last one of my books my spouse will ever see (for maximum emotional effect, meditate on that fact as you read the ending). But I can’t.
In March, I lost my spouse in a motorcycle crash that left me with broken bones in both legs, pelvis and other places. I spent nearly a month in the hospital before I was allowed to come home. Three months later, I still cannot walk on my own.
I was so excited for this release. I started planning pre-release and release-date posts and events back in January. My goal was to have a grand time with this book right up until the rest of you got to see it, and then have fun reading it with you.
The crash took that from me. The release was not rescheduled. All my plans and excitement are just…gone.
For that, I’m sorry.
But, as events have turned out, maybe it’s for the best? After all, my “release date” ended up being more like a probability cloud than a fixed moment. When I looked up Nahara on Amazon, for instance, I discovered it was available there even though the publisher’s website still listed it as a pre-order. And several of my pre-release party plans depended on my receiving a galley for review, as well as my contributor copy of Spoon Knife 5. Neither one ever arrived.
I never saw the re-release of Nantais, either. I’ve been told it’s beautiful. I hope so, given that it now also costs 40 percent more.
And now that both books are available to the public, at least through some channels, I find myself forced to give up all my own post-launch plans as well. I simply don’t have what it takes to do tie-in fiction or “Verity Rereads Her Own Book for the First Time In Four Years” livestreams or personalized signed copies right now. Not when my daily struggles involve planning my spouse’s funeral, settling his estate, dealing with medical appointments and insurance adjusters, and relearning how to stand up on my own.
I wanted to give you a party. I lost the chance. Instead I’m planning a different sort of event: A funeral for my best friend and partner, the best human being I have ever known.
I wish I could do that and settle an estate and wrangle insurers and walk, with energy left over to market a book. But I can’t. And I’m sorry.
Anyway, Nahara is out now. I hope you enjoy it. Next time I release a book, we’ll have the party I planned for this one – and then some.
Since the crash, my fiction writing has been hit or miss. Drawing, however, has become a daily habit.
I’ve never been exceptionally gifted – or, indeed, gifted at all – in drawing. I’ve also never been particularly skilled at it, because I have so rarely practiced. And during the period of my life in which I got interested enough to practice daily, I also encountered an art teacher who announced loudly, while “fixing” one of my projects to suit herself, “You really can’t draw!”
I regret the literal decades in which I did not practice drawing, thanks to those four words. (Though I did write that teacher a nice poem a few years later, which appeared in the Muskegon River Review.)
Since the crash, words have been hard. Hard enough that even with my lack of practice or skill, drawing has appealed to me as a more accessible and expressive language for my situation.
It’s still not good. In fact, I often make fun of my nightly drawings in the same journal in which I am drawing them. A drawing of my soap and washcloth, one day after a shower (a Herculean feat when one has only one weight-bearing limb), is captioned “Am I improving yet?”
This morning, I decided to practice shading – the particular skill my long-ago art teacher was criticizing when she announced I “really can’t draw.” It is, of course, still bad some 25 years later.
Those intervening 25 years and a successful writing career, however, have taught me things about the nature of bad art.
Bad art is inevitable, at least at the beginning.
Bad art is necessary; it teaches us how to make good art.
Bad art is fun. It’s a free space. There’s no standard the art has to live up to; the art is a success merely because it exists, no matter how bad it is.
This morning, I realized: Bad art is also a gift to my future self.
I’m drawing now because it’s helping me express ideas and feelings that, as Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote, “the words don’t reach.” But I’m also drawing for my future self, the one who has better drawing skills than I do today because I did the work to draw today.
I’m looking forward to looking back at these drawings in a year, or five years, or 25 years. I want to see how far I’ve come. I want to see how far regular practice will take me.
Maybe the answer is “not far.” Maybe in five years, the response to my drawings will still be “you really can’t draw!” I don’t care.
My art teacher made several mistakes in telling thirteen year old me that I could not draw. Of them, the biggest mistake was assuming that I drew for any audience other than myself. She assumed, wrongly, that her opinion mattered.
At 13, I also assumed, wrongly, that her opinion mattered. I went on assuming that for a long time. Fortunately, the intervening 25 years have also taught me to discern whose opinions matter – especially when it comes to something so personal and so freeing as making bad art.
Here in the US, we are obsessed with work. We consider it among the highest virtues – if not the highest. We automatically ascribe the “hard worker” trait to anyone we consider successful, and the corresponding “lazy” trait to anyone we don’t. And we persist in these beliefs despite reams of evidence that billionaires don’t actually work harder than the middle class, but the working poor do.
I’ve written about my work addiction before. I continue to write about it precisely because it is the end result of a society that applauds working oneself to death. “Workaholic” is not a badge of honor; it is a sign that something has gone very, very wrong.
I went into rehab for chronic pain in November 2015. It ended up being rehab for my work addiction as much as anything else.
Five and a half years later, I have mostly accepted that my work addiction is a chronic condition. It will never be cured. The urge to overwork myself will always be present to varying degrees; I will always be managing it within the context of the rest of my life.
Now, for instance.
Over the last several weeks, I’ve noticed myself backsliding on the whole “keeping work under control” thing. I find myself too fried from work to have a conversation with my spouse. Household chores have gone un-finished because I used all my energy on work. I’m increasingly snappish when ordinary, normally joyful things like a friend’s visit or garden work “get in the way” of working. I’m starting to think of the rest of my life as “getting in the way.”
Those are all red flags that it’s time for me to reconsider how I’m doing this whole work thing.
Managing a work addiction is difficult for several reasons. First, it’s more like managing a food addiction than a substance addiction. Total abstention isn’t an option. Humans need work, not merely in the “I need money to live” sense, but in the “I need to put effort toward meaningful goals in order to stay mentally healthy” sense. For addictions to essentials, there is no “just say no” campaign. There is no easy solution to spoon out.
Second, a lot of the resources for managing work addiction are not helpful. Advice like “reset your priorities!” or “hide your smartphone!” simply will not cut it for people (like me) who use work to hide from deep-rooted trauma. Often, work addiction advice reads like it was written by someone who (a) has never been addicted to work, (b) can’t quite bring themselves to advocate laziness, or (c) both.
So what does work?
In my experience, managing work addiction requires attention to three different areas, which I call “boundaries,” “alternatives,” and “issues.”
Because total abstention from work is not an option, I need strong boundaries around my work time. I work during work time and I do not work during not-work time.
Often, the most obvious symptom of backsliding is that work is creeping into not-work time. I’ll just go another half-hour! I’ll pick this up again after dinner! Writing a thirty-tweet thread about this topic isn’t really work; it’s socializing!
Maintaining boundaries requires brutal honesty with myself. And I say “with myself” because, even though my spouse often notices when my boundaries are slipping, I do not rely on my spouse to tell me about it. This is my life. It’s my addiction. That is my work, and those are my boundaries.
When I catch myself backsliding, Step 1 is always a reaffirmation of my work boundaries. It’s a re-commitment to really turning off the computer and walking away when Work Time is over for the day.
“Reset boundaries” is always Step 1 because it’s the easy part. The other two are harder.
When I stuff all my work back into the Work Time boundaries, I find myself with an awful lot of free time. Especially during the pandemic, when many of the activities I normally use to fill this time were suddenly off limits.
One of my preferred Not Work Time activities pre-pandemic, for instance, was going to the gym. I went to the gym not because I specifically love the gym, but because I cannot work at the gym. I can only gym at the gym. Going to the gym, then, provided an easy way to enforce the work/not-work boundary while also providing an alternative to work.
Since work is not an option during Not Work Time, I need alternative ways to deal with the issues I was using work to deal with. These alternatives cannot be work in disguise. They need to be something else.
This one is hard when the addiction in question is work, because that addiction doesn’t limit itself to our usual definitions of “work” as “the thing I do for money” or “the thing connected to my title at this organization.” Work addiction will happily feed itself on just about anything that constitutes the pursuit and attainment of a meaningful goal.
Here, too, self-awareness plays a key role. If a Not Work Time activity starts to feel like work, I abandon it. I left a kitchen deep-clean half-finished last week because it started to feel like work.
My preferred alternatives include exercise, reading, video games, gardening, and cleaning. I love writing, too, but I took that one off the list on purpose – writing happens during work time, because it can so easily become work. The goal is to find alternatives that do not feel like work and that can’t easily disguise work.
The third step is the hardest of all.
I can set boundaries around my work time. I can find alternate activities to fill my time when it is Not Work Time. Yet neither of these activities is going to last on its own unless I also do the hardest of the three steps in managing my work addiction: Determining what issues are triggering my drive to overwork.
Often, the issue in question is stress-related. Unsurprisingly, this past year was tough.
What issues in 2020 could possibly have been causing me additional stress? It is a mystery?? /sarcasm
When I first started dealing with my work addiction as an addiction, the issues I was avoiding were almost always CPTSD flashbacks. Over time, as I’ve worked through the trauma in therapy and in my daily life, I’ve run into fewer instances where I am overworking in order to avoid looking at some piece of past trauma.
I cannot stress how important this step is, however. Boundaries and alternative activities are a cast; they keep things in place and help prevent further injury. Addressing the underlying issues is the healing part.
This is where I feel a lot of advice about work addiction falls short. Often, it gives people things to blame that aren’t the actual underlying issue. “Oh, you’re really addicted to success, not to work” is a common one. Or “you’re not addicted to work, you’re a perfectionist.”
Those may be issues some people struggle with! Nevertheless, it seems irresponsible to me to bring them up in the context of an addiction. Addiction Brain and Trauma Brain will both grasp at anything in order to avoid dealing with the root of the problem. Tossing them an excuse to gnaw on is, ultimately, less helpful than suggesting there is an underlying cause for work addiction and it is worthwhile to seek out what that is – with professional assistance if needed.
If there is a cure for my particular work addiction, I have not found it. All I have so far is the ability to manage it. So far, though, that’s kept me alive. So far, that’s been enough.
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