Monday, September 14, 2015

Summer of the Big Burn-Out

Fires raged on the West Coast, from Washington all the way down to the bottom of California. With the drought, forests were a tinderbox. As I write, there are still fires raging too close to the Giant Sequoias. The Big Cats sanctuary had to truck the lions, tigers and bobcats to a safer haven. Smoke has traveled as far away as Salt Lake City. Ashes dust the cars in Fresno. The air quality has been so bad, the Central Valley stinks like a fireplace that needs cleaning. We're all suffering from allergies and sinus infections. My eyes and nose won't stop running.

I ventured outdoors to go to lunch with my friend Lorie at our favorite Chinese restaurant. As we fed on fried rice and chow fun, we talked about mounting obligations to our time and energy. A local bookstore owner wanted us to pull together a series of 90 minute writing workshops, no pay but plenty of chances to promote and sell our books.

“I just don't know where I'm going to find the time,” Lorie said. She puts out the online magazine called Kings River Life and I'm one of her writers. Her plate is full. So is mine.

“Yeah, but think of the opportunity,” I answered. A bookstore that supports writers. A chance to organize events. Being a major player in our local writing community. But, Lorie was right. We both had too many people pulling at us to contribute our talents. We were exhausted.

Plain and simple: we were burned out. Juggling career and family for her, dialysis and writing for me. Every time we looked around there was a deadline chasing us. Very flattering to be wanted but very exhausting trying to meet obligations. Life was less complicated years ago when we were starting out. We were younger, we had more energy, more drive and embraced opportunities.

When the local library called asking if I would give a speech on a Saturday afternoon, I tried to say no. I've supported the library in the past and they have supported me. Dealing with yet another session with few in attendance and nobody buying books seemed too much to handle. Plus, this was short notice. My friend Sherman, the librarian, bribed me with a Chinese dinner afterward. He knows my weakness.

I had to stop and put the brakes on. Isn't this what I'd hoped for at the start of my career? When nobody knew me, didn't I work hard to get my name and reputation out there? Why was I sniveling? I knew authors who would kill for the opportunities that fell in my lap. When did I become so ungrateful?

I went ahead and publicized the meeting. I copied a short story I'd written based on a local murder case from the 60's that many locals were familiar with. It was a freebie to demonstrate my writing. To my surprise, there was a packed house. Turns out the class of 1965 was having their 50th reunion and my classmates had notified their older siblings. Friends I hadn't seen in awhile were there, despite the extreme heat and bad air. I sold out of all the books I had and wished I'd ordered more. And yes, I got well-fed afterward.


This morning we got a sprinkle of rain. Winds came in like a big fan, whisking the air clean. The weather finally dipped below the hundred mark. The sky is brighter, and so is my mood. I feel energized and realize that I was just suffering from temporary doldrums. Hopefully, the fires will subside soon and the flame in me for my career will become stronger.

         

17 comments:

Tierney James said...

This was a wonderful reminder to be thankful for those sometimes thankless tasks a writer must do to keep ahead of the game. Thanks. I loved this. Tierney James

Sunny Frazier said...

We didn't know what we were signing up for, did we? It all looked so inviting. I don't want to get jaded and it shocked me to find out that I was headed down that road. I mean, come on! I sit at my computer in my jammies, sip coffee, don't answer to a boss and take naps when I feel like it. What the heck am I complaining for???

Mona Karel said...

I've gotten there more than once recently. Commitments to all phases of my life, coming do all at the same time.
YIKES
The morning pages help me when I remember to do them. Picking one spot to clean (the whole place is a mess!) helps since it's some sort of progress. Amazingly just going outside to walk around for 5-10 minutes makes a difference...go figure!

Linda Thorne said...

I'm on the East side of the U.S., but we are all watching the horror of those fires over there. This was an interesting post. I could feel that whole thought process you and Lorie went through with the library gig as you told us about it. I can sure understand, but what a happy ending. You took the opportunity even with the misgivings and then it turned out successful. Stories like this encourage me to keep pushing on.

Ellen Kirschman said...

Good one. I'm feeling more than a little overwhelmed on the eve of the launch of THE RIGHT WRONG THING. A mix of excitement, feeling buried in my to-do list and longing to get back to my quiet writing routine and finish book three. Glad to know I'm not the only one.

Velda Brotherton said...

A good reminder to those of us in the business for so many years. Not only do we feel the pressure of too much to do, there's also the thought that with only a few years remaining in our career we have to make them count for something. We all began with the urge to have our words read and appreciated. To say something of importance along with entertaining our readers with our stories.
After finishing a book, beginning another and promoting A Savage Grace, which came out last week, I can join you Sunny in feeling pushed. Yet the writing still grips me and I have to continue can't stop. Hope your fires subside now and you can breathe good clean air again.

Charles Gramlich said...

Yes, hoping for a rain of many kinds, rain to stop the fires, and rain of good fortune on all our careers.

James R. Callan said...

As always, Sunny, a great blog. Good information to remind us to view such things not as interruptions, but as opportunities. We are all praying that some really drenching rains find their way to all of California. It is frightening to see the destruction of the fires. Thanks for another good read.

C.L. Swinney said...

Great blog Sunny. Keeping yourself balanced is muy importante (translated: very important)!! I hope the fires get contained soon, too many homes and people in harms way.

I have to remind myself to take deep breaths and pull the reigns in all the time. One of the things that happens if I don't is my writing stinks..I don't have the energy to be uber-creative and keep it all going for a whole story, or worse, novel..

HANG IN THERE!

Chris

Patricia Gligor said...

Great post, Sunny, and a reminder to us all to be grateful for every opportunity we're given to promote our books. "Life" can sometimes sap our creative energy but, as Chris mentioned, we need to take a deep breath and push on. For me, it's all about finding balance, juggling family responsibilities, writing time and time to promote. But, when all is said and done, I wouldn't trade my writing life for anything in the world!

Sunny Frazier said...

You know, this "confession" was sort of hard for me because I do feel like I'm looking a gift horse in the mouth and daring it to bite. What happens when you achieve your goal and it's not the easy ride to success/self-completion you thought it would be? Very heartening to know other authors have those moments. I feel like I'm on a treadmill, running to keep up. Your words are reassuring. It's just something we go through in our weaker moments. One good book sale and the clouds disappear!

Marja said...

Over the past couple of years I've had some major life-changing events take over. The most recent knocked me right out of my writing life. However, I'm really starting to miss writing, and yes, even promoting. Hopefully in the next couple of months I'll be back in front of my computer screen, living the life I love. Excellent post, Sunny! Thanks for the reminder about how much things can change when we least expect it.
Marja McGraw

amreade said...

I'm so glad that you embraced the opportunity to put yourself out there. There are days I feel like there's little point in promoting, but I find I've never once regretted putting in the time to write a blog, post something on social media, or do a book signing or a library talk. Well done, Sunny!

Maria G. Swan said...

What a great piece and what perfect timing..yes, feeling overwhelmed and unappreciated. apparently I'm not alone. Thank you for sharing.

Joyce Ann Brown said...

We all benefit, Sunny, when you keep on keeping on. I spoke at a book club meeting in my town last night, and I started out by resenting the time it would take because I wanted to be writing. Then, everyone was so nice and so complimentary that I came home feeling great. I made new connections, too. Loved your article.

Lida Sideris said...

What a lovely post, describing what so many of us feel - I do my fair share of foot dragging. But sometimes the smallest thing may make all the difference and remind me to enjoy the ride. Thanks Sunny!

Liane Spicer said...

To misquote Macbeth, "the love that follows us sometimes is our trouble." Too many obligations, too much splitting up of ourselves and not enough of the solitude we need to function as writers, too many disappointments...

Then it all comes around again. Glad to hear the air is clearer all around.