One of our neighbours has a beautiful little boy. He’s always smiling, always laughing, and he likes to run around to our house and show off his ‘toy of the day’ – lately, it’s been a small plastic handsaw with which he likes to destroy our garden gate, to a soundtrack of throaty chuckles. Today, he turns two years old, and so – feeling organised, grown up, and infinitely practical – I decided to buy him a birthday card almost a week ago. It’s been sitting on our kitchen table ever since so that I don’t forget to write in it; every time I saw it I cracked a grin, not only at the thought of how much fun he’s going to have at his birthday party, but also in the smug realisation that, for once, I got something done right, and ahead of schedule.
I sat down this morning after breakfast – so early it was still dark outside – intending to make writing the carefully worded birthday message my first task of the day, only to discover something maddening.
There was no envelope for the card inside the plastic wrapping.
I didn’t think to check, when I bought the card, that the envelope came with it. The shop assistant at the register clearly didn’t, either. I guess we both assumed that if a card comes wrapped in plastic, the envelope is included. I was so mad, I could have growled. ‘This has messed up my whole day,’ I told myself. ‘Now I have to reschedule this, and do this differently, and I’ll need to change this…‘
And then I calmed down and realised (with the aid of a few deep breaths) that it was no big deal. I’ll just go and get another card. I have to go out to the shops anyway; it’s no extra hassle. But the initial whoosh of irritation (with myself), and the collapse of my careful edifice of being organised, was overwhelming.
Once, years ago, I was waiting in line for the coffee machine during my morning break in work. The café was crowded; there was a long line for coffee. A woman and her friend cut the queue and jumped in ahead of me, and I felt my teeth smash together and start to grind, of their own accord. My body flooded with rage, to the point where I began to tremble, and I have never felt so close to ‘losing it’ – all over nothing. Now, this may have been severe caffeine withdrawal – or it may have been something larger. Something that perhaps happens to people more often than they realise.
It’s strange how you can be so busy, and distracted, and scattered, and everything else it takes to live life in the modern world, that you become totally out of touch with your body and how it feels. I was unaware, until this morning, exactly how much of my sense of organisation and personal capability was based around a two-year-old’s birthday card. During my queue for coffee that morning in work, I was totally unaware (until it smacked me in the face) exactly how much stress and pressure I was under, and how close I was to snapping. It took these tiny life events – forgetting an envelope, being skipped in a queue – to draw my own feelings to my attention, and to make it clear to me that I was a bit out of balance.
I’ve been working away on ‘Eldritch’ for the past while, and it’s been going, but with difficulty. My plotting methods have proved effective, but progress is slow. I fear my main problem with the work is that I don’t love it – not that I don’t love writing, because I do and will always love that – but I don’t love the story as much as I loved the tale of Emmeline. ‘Eldritch’ doesn’t grab me up in its arms and sweep me away like the other story did; it doesn’t make my heart pound like ‘Emmeline’ did, even after the twentieth re-read. I am afraid that I will never write anything I love as much as ‘Emmeline’ ever again, and that it’s pretty poor to have ‘peaked’ before you’ve even begun.
This is what’s on my mind.
I’m trying to be organised, professional, capable, grown-up, but one forgotten envelope and the whole thing crashes into dust. I’m trying to be a writer, and I’m certainly working hard, but I fear the end result will be the same – dust. It’s like there’s a creature with downturned eyes and a floppy, curled-down mouth and a set-upon expression following me around, whispering ‘ugh’ into my ear every few minutes.
Ugh. Don’t bother trying that. You know it won’t work.
Ugh. Really? You think this is what a real professional person does? You think this is the appropriate way to behave?
Ugh. Haven’t you learned anything? You’re no spring chicken, you know! You need to get a handle on things!
I think I’ve had quite enough of that.
So, today will be about remembering to smile, and breathe. It will be about being kind to myself, and taking a walk. It will feature buying a new birthday card and writing a happy, fun-loving message in it, and delivering this card to the bouncing boy who has brought so many smiles to my life, and then, once all that is done, worrying about work.
And, after all that, I’ll give the Indefinable Ugh a slap across the chops, and tell it to be on its way. I’ve got stuff to do, and I don’t have time to listen to its nonsense.