Stress is my eternal enemy. To be honest, I’m not very good about dealing with it. When I was in college, I decided to get a double degree, so I needed forty extra credits to graduate. As a result, I ended up overloading nearly every quarter. Also, I became a huge joiner sophomore year, so by my senior year I had all these external responsibilities. I was a supervisor at my job, in charge of hiring, firing and scheduling my merry band of misfits, second-in-command of our undergraduate literary magazine, an officer in my sorority, a Senior Senator and appropriations committee chair (lots of work, little respect, no compensation), and a member of the peer judicial board. Also, I had friends and a life and ten roommates. My grandmother died that year, and my father had a stroke. Needless to say, I was very, very busy and very, very stressed out, and the fact that I made it through 2004-2005 with my sanity intact is a miracle.
My body, however, did not fair so well. It got to the point where any attempt to relax, even for forty minutes to watch an episode of Law & Order with my roommates, would result in terrible stomach cramps the origin of which are a mystery to me. Forget taking a nap–I would get sick the moment I laid down.
Okay, so I didn’t go to the doctor, because I was sure it was all psychological. And sure enough, the day I graduated all my symptoms went away. I spent the next three years bored, but healthy. And then I got my book deal. And then I started having inconvenient, irritating friend problems. And then it was winter and I got homesick for my family and California. And now I can’t lay down without stomach issues and my shoulders feel as though a great weight is upon them and I wake up after restless sleep feeling twisted and achey. I have got to do something about this.
AUT revisions are stressing me out big time. I feel the pressure to finish them and get on with it, but mostly that’s internal. I’m excited about everything that comes next, so I’m busting my butt to get these revisions done, and I’ve accomplished a good chunk of it–now all I need is to carve out the time necessary to make the last changes. And, actually, I’m felling really great about what I’ve gotten done so far, and I’m pretty sure I know exactly how to fix the rest of the little problems in the MS. It’s just this last final push, when my energy is so low, that’s standing between me and being able to wave a fond farewell to AUT as it makes its way to copy edits.
And, okay, the friend stuff is problematic. This is probably the biggest stresser in my life that I have no control over. It’s coming at a really inopportune time and every attempt to deal with it just makes the situation worse because the cognitive disconnect between me and this person is so great. Generally, I don’t deal with tough interpersonal problems by withdrawing and being distant and withholding my friendship–I like to confront things head-on, fix them, and forget about them–but the situation is such that my only option currently is to shut it down. I’m perfectly happy to discuss issues in the hopes of reaching a satisfactory conclusion, but I’m not prepared to teach somebody how to be a good friend. That’s not my job. We’re all adults, it’s time to act like it. Take what you want and pay for it, says God.
But what I realized yesterday is that as much as AUT has been stressing me out, in so many ways it has saved me. It has given me something to focus on that is productive and satisfying and meaningful. I wrote AUT for many reasons, but one of them is that I was trying to puzzle out what it means to be human, what it means to grow up, what it means to love people, to forgive them, to ask for forgiveness. My characters are not flawless or perfect, and they don’t always mean well, but they are searching for a way to be good, to repair what has been broken to whatever degree it can be repaired. These revisions have given me extra time with them, and it has been so great for me because it reminds me what I value.
So my strategy is this: take lots of deep breaths, have faith in my own principles, and focus on the work*–not only what I can give it, but what I can get from it. Already I feel a little lighter. Confession is good for the soul. Thanks for listening!
*Also, plan a vacation. Cambria and I are buying tickets to London tonight! (I think.) I need a break, even if it’s not going to happen until May.