This morning, by 8 a.m., I had uttered the phrase "Keep going" no less than twenty times. Close runners-up included "Please, please keep going," "Just finish your freaking vocab; no one cares if your Os look funny," "Why are you still wearing your pajamas?!" and "No; I'm NOT going to make a less-angry voice. I'm angry!"
Keep going. I've mentioned that in addition to intelligence, stubbornness and an unhealthy fondness for cheese; attention deficit disorder runs in our family; or at very least, in my son and me. Perhaps the most insidious manifestation of it is the impulse that cloaks itself in perfectionism.
The thing about our brains is that they're unpredictable. Quite aside from the Herculean effort it takes to finish even the simplest of tasks, I find myself afraid of how I'll do them, of the outcome. Our brains make messes. One minute, my mind is flying a mile a second, surveying terrain no one else sees and making connections no one else has considered. The next, my mind is on standby and won't boot back up no matter how much I wiggle the mouse. One minute, my mind's enthusiasm and refusal to conform is solving a friend's dilemma with ease. The next minute, the enthusiasm gets a bit too impulsive and I choose the most uniquely detrimental thing to say at the moment, and say that. One minute I'm winning an essay contest; the next my editor's furious that the article (due Monday) may or may not be in by 5 (on Wednesday). One minute I've made the perfect dessert and blitzed the house in a rampage of maniacal panic-cleaning; the next, I'm an absolute parenting failure, and my house looks like I'm auditioning for Hoarders.
Yes, yes; I know. We all go through these things. I am sure you all do. But if I remember my freshman psychology DSM-IV-skimming properly, the difference is that someone with a particular disorder does/has these things to the extent that they consistently screw with that person's personal and/or professional life. My husband, for example, blurted out that the cat "was being an asshole" to our son, but I am skeptical of his claims of temporary Tourette's.
Let me tell you, it screws with our lives.
We are afraid of the mess our brains will make, so we don't do anything. As it happens, this dovetails quite nicely with our other ADD impulses, which all result in lots of talk, rampant obsessing, and not much doing.
We say we're holding out for perfect, but perfect doesn't exist, so we're really just being cowards.
Keep going. I hadn't remembered it for a few months, but I was telling my son this morning: My mentor and one of my thesis readers for my MFA, Thomas French, must have said it to me at least as often as I say it to my son. We'd begin nearly every conversation thus:
Him: "What am I going to say?"
Me: "I know. I know. 'Keep going.'"
Me: "It'll be done tomorrow. Promise."
(Sometimes, it even was.)
It was pathetic, really. A grown-ass adult being told, basically, to turn in her homework. I was afraid. I was afraid of turning it in. What kind of mess did I make? What if the allegory I used this time fell as flat as that other one I thought was so awesome? How could I turn in something so second-rate, so rough, so imperfect? Anything's better than this pile of shit. Nothing. Even nothing is better.
Tom French is on The Colbert Report tonight. Everyone, if you haven't already, ignore me and go watch it right now. I'm positive he has cooler, more insightful things to say than I, and that's not self deprecation. It's a fact. He's very cool. He goes to very cool places and writes, very well, about very cool things. Also, he likes the same music, comedy, and books as me; so clearly, he's a genius. Still, the single biggest thing I'll carry with me is the mantra to keep going.
We practiced something in the program that we liked to call the "shitty first draft." I don't think Tom invented it or even said it much, but it's the same concept. Turn in your shitty first draft. Don't hold on to it. Don't withhold your ideas because you ramble when you talk about them.
Sometimes, my stuff was crappy. My favorite lines got axed. And you know what? I survived.
Keeping it in robs me of the one thing that can kick-start me out of my ridiculous spirals -- the input of others. Writing, and living, is a dialogue, even when I contribute most or all of it. Especially then. It's change, ideas, people, feedback. It's how most people ignored my essay about black widows and my reference to Queen's "Fat-Bottomed Girls" (except for a constant stream of disturbing traffic that seems to interpret the song title in ways that have little to do with Queen's intended meaning and even less to do with arachnids). It's how a throw-out essay gets a hundred hits in the first few minutes. Writing is failure, sometimes, but that's OK.
I told my son to write his funny Os and his weird vocabulary sentences that always seem to involve me, wizards, and flatulence. I hollered at the top of my voice last night that Your writing is better if you just speed up, if you just KEEP GOING. It was only then that my brain booted up out of standby mode and made the connection. Hello kettle; my name is Kim. You're black.
This essay is a shitty first draft, and I'm posting it anyway.
I want to do things. I want to do a collaborative mother/son children's book, with art by him and words by me. I want to look into displaying my photos. I have an idea about the insect-human relationship that I want to write. I have other ideas. I haven't developed or looked into any of these things, because I'm afraid to put something out there if it turns out to be lame. But I'm saying right now, I'm going to do these specific things, or at least try. So if you can help me with these goals, by all means, feel free. Even more than that, however, nag me. I need to keep going.
Life is a shitty first draft. You're not really living if you're afraid of that fact. Besides, sometimes, it's not so shitty. It's pretty great.