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The question that keeps me up at midnight
And my husband too, the poor thing. This piece is an ode to procrastination, self-doubt, and the birth of a mid-life crisis.
It’s funny. I spend all week looking forward to my ‘day of writing’. And then I spend most of the morning of this ‘day of writing’ not writing because I have all day, right? And surely I don’t need all day. I love how, even in my forties, my brain still loves messing with me.
Like I was saying, it’s almost midday now. I could’ve started writing three hours ago after I waved goodbye to my husband and my two youngest kids out on the front patio as they drove off to school, but that would’ve been too ideal a scenario. No, a six-hour writing block is simply too rich, too luxurious a treat, for my brain to handle. It’s like trying to ask your child to do all the things they need to do before school in the nicest possible voice, only to be blatantly ignored. So you end up having to use scare tactics like, ‘School’s starting in two minutes! Come on!’ Or in my brain’s case, ‘School's finishing in two hours! Come on!’
Honestly, though, battling distraction and procrastination is ten times harder than it was ten years ago. The smartphone is literally a black hole of time and productivity (and energy and positivity for that matter, but that’s a whole other post). As is the desktop web browser with all your favourite bookmarks dangling right before your eyes every time you open it. In fact, so often you don’t even need bookmarks anymore. All you have to do is type the first letter of the URL you want to visit and—BAM!—Chrome or Safari can do the rest. (It's somewhat telling, really. Type ‘F’, and they know to open Facebook. Type ‘I’ and they know it’s Instagram I want. Type ‘P’ and they know I’m off to Pink Ronnie again because, clearly, I cannot get enough of my own Substack.) I can’t help but think of the infamous Victor Hugo, who allegedly locked himself naked in his room with just pen and paper and who instructed his servants to only return his clothes after he’d completed a chapter of writing. I’m not sure I would go to such drastic lengths myself (especially as I have no servants in my employment), but other less extreme measures are possible. Like maybe the boys could take it in turns to hide my iPhone before they leave for school. And perhaps the wifi router while they’re at it. It all depends on how desperate I get.
The hardest part about writing again after such a long period of not writing is the self-doubt. It’s not so much, ‘Will I be able to produce literary masterpieces?’, but more, ‘Are my words actually going to help anyone?’. After all, there are millions of other voices out there now. People who are trained writers, acclaimed journalists, or simply experts in their fields. It’s hard not to feel intimidated and, inevitably, you wonder: is there anything I can say that might actually add value and make a difference?
As part of a mental exercise, I spent some time reading through comments from Pink Ronnie readers in the past. (I had over ten thousand saved in a single mailbox!) It was quite the sentimental trip down memory lane. But what I got out of it the most was the realisation that many of my readers simply like hearing my stories and my perspective. Which is an incredibly narcissistic statement to make. But I suppose everyone enjoys a bit of escapism, and however one might put it, the reality is that when we share our stories, we help others feel less alone. When you read that someone else out there is trying to figure things out and make things work, you gain a little courage yourself, knowing that it’s okay to not know.
And figuring things out is pretty much where I’m at right now. Admitting this is no easy feat. After all, I’m forty-two. Surely by the time you’re in your fifth decade of life, you’re meant to know what you’re doing. It’s not like I’m seventeen and trying to work out what I want to do after high school, and yet this is exactly what it feels like! In some ways it’s worse, because at least when I finished high school, my parents only gave me two options: go to university and study accounting, or go to university and study law. (I ended up doing both.)
‘I used to have so much clarity, but nothing is clear anymore. Like what am I even meant to be doing?’ I’ve been saying this to my husband a lot recently, usually just when we're about to settle into bed. It’s probably not the type of question any husband wants to deal with at that time of the evening, but Rick always manages to handle it with grace and candour. ‘You’re in a different season of life,’ he’ll invariably say. ‘There’s no rush. Just take your time, try different things, and see what you like. You’ll eventually work it out.’
But that’s the thing. It’s hard to not rush. It’s hard to wait and see. It’s hard to trust that, somehow, eventually, miraculously, I might work it out.
Part of the reason it’s so difficult to take things slowly is because, by the time you’re forty, you’ve learnt how precious time is. You’ve learnt that the years are incredibly short, and the last thing you want to do is waste any of the months or weeks or days or hours that make up the chunks of the year (she says, as she logs off Instagram again for the fifth time). What if the thing I try doesn’t work out? What if I end up wasting my time, and therefore my family’s time? In that sense, it feels almost a tad self-indulgent. I can virtually hear sixty-year-old me going, ‘Are you serious, kid? Stop mucking around and just stick with what you know for crying out loud!’ (But what do I know? That’s the question. What do I know? Tell me, sixty-year-old Ronnie!)
Social media doesn’t help at all. Every time I log on, I’m bombarded by videos and images of everyone else thriving and flourishing in their chosen careers or paths. It’s inspiring, of course, but at the same time, it’s kind of disheartening. Some days it’s hard not to feel ‘left behind’ and like I'm the only forty-something-year-old who’s still trying to figure things out.
Nonetheless, I can hear my husband’s overly rational voice in my ear even as I write these thoughts out loud: Taking it slow is not wasting time. Nor is it self-indulgent. You are not too old to try something new. And yes, some people have it figured out, but many have not. You are not alone. And not knowing is part of the process.
And so, in honour of my very own wise man, and in honour of the process, I’ll start with what I do know.
I do know that I want to keep going to art school. I don’t know where it will lead me, and I don’t know how long I can afford to keep taking classes. But I do want to go back this year and pursue it for as long as I can.
I know that I need to keep freelancing as a designer to help pay the bills. As a household, we run on a very lean budget as it is, but with the rising cost of living here in Australia, it helps if I can bring in some income, even if it’s not a huge amount. Quite frankly, even though ‘doing client work’ sometimes gets bad press on social media, I’m thankful that I can freelance as a graphic designer because: a) I enjoy design, b) I can do it from home, and c) I can choose my own hours. Last year, I was employed on a part-time basis for a few months, and I have to say, it’s nice to come back to the flexibility of freelancing.
I know I want to keep learning and experimenting with my artmaking, but I don’t want to sell anything to anyone for a while. I’m hoping this will actually help to loosen up my mind, because every time I think about selling my art, I start to overthink every tiny little step, and all my artmaking comes to a grinding halt.
I know I still want to become an artist. Or, at the very least, I want to see if I can become an artist, even if it feels impossible at times.
What else do I know?
I know I want to write. I know I want to write freely, and prolifically. I want to write without being limited by what I think social media wants me to write about. I want to write without boxing myself into a niche. And I want to write without the ulterior motive of trying to sell something to someone. (This is a tricky space to navigate because, down the track, I may very well turn on paid subscriptions. But even then, I wouldn’t want to pressure anyone into paying, and I would still want to make my writing available to all.)
I know I want to try and make a difference through my writing. I get it. There are huge crises all around the world, and my so-called mid-life crisis is negligible and trivial and insignificant by contrast. But if my words can make one person smile, and another laugh, and another feel less lonely, and another feel less alone, then maybe, just maybe, in my own way, I can still make a small bit of difference.
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