I am so done with this adult thing. Like, really. Of course, I’m pretty sure I never started in the first place.
People ask you what you want to be as a little kid. You say writer and they ooo and ahh over you. In high school, they smile and give you that all knowing look. In college? Now it’s a pipe dream. After that? Well, this is when you start hearing sniggers and getting the eye rolls. This is where someone tells you that isn’t how the world works. Grow up, they will say to you. Get a real (read misery inducing) job. Be sensible. Be… like them. And this where I do the whole single eyebrow raise – taught myself at ten for specifically this second, pretty sure. Thank you mini me.
This is what I see when they say that. I should be miserable, drowning in debt, tacking together an abusive marriage so that I can keep a tentative hold on my spouse’s life insurance if they do the decent thing and die before me. Why would you wish that on someone? OMG, why would you do that to yourself??? And, as always in these situations, I had one of those moments of perfect clarity that reshaped how I looked at the world and my role in it.
I am as bound to the drawbacks of adulthood as the next guy. Oh yeah. Debt, car payments, phone bill. I do budgets and plan for vet bills. I have pet insurance, people, just in case. And, when writer’s block comes crawling up, grinning at me like the devil escaped from hell, eating the stories I thought I had such a firm hold on, I suddenly find breathing difficult and start contemplating Disney World jobs.
I started the test run of muse therapy to see if I could help people. I have been successful. Which I knew I would be; I have done this before for free. If I can find enough people, I’ll be charging money for it (car payment and phone bills, sorry, but free just isn’t feasible anymore. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to sit on every method. Because, well, I wouldn’t wish my difficulty breathing or contemplation of wearing a cartoon character’s head on you.
The thing is, I don’t care if you are a physicist. If you write really well, you aren’t all the way grown up. You are resisting it. You are digging in, clawing to hold on, and know that the best rope to keep you above the water of growing up all the way is imagination and tapping into it.
It never fails. Somebody challenges my choice of career and I end up curled up in a corner, glaring, because they’ve thrown off my groove and now I’ve got to numb myself to that whole adult thing all over again so I can see if my new world has unicorns. Until today, I thought it was just my fragile ego causing the problem. Which is weird since I really don’t give a flying fairy fu** what anyone else thinks. Now, I’ve caught on to the truth.
Books are really good at letting us think things out without being aware of it. They entertain monkey mind while the rest of the brain does the work. Sometimes i find the answer in the book im reading. Today I read Lost Boy by Christina Henry. Gorgeous book, btw. Read it. But be prepared. Peter Pan is more the boy we caught glimpses of in the original version than the whitewashed versions. He is a boy. He is a monster. What are little boys except monsters that sometimes smile and act sweet anyway?
Anywho, it had me feeling some serious nostalgia for childhood.
When I was younger, my parents had a dead tree in our front yard cut down and it lay in there for two summers; the trunk was so hard it ate chainsaws and it was full of weird things, like railroad spikes, that hid within like iron, chain shattering time capsules. My parents didn’t quite know what to do about the damn thing.
The two male cousins I grew up with were always over to play. Since the eldest always took the leading roles – cowboy, cop, Peter Pan – I always seemed to end up leading bad guy (girl) with our younger cousin trailing behind one or the other. Which meant our Captain Hook was a girl. The tree was my ship and, honestly, I liked it. I liked it so much that Peter Pan was either eaten by the crocodile while the lost boys and I sailed off looking for pirate treasure, or Peter got with the program and steered where I told him. It was The only time I got to be in charge. My cousin did try out Hook’s role. But he preferred my stories, so I got to march up and down shouting hoist the sails, ye’ scurvy sea dogs at everyone.
While reading the book – seriously, pick up a copy! – I started thinking about the stories we tell as kids and how, honestly, can anyone blame me for not wanting to be suffer this adult thing and be professional and I would seriously like to punch Peter for never coming to get me and… wait a minute. Holy… I’m mad. No. Worse. I aam pissed. Where is the magic? I deserve mermaids. I deserve them way more than some kid; I have all this responsibility and they can have mermaids whenever they like! I am righteously, massively, desperately furious!
My muse has this funny way of looking at me when I catch on to something. Yes, i know how weird i sound. She’s a teenager in my head, fyi. Red hair, tatoos, piercings, and a pirate coat. I chose her image from some random googling. And it never crossed my mind how much she looks like my version of Captain Hook. And there she was today. Perched on my window sill, rolling her eyes, and laughing at me. Because I’d never quite admitted that being a writer means somewhere deep inside, I detest being an adult.
I am crazy about helping other writers. It’s selfish, I’m no saint. I read so much that I need a full library to stay sated. I am trying to convince the guy who runs my favorite bookstore to give me a job so I can tell other people what to read and find more books. I want to help you; I need your words. But I never really understood that my favorite and best method is trying to get the writer to board my pirate ship and go adventuring. In my head, I was all ‘this is work. Work, work work’ because reverse psychology. If I’m working hard, no one can accuse me of being an irresponsible child. Funny thing is, the more I do that, the harder it gets to sustain my stories to the end and the more it feels like actual work.
Its frustrating; writing used to be my refuge. It used to bring me such joy. But I have been fighting harder and harder to keep going. It is enough to drive me nuts. I just want to write, but everything feels so forced. But i am being a responsible adult! I would say. Then, today, I realized there is a big part of me that never grew up, doesn’t want to, and, by god, if the chance comes to run off after pirate treasure, you won’t see me for dust. All the attempts to prove myself were sucking the fun out of my life.
I was a little ashamed; I’m 41! But then. Then my muse said something really profound. Adults are so boring.
Okay, not that profound. But true. Mortgage rates, flu shots, stock markets, rotating tires, it is all so… listy. I know that’s not a word. Deal with it.
We wake up, we go to work, we do all those little nitpicky things that fill up our todo lists in neat little lines like soldiers and, one by one, we knock them over. Do this, do that, remember the dry cleaning, pick up dog food. Try to watch tv and numb brain to the repetitive ugliness of being a grown up, then go to bed. Then we get up the next day and do it all over again.
I’m not going to tell you to throw out your list. If you don’t do it, it won’t get done and it needs to be done. I can’t change that and neither can you. But, damnit, who gets to decide we can’t have fun too? I play video games. I read young adult books. And I am all sorts of over this idea that, at some point, I signed a contract stating that my free time has to look like a responsible adult lives here. Screw that. Cause you know what? It is exhausting and it is ruining my ability to write.
Anyway. I’m sharing something I’ve known for years, taught to other writers, and never recognized as linking my writing and joy to each other. First drafts shouldn’t be work. First drafts should be allowed to wander wherever they feel like going and change the rules whenever it suits them.
First drafts come from the child version. Natalie Goldberg says to try and capture first thoughts in Writing Down The Bones. That means catching the thought before the more sensible thoughts sit on it to make it look sensible and normal. First thought might be ‘the purpling sky’ and second, third, and fourth thoughts run in, tackle it, and scream ‘the sunset streaked the sky with purple and pink because… blah, blah, blah’. These thoughts make everything normal so we can go on pretending we think like everyone else. As children, we chase the first thoughts without ever bothering to question their viability and all the others are dismissed most of the time. Because they are boring. Hence the reason some of us tie skateboards to our pink banana seat bikes, tell our cousins to get on said skateboard, and take off without considering physics, gravity, or asphalt.
First thoughts are the things that make trees into pirate ships and sticks into swords. They are the things that allow for the necesity of homework, then forget it without ever fretting that question ten’s answer could have been worded better. And they are the things that make stories, music, and art breathe with authenticity.
I have a bad habit of waffling as I go along. When the story seems too out there, I go back and try to fix it. Which, predictably, makes my pirate coated muse roll her eyes, pop her gum, and run off after the boy I keep telling her not to date. Most writers have been told, at some point or another, to leave the editor at home during the first draft. Many will tell you the editor is only fear that tries to stop you with its constant babbling about how crappy you write. I’ve told people exactly that, tbh. But it isn’t just fear. It is also our adult brain trying to prove to the world that we are smart enough to do this and grown up enough to be good at it. We want them to accept it as a real job and viable career. And, yet, we are seething underneath; we want to have our game, but people need us to look all respectable, so we sacrifice our joy in the name of looking relatable (misery and company).
I remember how much it infuriated me when people would tell me why something couldn’t be done or said something like Santa Claus wasn’t real. Grown ups always steal the fun and we always swear we’ll never be like them, then somehow become just that. As an actual adult, I spend massive amounts of energy telling myself to be better at it. And then I get blocked and being grown up becomes so much worse.
Admitting you are still partially the kid who believed fairies were real and you could pull someone on a skateboard behind a bike – and we did manage it, eventually, because we were determined, but there was blood – is somehow embarassing.
Why should it be, though? I’m a writer. And millions of others are readers. Why would people want me to grow up when I give them the stories they use to escape the stress of being an adult? What’s so great about being an adult anyway? Seems to me most of us are miserable with it and what is really gained from throwing out the monopoly board? Nothing. Not one thing is gained because we still do our homework (bills) and go to school (work) but no longer feel comfortable playing games when we are finally done with both.
So here’s my new phrase to writers. And to non writers. To everyone everywhere. Pay your bills. Be responsible. But, when you’re on your own time, find your inner Peter Pan (or pirate) and have some fun. Make it up as you go along. We may be adults. We may have to do all these adult things. But that should not mean we aren’t allowed to play. As a writer, as an exhausted adult, as someone who loves stories above all else, I declare my first drafts an adult free zone.
Author’s note: this was meant to be a book suggestion. Lost Boy is painfully perfect. It is by Christina Henry. She also wrote Alice, which is another must read. I’d say I’m sorry for rambling. But I’m not 😈