This Sunday, Mr. Milan and I packed a breakfast and set out at 7 AM for an eight mile walk. We went along a river (normally a creek, currently a raging torrent), and then along another brook, before coming around to finish off a loop. Along the way, we stopped to eat, and of course, have tea.
I have a little travel tea set. I also have these amazing Zojirushi vacuum-insulated mugs that keep hot water incredibly hot for lengthy periods of time. (I take them to skating competitions full of tea, and unless I water it down before putting it in, it will be undrinkably hot six hours later.) This means that I can make tea on the road.
This week's tea was Serpentine, a raw pu-erh that was sweet without being biting, and the perfect accompaniment to cheesy potato waffles and smoked salmon. We drank it outdoors at a bench in the shade when it was still early enough that the only people we encountered were other weirdos like us who woke up early on a Sunday morning.
I am learning not to punish myself for doing work.
Because my brain is capable of (seemingly) rational thought, I often have to remind myself that most of what my body (including my brain, which is a part of my body) does is outside my ability to control. I don't control the beat of my heart or the release of digestive enzymes.
There are things I can control, kind of: I can consciously take control of my breath, but most of the time, breathing happens without my input. And if I try to do things that my body really doesn't want to happen—like not breathing for long enough periods of my time—my brain will step in and say, nope. Not happening.
Then there are things that it looks like I can control: things like what I do with my time, for instance. These are the things where people talk about willpower and mind over matter. Areas where you have ultimate control. Maybe.
After years of trying to exert willpower, I have learned that, at least for me, certain things are much more like breathing than I imagined. If I do things that result in conditions that feel like punishment for long enough, my brain will step in and say, nope. We're done with that. Not happening. That's bad.
As an example: about eleven or twelve years ago, I discovered that even though I wrote fairly slowly (from some people's points of view), I can edit quite quickly. Or, rather: it was possible to cram all the hours of editing into as few days as possible. All I had to do was spend eighteen hours a day, vaguely pausing to have food arrive, eating at my desk, and pushing as hard as I could for weeks on end, after which I would collapse in a heap of unfinished laundry, having not seen the sun or experienced movement of any muscles except my fingers for the duration.
It turns out—and this should not have been such a surprise to me—that my brain interpreted me putting myself into forced labor solitary confinement for five weeks as a form of punishment, and since punishment is bad, it figured out that if I just didn't write books at all, then I would never be forced to do solitary labor again.
It turns out that my brain does not like having an abusive job, even if I am the one doing the abuse.
Writing in the aftermath of this is the same process as before, except it is different. For a while, I kept telling myself that my goal was to fix my brain so I could write fast (such as it ever was) again. I have realized that this is also wrong. My goal is not to get to the point where I can eventually speed up again. My goal is to be able to keep doing this, a thing I have learned from some very harsh lessons.
I have a choice between slow and enjoyable or not at all.
I am currently in the editing phases of a book, and I am trying very, very hard to be reasonable. To not set expectations and deadlines that will break my brain again, not because breaking my brain makes me write slowly and then I am not as productive, but because I should not break my brain at all, for any reason.
And so most of all, I am trying to enjoy the process, rather than trying to rush through it with the speed and ferocity of a cheetah running down a gazelle. It means letting myself take a minute to celebrate when I work out a hard problem and patting myself on the back when I fix a sentence. And it means taking breaks.
Two arrangements: one is feather grass, sumac, and desert willow, with long, red and gold blanket flowers; the other is (I think) western wheatgrass and sweet pea.
One of my breaks is putting together floral arrangements. This helps remind me to pay attention when I'm outdoors: what in the yard is blooming, what can I do bring the outdoors in? It also reminds me when I'm indoors that the world is beautiful, and that I am supposed to take breaks and enjoy the process.
I do not yet have a timeline for when this book will be ready, but while I am not working swiftly, I am working diligently and enjoyably.
Because that is what I need to do.
the color of magic
I read this book for the first time when I was in my early teens. I remember thinking, huh, kinda funny, and then not thinking about Discworld (the fantasy world where this, and many of Pratchett's other novels, are set—a flat disc, carried on the back of four elephants, who stand on the back of a larger tortoise, who swims through space) again until I was an adult.
By that time, Pratchett had written dozens and dozens of other books, including two of the five books that the younger version of me read and dubbed absolutely perfect. Pratchett kept writing, and I kept reading. He was relatively young and so prolific. He gained a knighthood. His writing grew better and better. And then he announced that he was dying of early onset Alzheimers'.
The last book in the Discworld series, and the last book he wrote, was published posthumously. I have had it on my Kindle ever since its release. I have refused to read it because I know that when I do, the series will be over.
So one of the things I've decided to do—casually, since I don't want to give myself reading assignments and make reading not fun anymore—is to read the entire Discworld series. All forty-one books. Chronologically. In order. Including the last one.
But we are not at the last book yet. We are at the first.
The Color of Magic is a cute book: clever, with hints of the greatness of Pratchett as he is to come. It's clumsy in ways where he grew deft, but the wit makes up for it. He still skewers the people he is good at skewering, but kindly and with love. The book is dated in multiple ways, the least of which is a TWA sticker (if you know, you know) that the Luggage acquires, but it still holds up surprisingly well.
This is not the greatest Pratchett, but the least-greatest Pratchett is still eminently readable.
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