Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Trimming Process

When I was a teenager, I went through this vegan stage. This was before Alicia Silverstone made it popular. And before you could really find a lot of soy substitute products in stores, besides experimental fake cheese and bad tasting soy milk in a box that smelled like it had just been gathered from a sewer. I was in a nutrition class, facilitated by Mrs. "V" who thought it was so fascinating that she had a student who didn't eat any meat, egg, or dairy products.

I think I was 14, maybe 15 at the time. I don't know why I decided to do this vegan thing, but I had read about it. I was intrigued. It was something different, cutting edge, and I had the feeling that I should try it. Making that decision meant that I resolved to cut or trim certain things from my life. That decision affected a lot of things. As a consequence I had to check every nutrition label before eating a meal. In the early 90's this wasn't as easy or forthcoming as it is today. I also had to start taking more vitamins and even stopped getting my periods for awhile. When I became listless enough to start running red lights, I decided to put the eggs and dairy back in. The one upside was I managed to consistently weigh under 120 pounds.

This wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. I could no longer stomach the richness of milk, cheese or eggs. To this day I still buy light soy milk and reduced fat ice cream and cheese (made with skim milk) because my system can't handle the richness. I'll eat scrambled eggs and a small omelet every now and then. But I have to sprinkle on a ton of Tabasco sauce. The hotter the better. I still don't eat meat unless I'm feeling super weak. No hamburger, no steak. Just a little salmon, tuna or grilled chicken.

Trimming or cutting things from our lives is something I think most of us do periodically. Especially if we tend to overload ourselves with too many responsibilities, commitments, and interests. I recently accepted a job offer in my small CO city. I didn't do this because I wasn't making enough money with my freelance work or no longer wanted to write. In fact, I'm losing income potential by working this job as a computer tech for the school district. I accepted it because I need balance. My hats go off to all the full-time writers out there who can stand staring at their own four walls day in and day out. I'm not that person. I need interaction. I need to help people. I need to feel like I'm "out there" making a difference. And that's not something I feel like I need to apologize for. It's part of who I am. And yes, I'm still writing. Just part-time. I'm not releasing that part of me either.

Nor am I ruling out a potential relocation in the next two years or so. I've only owned my home for three years. There's no rush, given current market conditions. I do better when I attack change slowly anyway. Less anxiety. Less discombobulating.

But, I have too many writing commitments to be able to juggle this new job. I've thought about giving up my MFA program. After all, I don't need another masters degree. I certainly don't need an MFA to have a writing life, sell a book, or network with a writing community. And it's expensive. Very expensive for such a laid-back, non-academic approach to learning. And it requires me to live in another city for more than a week at a time. When I was working on my MBA I never once entertained the notion of quitting. Sometimes I wonder why I'm thinking about it with this degree so soon. I wonder if I'm still the type of person who is going to be able to get something out of it. I wonder if I will be able to feel inspired again.

I've thought about terminating one of my writing contracts. Do I really need to write for five websites as a part-time freelancer? With minimum contract obligations, that means I'm spending another 25-30 hours per week working at home. At least. If I'm lucky, I might get a chance to speed read through the novels and craft books for my MFA program. If I'm even luckier, I might get my fiction writing project period contract obligations turned into my mentor on time. I might fall asleep during the online conferences, but hey, my name will still show up on the chat roster, right?

This is not a way to live a life. So I must trim. Something. Or maybe two somethings. It's not going to easy. Yesterday I was in one of the local library branches, picking up the books that I've committed to reading for the next month. Reservation Blues, Oryx and Crake, On Becoming a Novelist. I picked up a few others too. One of them is by the author who led my writing workshop in June. She's a "product" of the school's MFA program. I was curious to read one of her works because she was so kind, helpful, and had some similar ideologies. As I was walking through the stacks of books in the library, I thought "do I really want to give this up?" I never dreamt of seeing one of my books in a library as a child. I never really dreamt about writing at all until some of my high school teachers nudged me in that direction. But during those years I did immerse myself in it. I took AP English and just about every film/theatre or literature class I could get away with. I wrote poetry for fun and completed a novella for my senior project. I'm not sure I should just walk away, despite my feelings of culture shock after returning to this world.

I've ran over all my writing contracts in my mind. There's some that have nastier editors than others. Some offer boring topics. Others pay significantly less per article or hour. But they all have some sort of value to me.

The solution might be simple. Reduce output to the minimum for all contracts. Make less money. Pay off the undergrad student loans and the car loan. My bank might miss sitting on a pile of cash. But I doubt I will.

Trimming is about a few things. Priority, need, and want. It's about being truthful and honest about those three things. Subjectively honest. As the author of one of the writing craft books I recently read eloquently said "the truth doesn't come out in bumper stickers."

And Ms. Former MBA, this decision is going to take more than a bumper sticker solution.

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