Back to work


I freak out a little most Sundays.

Because while I generally work over the weekends, it’s a low-stakes, puttery, solo kind of working, with few interruptions from or demands by the outside world. What I do, I’m choosing to do; what I engage with, I’m choosing to engage with.

Yes, it’s always a choice. But you know what I mean: while emails can drift into your inbox on any day of the week and the phone can ring at any time (especially, these days, if it’s a telemarketer), provided you’ve established firm boundaries, the expectations that you will leap to respond over the holy days of Saturday and Sunday are even more minimal than the trickle itself.

So while on the surface my freakout is about the quiet ending and the noise beginning, and under that, the freakout is about my being unable to manage things, under it all is my fear that this time, I will not be able to pull it off: this time, I will suck. Or more specifically, that this week, Monday’s essay will suck.

This is the eternal problem of making anything good, at least for those of us into measurement: it will always either be the best thing you’ve done yet or it will fall short (or, I suppose, it could tie with the best thing, but that’s just forestalling doom). There are no other choices. And while there is that momentary high of having done better, once you are there, there is only up, or down. Up is a cocksucking boulder; down is unthinkable. Hence, freakout.

There are ways of mitigating this: producing more, for one, and dealing with your shit openly, for another. A big reason why I committed to writing five days a week on the blog is because the more I do something, the less precious each individual instance of it is*. And the more I honestly explore what a crazy mess I am, the less I act out on my crazy mess-ness**. When I look back at the chronic creative constipation of my 20s and 30s, I can see very clearly where these two things intersected: I barely produced because I was afraid that everyone would see my hackity-hack idea for the hackity-hacksterness I knew it must be, ergo I had fewer and fewer ideas, which just drove the stakes ever higher. Ugh. The only things I want back from my youth are my screaming-fast metabolism and the money I spent on handbags and shoes worn once and joylessly.

Sundays don’t just exist at the end of the week, of course. If the end/beginning of weeks is rough, the end/beginning of years and projects can be completely stultifying. And let’s not forget the panic at the end of a project, job, vacation or any other substantial time sink. I was such a wreck by the time the night of my first Ignite experience rolled around, my bowels were near liquid; almost immediately afterward, when I found out over the phone with The BF that the video feed had gone down during my talk (and that, I mistakenly thought, there meant there would be no record at all of my effort), I started bawling so uncontrollably, I had to hang up and go walk it off. I write about change and fear so much because they figure so significantly in my life, I couldn’t (and wouldn’t) make this stuff up.

It’s crazy hard to keep making stuff, but it’s unthinkable to stop. While one part of my head always has the recurring smackdown-joke from Stardust Memories reverberating through it, the hero’s fans wistfully recalling his “earlier, funnier movies” while at a film festival celebrating his oeuvre, the other revels not only in the sly, creative joy of making such a meta-joke but in knowing that Woody Allen went on to make a slew of other, equally-great-to-greater films that ran the gamut, genre-wise. You don’t get to make a Match Point or Hannah and Her Sisters if you can’t stomach the prospect of a few Shadows and Fogs.

The older I get, the more I appreciate the good sense of artists keeping bankers’ hours, of having boring structure in one’s exciting (haha) writer’s life. The container makes the art possible, especially after the mad energy of youth passes. So, like Allen, you write out your two screenplays per year on yellow ruled pads, longhand, while lying on your bed, marking time in between with regular doses of tennis and clarinet. Or like Chaplin, you leave the French beach in the afternoon to head up to your room to write, because that’s what you do. Or like Tharp, you mark up your fresh boxes with the launch of a new project, and start filling them up with stuff.

And it’s not just the container aspect and the rigorous discipline that benefit creative output: it’s the turning of creativity into the regular-usual, and avoiding the dread terror of this next blank page, this next fresh canvas, this next blue sky. It is one of many blank pages, canvases and skies.

One of many Mondays. The regular-usual.

Just another crazy worker, swinging another crazy hammer…


*Kind of like having a passel of kids against the almost-certainty of losing one or two to some epidemic or another, back in the olden days. Only not, because I hardly expect any of my blog posts to work the farm or support me in my old age.

**This has the double-edged advantage of facilitating productive output and beating people who would “out” you off at the pass.

Image by kasrak via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.


  1. Yeah, for a long time I suffered from what I called “Sunday Dread”-this looming feeling of impending doom that began Sunday morning and crescendoed into Sunday evening, leaving me unable to sleep. At first I tried to solve it by working on Sundays to take away the fear, but then I realized that I was slowly losing my life to work. So yes, here’s to normal creative schedules and making the most of them…and to normalcy, whatever that is, which I’m sure I’ll never achieve but will keep on trying anyway…thx, as always, for reminding me that sanity is within our reach.

    Delia Lloyd

  2. This is wonderfully wise.
    So true: It’s crazy hard to keep making stuff, but it’s unthinkable to stop.
    Yes, yes, yes. I also find that forcing myself into the rhythm takes the pressure off of each individual output.
    But I find the end of the year paralyzing. Much like birthdays. Mosty, for me, because they mark the passage of time and I am constantly confronting all the stuff I have still left undone.
    I love your poetry, also.
    Thank you.

  3. Okay, here’s my Pollyanna coming out – man, wish I could send you one of those cock-eyed fairy godmothers who says stuff like “honey, that was a wonderful message and frankly, no one says it better!” or “that was an awesome panic attack, you really rolled into that one serenely”. Okay, so my fairy godmother is a little Buddhist too.

    And you did capture that fear beautifully. No one puts a name (and a leash) on those terrors better than you. Mondays might be shitty for you but your messages make Mondays a little better for us! Thanks.

    Roll on with a vengeance!!

  4. I didn’t realize how I approached my work until I read this latest installment of yours, Colleen. Maybe it’s because I’ve been blogging (er, keeping a daily journal) since I was nine, but for someone who seems to have only angst running through her veins, I feel no pressure to better my best.

    Suddenly I know why. In this one thing, I’m gentle with myself. I look over my own shoulder as I write, like a beaming parent who can’t wait to see what appears on the screen.

    It’s not better or worse, it’s just…next.

    I’m always a little bit afraid every time I take to the microphone (for my radio show), or to the blank screen (for my blog or even an eMail). I love that feeling! It straightens my shoulders and makes me sharper and reminds me how much I care about what I’m doing.

    As does your blog! I’m starting to save your latest post for after I finish my workout or whatever I’m dreading at the moment.

    So there.

  5. Thank you, all, for the Monday a.m. support.

    @Delia – No such thing as “normalcy,” but not a bad idea to impose a little structure where one can, I’m starting to see. A little late, maybe, but I’m not dead yet!

    @Lindsay – YES, to the end of the year. For me, even having cleared away some time, I think, “Oh, but there’s so much; what should be first?” Ugh. The most important thing, I think, and then the next one.

    @Anne – “A name and a leash.” I love that.

    @LPC – Don’t you worry. And back atcha, Sturdy Gal. And I am reminded to be thankful for such employment as I do have.

    @Maureen – You are a goddess. I have only mean people looking over my shoulder, so I try my best to shush them and instead, I say to myself (before I walk out on a stage to pick up a mic or sit down at the keyboard to write or pick up the phone to talk to a client), “How can I be helpful to this person?” It’s the only thing I’ve found yet that works.

    Affirmations don’t work for me, either.

    God, I am a FREAK.

  6. Great post and I am coming to understand what you mean it is always hardest to start writing on Monday mornings, getting the brain back on track for sharing our hopes, our fears, our dream and our crazzyness. I thought i would share a quote from Dean Koontz with you even thought it is a bit tangential to your point. When asked why he writes he answered “Writing is an alternative to prison.” We all deal with our crazy and better to do it openly then behind closed doors.

  7. I don’t know which rock I’ve been hiding under but I discovered your fantastic blog in the middle of the night last night. At 3am to be precise. Usually that time of the morning fills me with dread, but you have managed to inspire me. Very happy to have stumbled upon you. And thank you.

    Miss W x

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