Like a lot of Americans these days I’m doing a lot of food preservation. This is not only natural, when you can’t trust your supply chain — something we never had a problem with before, mind, but the covidiocy driven by the lunatic media has broken that for a while. I trust that if we don’t go howling into insanity further (sure a portion of society is guaranteed to, but I hope no one pays them any attention) this will be solved within a year, but for now… — but also considerate, because the more you have put by the less stress YOU personally will put on the supply chain and therefore the better the chance that we all get through this without famine. (Well, in the US. The rest of the world all we can do is pray for them.)
And preserving food, with an eye to what will last will give you a strange turn of mind. Particularly if you are in your fifties, which could rightly be described as the autumnal season of life (I always liked Autumn, anyway) when you both realize you don’t have unlimited time and that the story is not, and never was about you. (That second part might be only if you’re connected to young people who are now adults and moving on into their own adventures.)
What I mean is at some point, looking at everything you can do and everything you have done, you start prioritizing “what can I do that will last?”
For a person of my limited talents, this is easy. Novels last — and make money — longer than short stories. And both last and make money more than articles.
But there are still quandaries. When I mentioned in my group on facebook (Sarah’s Diner. If you’re there, knock, answer the questions, and we’ll let you in) that I’ve been re-reading Heinlein, Mackey Chandler pointed out I don’t get paid for reading, I get paid for writing. Which is undoubtedly true. But it’s also besides the point. I’m still going to spend time reading (and re-reading) books or taking courses on line, for the same reason I eat food and wash my hair, both activities I don’t get paid for and which I’ll have to do again: because I need them. (Whether re-reading is productive is something else. There are authors I re-read a lot, like Heinlein or Giovanni Guareschi, Larry Correia, Agatha Christie, Pratchett, Dave Freer, or Jim Butcher, or about half of John Ringo (I know, but some of his more popular books I can’t “get” in. Not his fault. It’s a thing to do with the universe build and my own personal itchy spots as a reader. As has been noted here, just because you personally can’t get into a writer it doesn’t mean they’re bad. There is something to taste and personality. Incidentally, I’ve found that while some writers “keep me out” at one time of my life, they can become my favorites ten years later. The mind is a weird thing and reading is the meshing of two minds.) Other writers, no matter how enjoyed are one and done.
However most of my re-reading is really to keep me on track in tasks that don’t engage the mind but which are ultimately needed. You see, I do that with audio books. Without audio books, I would never clean my house, because I would clean half the kitchen and wander off. In fact, for years, I had “books to ruin” which had to be bought very cheap (or free, from the damaged book shelf that used to be outside every used bookstore.) Why “to ruin”? Because I would hold them in one hand or prop them unstably on something while I did dishes, scrubbed floors, or other tasks where splashing will ruin books. Getting my husband used to this idea was difficult, since he won’t even let me set the worst of books face down and open, BUT he eventually understood “no bookie no cleany or cooky” and flinched and accepted it. With audio books it’s easier, though sometimes I get the “TAKE THE HEADPHONES OFF” with varying levels of irritation, depending on whether he didn’t SEE the headphones and has been talking to me for ten minutes. (Which is why headphones tend to be red, pink or yellow.)
But Sarah, you’ll say, why on Earth if you’re trying to do things that last do you do things like clean the house, or (on the program right after I publish this) go and move rocks in the garden, or plant roses, or work on the (truly near dying right now, because we’ve not started watering) lawn or prune trees, or whatever the heck you do that will be gone in a season and for which at any rate no one pays you?
Well…. There is what lasts, but there is also keeping your sanity.
For years, and arguably what is biting me now that the botanic gardens are closed, I carefully scheduled times to “see people that aren’t inside my head.” All the gardening, cleaning, organizing, and yes, even cooking and preserving, are part of the same process.
We live in a world saturated with story, permeated with it. For those of us with that kind of bend, it’s easy to live entirely in our heads, with very few excursions out for conversation with our loved ones.
But we are not in fact in Plato’s cave (don’t you dare argue that. Yes, I know all the arguments. I’ve made them myself. But if you argue that you’re just digging yourself a new gallery off the main tunnel.) We are in a world where things have substance, and heft and flavor.
Particularly for those of us who often go fishing off the shoals of the mind for a living, it is important to remember the hand that tickles the keyboard can and should be able to plant vegetables, pat a baby or cut up vegetables.
When I’m stressed doing really violent labor keeps the depression at bay. And it lasts. In a weird way. The roses I’ve been planting and tending this week will — G-d willing, and the next owners of this house not being complete idiots — outlast me, and delight future generations. Even small things, like seeding the cosmos (they’re coming up beautifully, btw) will last out the day, which is more than my reading the political news and grinding my teeth will last. And hopefully (I’ve done this before in other houses, except the last one where nothing grew) the way I’m designing things means that next year and the year after the labor will be lighter. In three or four years (if I’m still here in every sense) it will be a matter of like Agatha Christie’s village biddies watering and weeding a bit every morning.
So I’m trying to do one or two hours in the morning of hauling rock or digging, or putting down flowers (mostly flowers. Vegetables are tough in this climate, though I’m doing some too) and then writing. Novels, because they last. Though I need to block off some hours/a day for columns because those pay now.
The choice between two activities is “Do I need this in some sense?” and “Which one will last.”
The exception of course is petting cats. It doesn’t last, but I — and they — need it. And heck, none of us lasts, in the long run.
Anyway, the sun is shining and the rock must be shifted and the plants watered. And then there’s a novel to finish. Even if nothing I do outlasts me, most of what I do today will last out the day itself. And sometimes that’s all you can aim for.
I’m off to work.