The Wild Idle

I don’t do idleness. Not well, anyway. Here’s a picture for you: In Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire, you remember how Professor Moody (who isn’t really Moody) would start to twitch and jerk all over the place if he didn’t drink his “pumpkin juice” ? Put me in idle, and it’s like we could be twins.

The times I am reading, or watching a show – these are strategic periods of idleness; I have implanted them in my daily apparatus. I enjoy a little bit every day, but only after I have put in a long, hard day of mind-labor, and only if I feel I’ve earned it. Otherwise, I just feel lazy and insolent, left with a sinking hole of unmet gratification. Fun times! said Sarcastic Sal.

The other reason I don’t do idleness is because of the Chatter. The Chatter is what happens when I am left alone with my thoughts for too long. The Chatter is not kind, nor forgiving. It is not intelligent, nor decipherable. Nor is it constructive. It is just what it means: Purposeless or foolish talk. Through much prayer, I have discerned that Its sole purpose is to: 1. berate, 2. distract, 3. petrify, 4. discourage. When I am thriving in the rush of writing, the Chatter is silenced. This is not by any thwart or fortitude on my part; there simply isn’t enough room for It and my characters.

Allow me a moment to elaborate on number 3, petrify. There are three definitions given for this word, of which, in referencing the Chatter, I feel all would work.

1 – to convert into stone or a stony substance. Of the three, this definition is likely to be the most metaphorical. Obviously I cannot literally be turned into stone; but surely I’ve found there to be a certain pallid indifference taking place.

2 – to benumb or paralyze with astonishment, horror, or other strong emotion. Absolutely, 100%. You remember when you were a child, and would play that super-fun game, Freeze-Tag? Seriously, so much fun! BUT – if you were touched by the person who was “it,” then by decree you were supposed to stop and pause, just as you were, freezing your pose until someone came along and un-freezed you. Well, that is exactly what it’s like when the Chatter gets a hold of me.

3 – to make rigid or inert; harden; deaden. It’s as though I have lost all desire to do and be. I turn listless and apathetic – just the thought of making a simple meal exhausts me, proves to be too much effort for the proposed result. I am a rock – no, less than a rock. Rocks provide purpose: offering a place to sit, holding things down, or beautifying landscape. I am nothing more than a mass of inert energy, draining the supply of oxygen in my cloudy, loathsome atmosphere. All I want is to sit and be miserable. It is the highest form of self-loathing I can think of. When this happens, all is lost until someone comes along and unfreezes me. Usually, bless him, this person is my husband, and with kindness and love and words of wisdom, usually I can be roused from paralysis, compelled to remember that Life is bigger than my momentary sorrows or troubles.

I like big things: Big results, Big events, Big praise, Big hair. But the most dangerous way this predilection takes shape in my life is in the form of BIG EXPECTATIONS. Each day I expect of myself a certain amount of work to be accomplished. It isn’t necessarily a number or a concrete goal, but more or less something I feel in the pit of my stomach. Did I write something meaningful today? Did I help a friend through their struggle. Did I seize the opportunity to take part in a simple act of kindness? Did I set out to accomplish a tedious domestic task and finish it. If the answer to these questions is “No,” there is a strong probability that, as soon as I pause long enough to be alone with my thoughts, the Chatter will get me. (I’m completely dating myself, but right now I am hearing Gloria Estefan’s “The Rhythm Is Gonna Get You” in my head. I loved that album . . .)

Anyway,

The Chatter is something I deal with on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes I have barely cracked open an eye when It starts hissing: You’re so tired. What are you doing with your life? Why don’t you have more friends? You’ll never be a successful author. You should have accomplished more by now. Look at how much everyone else has compared to you. You’re so tired. Soon you won’t even have your looks, and then who will you be? You’re failing at the only thing you might have been good at. You’re stuck in a rut and there’s no getting out. You should probably give up. You’re so tired.

. . .  Friend, if this sounds anything at all like the inside of your head, take comfort in knowing you are not alone. You’re not alone and you’re not defenseless. If it doesn’t, truly I am very glad for you, and please, you can pray for those of us with louder, nastier voices trying to usurp our minds and break our spirits.

I’ve told you I’m most vulnerable to the Chatter during idle times. But what I haven’t told you yet, is, to avoid the Chatter I am willing to commit myself to a number of things. Actually anything, rather than hear what It might have to say. This means – and please forgive me; I am an imperfect creation trying to follow a Perfect God – while driving, sometimes I will take out my phone and check my Facebook, my Instagram, or my Messages; even though I know if I had received a message, I would have seen the little notification pop-up on my screen. Habit has turned into compulsion. And this is not the only time, either: Brushing my teeth, waiting in line, pumping gas, sometimes just walking from the parking lot to my destination. I take out my little companion, seeking to stimulate myself because the Chatter is after me; it’s chasing me, and if I give my eyes something to look at, my mind something to think about, even a dull-something, it is – or so at the time I would think – a better alternative than facing my enemy’s voice. Ultimately, this is not the answer: It’s simply another form of idleness, and in fact more dangerous, due to its presumed and purported productivity. It’s not even a temporary solution, because what ends up happening is, by peeking through your windows, I am left feeling sad, empty, and more alone than if I had let the Chatter come and deflected its assaults with Truth.

The Truth is – I am not alone.

The Truth is – I am enough.

The Truth is – I will seldom meet the world’s expectations.

The Truth is – I am being pursued by the Chatter because it knows exactly how important I am.

And even more than short periods of idleness, I am all the more susceptible to its villainy during longgggg periods. If you know me and follow my author page, you will perhaps know I have recently finished my second book. For days I basked in the sunny warmth of a job completed and well-done. Yes, of course: There is still editing to do, Beta-readers to whom I must hand the manuscript, followed by another round of edits, the query, the waiting, yabbidy-yabba-yabba. But, whatever, Dude – I finished writing a book. And not just one, but my TWO books. Boo-yah, Punk, take that! Hi-yah! Kung-fu-like-bruce-lee-in-yo-face!

Fast forward a week, and I am face-planted in a soggy bowl of Golden-Grahams, plus I’m starting to smell a little.

Honestly, I don’t know what to do with myself. I dread getting up in the morning, because I know I have no idea what I’m going to do all day. I have ample time, a glorious blessing I never for one moment stop being grateful for; but presently I lack the tools necessary to make something awesome and shiny. My job – or so I would tell myself – is to be brilliant, every day. Sadly, this just isn’t possible. I’ve begun researching for my third book (a process by which many pleasantries arise, as it involves copious amounts of reading). I have a slew of notes written down, character bios are coming along, the plot is very slowly developing, but . . . it’s not enough to begin writing a book. It isn’t.

Amateur writers – galvanized after a sip on the ambrosial idea-chalice – often make the fatal mistake of prematurity, only to be found later, utterly dejected, utterly exhausted, and utterly wishing they could turn back the clock and do things differently. I’ve been there, and the place is just sad. Picture a world without Ian Sommerhalder or Ryan Reynolds, and maybe, just maybe you’ll understand what I’m describing. <— Joke. (Obviously there is no imagining something so insidiously chilling.)

Oddly enough, I write best when I know what it is I want to say. That may sound like a no-brainer, but we writers can get desperate; and in our desperation, sometimes we’ll hit the keyboard impulsively, hoping some magical entity will appear on our shoulder and whisper hella-fantastic ideas in our ears. (J.K. Rowling is rumored to occupy one such creature.) Me? So far, I have yet to receive a visit. If you have, though, or if you know of a place or person from whom I might acquire this treasure, I would thereby be obliged to you for life. I will happily pay you in accolades and Skittles. 🙂

Seriously, though . . .

idle wild

The Truth is, I am having a hard time sitting alone with myself right now; in the quiet, in the idle, in the unproductive. The Chatter is making a feast of me. Every fiber of my being being is crying out for greater purpose, for something to validate my existence. I’ve only just finished my book, an amazing feat, and already I am half-crazed and ravenous for something else to do, so I can fill up that hole inside of me with things. Give me something – anything! – to take my mind off how alone and empty I feel inside when I’m not doing something. And then, when nothing comes, well, there’s always my phone.  . . . Last night, on the way home from the gym, I conducted a little experiment: I turned off the music and counted how many times the urge to pick up my phone and check something occurred.  And in the eight minute journey, guess how many times I forgot, then remembered? SIXTEEN. Sixteen times my hand went to my gym-bag. Sixteen times I had to remind myself that, if something dire were happening, my phone would be ringing. Sixteen times I had tell my mind it was okay to feel scared, or sad, or lonely for a moment.

It’s okay. It will pass. Just be there.

I don’t know how this happened, but I know it isn’t good. I am searching for fulfillment in things and companionship in technology, and neither is good for my soul. So yes, I am having a hard time sitting alone with myself; but I think this is exactly where I need to be right now. Sometimes it will mean I have to feel unpleasant things. And sometimes it will mean breathing and marveling at the God-given ability to pull air into my lungs and push it back out.

Love to you & Lighting it up,

~ Cara

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15 thoughts on “The Wild Idle

  1. Oh kindred heart of mine… You have beautifully and vulnerably captured what so many of us struggle against. I tend to keep myself so scheduled, that it ends up costing me sleep, rather than have to hear the “you’re not enough” chatter. May the voice be silenced and the Voice of Truth ring loud and true. You are a fabulous friend, gifted author, dedicated spouse, and magnificent mama to your fur babies. I am smiling at the thought of sharing a big bag of Darkside Skittles with a phenominal tour guide in the sunshine. 🙂
    Hugs to you, courageous one! Love you, Shan

    • . . . sometimes I wonder if, when I’m sleeping, a mischievous little elf sneaks into my account and changes all my words around so they don’t apply, don’t relate, then sucks them clean dry of all hope and humor. I imagined this subject to be a universal struggle, and maybe it is, but maybe also, like most everything else, I’m just more fiercely aware of how it makes me feel.
      Thank you, dear friend, for being that person to say, “Oh, me too!”

      Love to you!

  2. Doing nothing IS doing something!
    It is only when idle that we see idol and ideals, and the I that is the I’d of what you might otherwise be doing.
    Words help, but they are nothing–NOTHING–without the spaces around them!

  3. My heart aches when I read your words, Cara.

    You may be suffering the author’s version of post-partum depression. You’ve birthed that baby. Those characters, who kept you company, filled your mind and your soul for so long, are out of the womb. Out in the world.

    [That may be a poor analogy. I have no authority to diagnose my own blues, let alone someone else’s. Well. I did ace Psych 101. Does that count? No?]

    When I have the times you describe, I have to remind myself that one day I’ll wake up, and begin looking forward instead of back. I live in a world of “what’s next” rather than “what’s left.” Sadly, my husband lives in “what’s left” mode.

    For me? I draw energy from people. They don’t have to be friends or even acquaintances. It’s the buzz and trill of activity in a coffee shop that charges me when I’m in an I-don’t-even-care-if-I-stink mood. Of course, I can’t go for that “people fix” unless I shower. And, dress in something other than stained PJ’s. And, decorate my face. That puts me halfway over that speed bump.

    I am way older than your are, and refuse to let that get to me. My favorite internalization about age is, How Old Would You Be if You Didn’t Know Your Age?

    If my in-the-moment answer is my true age, I look for something silly to do. Sidewalk chalk, anyone?

    When the “what have I done with my life” blues hit. I repeat the exercise above AND I do a gratitude list. I’m blessed with good health, a healthy mind, and a creative, loving spirit. I know you’ve had health issues, but you seem to have conquered those. You have all those other qualities in abundance. Celebrate you.

    Dance alone in public. Buy a coloring book. Give yourself a play-date day, week, month. Be kind to yourself and “yourself” will pay you back.

    I have two finished manuscript. Neither are published. I’ve been working on my “break out” novel for nearly five years now. I can’t give up. Don’t you dare give up on your talents. You are a rock star.

    • Just so you know…

      I did purchase Awakening Jodi Foster and can’t wait to read it.

      My only hang-up at this point is that I’m determined to enter The Golden Heart this year and I must have my manuscript finished by early December. I know me. When a book snatches my attention, color me down-for-the-word-count until I reach the end.

      I’ve read enough of your work to know your novel will do that to me.

      And — just in case in helps — you accomplished getting to the gym. I’ve broken that promise to myself every day for over a week. I’m putting that “good health blessing” at risk.

      • You are so kind, thank you!

        Firstly, let me say that I am a HUGE Jodi Foster fan – have you seen Contact? That movie totally unnerved me, but in a good way! And I recently saw Elysium, which admittedly I did not care for, but her role — as a villain to boot! — was nothing short of stellar. And I think, actually, her awakening might be something I’d be interested in writing and reading. But this time I wrote of Foster Kelly’s Awakening. I hope you purchased that book! 🙂

        Love to you, Gloria!

    • Ah, Gloria, I think I am suffering from the human condition. It’s hard to feel things, wah, wah. 🙂

      That I struggle with the Chatter holds no bearing on how acutely aware I am of the inordinate amount of blessings in my life. No, those things bolster my faith – remind me that for every bad, there is countless Good. For me, the issue is not a lack of good things, or my being intimately connected to them, but the heart’s inability to be wholly filled and satisfied with any of earth’s pleasures. There simply isn’t enough of them to fill the God-shaped hole in me, and thus I turn to “things” and “people” to do the impossible, only to end up more sad and lonely than if I had tackled the real issue: My fear of being insignificant; of being someone who once was and then wasn’t, and was then forgotten. Oh, but what irks me to no end is that the very thing I fear directly opposes the fact that I was born. Silly!

      I love your ideas, though! It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed a good coloring session. 🙂

      Gloria, you are lovely – and equally rock-star-fabulous.

  4. “Oddly enough, I write best when I know what it is I want to say. That may sound like a no-brainer, but we writers can get desperate; and in our desperation, sometimes we’ll hit the keyboard impulsively, hoping some magical entity will appear on our shoulder and whisper hella-fantastic ideas in our ears.”

    OMG, you don’t even know how much I can relate to this blog post right now. I mean, you kind of do, since I’ve been bothering you with emails via Goodreads, but still… wow. I don’t suffer from idleness in the same sense that you do, but if I know I have a deadline, I’ll pester myself when I’m taking a break. And when the deadline’s met and the mauscript is finished? I force myself to take a long break… unless a new challenge or opportunity arises and I’m back to playing the keyboard like the Phantom.

    I have two suggestions that usually work for me and may work for you.

    1) Fill your idle time indulging in doing this you don’t normally do. So for me, I’d probably play video games or do a movie marathon of old favorites, since I rarely permit myself to do those things these days, as busy as I am. So you’re still being productive, but you get the benefit of resting your mind – especially with the movie part. I’ll only watch movies alone if I’ve seen them before (because if I haven’t, I like watching it with someone to experience the newness together… and so that I don’t have to watch it twice right away). I find that when I’m doing something I love, my brain slips easily into writer-mode. It sparks and schemes while I relax, haha.

    2) Listen to the song “I Am Not a Robot” by Marina and the Diamonds. I’ve been having a lot of feels lately, and haven’t been happy about it, and when listened to this song, I felt like, right now, it understands me. So I’ve had it playing on repeat over the weekend. Maybe the song might appeal to you in terms of facing your Chatter head-on. I duuno. I’ts magical, though, so give it a listen 😉

    • Yes, I agree! A movie marathon is a fabulous way to rest your mind while letter creative juices simmer undisturbed. Sometimes, if I know it “just isn’t going to happen today”, I’ll shut down the computer, hop in bed, and watch a favorite; but I have yet to allow myself an entire day of this. Oh, the idea of an ENTIRE day watching my favorite movies. I am almost wishing a cold might lay me down for a few days. 🙂

      I will listen to this song, thank you! Music, like pictures, is a powerful inspiration for me. The lyrics of a good song are like the meat of a good book. And I think every book should come with a soundtrack.

      I finally watched The Great Gatsby the other night with my husband. I thought of you. 🙂 We liked it, and though I am likely not the first to offer this comparison, it reminded me a bit of Romeo and Juliet (Leonardo and Clare). The scene at the end, oh, it just crushed me. If I have to be crushed, that is the way to go. 🙂

  5. hello, Cara… it’s been a while. couldn’t find my way to get back here. i see you’ve a new, better theme, ahaha. congrats on your two books, dear.

    love your musings here – the idling, the chatter, the fear that one may not be doing enough. ah, you put the words for me… you’re doing great, my friend. and, as Alice Munro says, there’s nothing small or insignificant in writing.so, live on and write on… and do not be afraid to sit and do nothing, from time to time, ahaha. hope you are warm, loved and kept. kind regards… 🙂

    • Thank you for dropping by!

      I’ve heard good things about Alice Munro – one of these days I will have to pick up one of her books and peek inside before putting it back down. To sit and do nothing . . . I have chills just thinking about it. Looks like it will be a chilly day.

      Hoping you are well, also!

      • my pleasure. your posts are wonderful to read… 🙂 do read Alice Munro’s work, you won’t regret it. nah, sitting down, doing nothing helps in writing. don’t think, ahaha. it’s still rainy and damp, over here, thank you. keep well… 🙂

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