Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Chris Johnson : Avoiding What’s Overwhelming: My Writing Day

I’m working through Labour Day because that’s what I need to do; I need the work I’ve got and, while laborious, I’m lucky to have it. This is the gig economy. This is the absence of nine-to-five. It’s been four years since I’ve graduated and committed myself to freelance and contract work, mostly in content writing and editing and publishing, with all the downtime and late nights and hurry-up-and-wait. So, it’s Labour Day and I’m behind on work with two jobs and trying not to think about my own neglected creative writing.

7:15AM this morning, I woke naturally, surprised to find my phone drained of battery on the bedside table and the cats both lying quietly at the foot of the bed. So, getting out of bed was easier than normal, but I still feel some tiredness from the three days of working my part-time retail gig over the weekend. Yes, I’m 27 and possess a Master’s degree in the arts, and I work a retail job on weekends to help subsidize my income from multiple contract jobs. So, Monday rolls around and more often than not I’m leaning towards a break rather than returning to work. Today is one of those days.

Monday morning routine: make coffee, a glass of orange juice, take a vitamin, sit on the couch, open laptop, avoid emails for as long as possible. Today I convinced myself to look at the weekend’s emails first thing, but this is unusual. After deleting the junk, the first email I respond to is an update from the co-director of a local reading series where I coordinate free workshops. Then there’s a query from a poet who submitted to Arc Poetry Magazine. After giving the poet an update on their submission, the next email is from the guest editor of the next issue of Arc sending along his editorial note. This is a special issue specifically for Canada’s “150th Birthday” and all of the problems and concerns found in celebrating the “birth” of a country that stole land from and colonized the indigenous people. It’s not a light theme, and it won’t be a light issue, and the editorial note wasn’t light either. But the problems that are discussed within this themed issue are important. The writers are talented and their poems and essays have been staying with me, occupying my mind. I’m grateful to have a hand in the publication of this issue, and I’m also anxious to find time to write out my thoughts on these topics and understand/wrestle/come to grips with them more.

The next email is a tease—from rob mclennan, who likes checking in every once in a while—in the form of a casual query about what I’ve been working on. Back in May I took a long vacation to visit multiple countries in Europe. As poets do on vacation, I wrote poems in a notebook along the way. I haven’t had much chance (since copying the poems from my notebook to a Word doc) to go back over these poems, so I took this email as a prompt to make some tweaks, and I respond to rob by sending four of the vacations poems, likely for him to glance at and ignore. But I think there’s something in these poems. I was trying to write poems that acknowledged and problematized my place and privilege as a tourist on this vacation. Traveling and being in busy touristy places can be somewhat overwhelming, which often made me wonder how much more terrifying it would be as a visible minority or a queer-identifying or differently-abled person. We’ll have to see what rob says about them.

After spending this moment on my creative writing, the next task is to send an invoice to a contract employer for some work I finished over the weekend. I don’t know if it’s like this for other poets, but whenever I take some time for my creative work, my mind will wander from poetry to my other work responsibilities. So, I draw up the invoice and email it to their empty office on this statutory holiday, and now the urge to relax is prominent. It’s 8:45AM and since getting out of bed I have had one cup coffee, fed the cats, put some dishes away, zipped around the internet, but I haven’t sat back to recharge.

My partner wakes up after me. She comes out from the bedroom and grabs herself a coffee and stares at her phone while I’m re-watching Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. She starts her own work, remotely completing a few tasks for her multiple jobs. After the movie is over, I make another pot of coffee and put on some records. Over the weekend I found a record of Glenn Gould playing Brahms. Then I’ll put on Debussy. When I really need to focus on writing or reading or editing, I almost always go back to classical music.

Today’s work requires responding to emails, drawing up contracts, contacting contributors to the upcoming issue of Arc, and planning the order for this issue. I should be starting the layout, but that will have to wait until tomorrow when I will hopefully have more energy to focus. When you know you don’t have the mental capacity to complete one task, you just have to keep trying at other tasks to find something you can complete and feel like you’ve accomplished something. The coffee helps, the classical music is calming, and luckily I am successful today in finding other small tasks, so 5:11PM rolls in and I’m relatively pleased with my productivity.

In the evening, we make dinner and put on a movie. We eat watching The ‘Burbs and, with a half-hour left in the film, she wants to switch gears and put on The Bachelor. I groan but agree for the brownie points. I make brownies. The show is trashy and mindless, but we chirp at the characters’ (contestants’?) stupid decisions, and, eventually tired of the whole ordeal, I open my MacBook to start composing this summary of my writing day.

I’ve sent emails in 18 different email threads, edited four of my own poems, composed two publication contracts, drafted an order for one issue of Arc Poetry Magazine. I don’t know where this lands on someone else’s scale of productivity, but I’d count it as moderately productive in my books. Tomorrow, though, there is always more to be done.

Chris Johnson currently works as the coordinating editor for Arc Poetry Magazine. Some of his poems have previously appeared in (parenthetical), Matrix, and the Hart House Review. A chapbook of haibun, Listen, Partisan!, was released by Frog Hollow Press in 2016.

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