I have a superhero complex. Specifically, I think I’m Superwoman. As well as believing myself to be faster, stronger, and generally more capable than I am, I believe I have the special superpower to stretch time. I believe I can make one hour stretch to three; I can make one day stretch to two. My weeks have twelve days. But it’s a complex. The reality is I can’t stretch time. I certainly cannot slow time down. I wish I could. But I can’t. And recently I’ve been giving myself a good talking to, telling myself to hang up the cape and come back down to Earth.
I’m a list maker. I live by lists. Right now, I have a long-term list of things I want to accomplish before I’m fifty. This is not a bucket list sort of thing. It’s not of the ‘visit the Taj Mahal’, ‘bungee jump’, ‘skinny dip’ variety. (Two of those I have no interest in and the other I do as often as possible). No, my list is a serious ‘work to be done’ list. And from that big list, there are yearly lists, monthly lists, and daily lists.
Here’s the long-term list: by the time I’m fifty I want to have published five books. FIVE. I’ll be fifty in eight and a half years from now. Let me review the status of these five books before you think I’m completely off my rocker.
Book 1: Written and currently being reviewed by the publisher.
Book 2: 100,000-word draft written two years ago. I’m unhappy with the ending and it needs to be overhauled on a monumental scale. To be tackled as soon as I’ve finished writing…
Book 3: Working on it at the moment, trying to write 10,000 words a week, first draft complete by the end of November, and hoping to have a manuscript ready for a publisher or agent by the end of March.
Book 4: I know exactly what it’s about, and have a written synopsis of each chapter. To be written after I’ve completed Book 2.
Book 5: A sequel to Book 3.
(Only one of these is novel. The rest are all firmly non-fiction)
So, I write like a motherfucker.
But, unless I’m Isabel Allende (who I long to be) or Bill Bryson (oh to be that funny) or Cecilia Ahern (shoot me if I write like that), I’m not going to make any money writing books. I read recently that 150,000 books get published in the English language every year. How many of them can you name? I’m not doing it to make money (although wouldn’t making money be grand?). I do it because I can’t help myself. I’m miserable and grouchy when I don’t write.
So, to my medium-term, six month list, which is divided into ‘writing’ and ‘everything else’.
I write other things in an attempt to make some money. In the past four months I’ve had seven pieces published in magazines, newspapers, and online magazines. For all of this writing I’ve earned the princely sum of £140. Hardly enough to keep the wolf from the door. For every article I write, I spend at least the same amount of time researching appropriate magazines and newspapers to pitch to, pitching ideas to editors, chasing editors up when they fail to reply, pitching again, on and on. I’ve had articles accepted and fees negotiated, only to have the person I was in contact with leave the publication and set me back to square one. So, for the time being, my budding career as a freelance writer is not paying the bills either. Just like the books, I write because I can’t help myself. But it sure would be nice to get paid for doing something I’m so addicted to.
The ‘everything else’ side of the medium-term list includes, inter alia, the following items: ‘study Spanish 1 hour every day’, ‘jog 30 minutes every day’, ‘remove mould from entire boat’, ‘thorough galley clean’, ‘assess and reorganise provisions’, ‘update Lily and Katie’s clothing’. It’s a long list. Absent from any of these lists are Lily and Katie’s education or general day-to-day household chores. But of course, those activities take time and effort too.
We need to put food on the table. Because my writing is not (yet) paying its way, Julian and I are both working this winter. I’m teaching English 18 hours a week. It’s not my dream job (see above) but it does pay the bills (see above). The teaching materials I work from are pretty self-explanatory, so I only need an additional hour or two of planning each week. I leave Carina at 3.35 every afternoon, Monday to Friday, and I step back on board at 9.50 at night.
You can see where this is going. Only my Superwoman time-stretching superpower could give me the time to do all the things I want to do every day. And as each day goes by and I fail to draw a line through every item on my list I get more annoyed and grouchy.
Somehow, I find time to do much of the writing I want to do. I try to do a couple of hours every night after I get home from work, a few hours each weekend, and one morning a week at the public library. Most mornings Lily, Katie and I do a little school work on board, followed by an hour at the beach (learning to swim is as important as learning maths, as far as I’m concerned), and some activities that are ‘educational’ in one way or another – drawing, crafting, wandering around looking at and talking about trees, etc. (Julian teaches some mornings and does laundry, grocery shopping and other off-boat chores on the other mornings).
But I’ve had to give myself a serious talking to. An hour of Spanish every day? A 30 minute run? Who am I kidding? I’ve given up the Spanish. The only reason I ever wanted to learn Spanish in the first place was so I could read Gabriel Garcia Marquez in the original Spanish. I’m never going to learn enough Spanish to do that, and I love Garcia Marquez plenty in English. Anyway, I’m learning a little Spanish from talking to the pupils I teach and from simply living in Spain. I’m all for learning languages, but I’m starting from zero here, and life’s too short. Language acquisition is not a priority for me, and I have to remind myself that I’m not a lesser human being for only having proficiency in one language.
I cut out the running too. A 30 minute run takes an hour, by the time I got ready beforehand and recovered afterwards. I swim pretty much every day, swimming lengths parallel to the beach where the girls play when they’ve had enough of swimming. Why do I need to run for half an hour as well? I’m trying to be Isabel Allende, not Sonia O’Sullivan.
And I’ve stopped beating myself up about the state of the boat. The cleaning will get done. Just more slowly. What difference does it make if I assess the provisions this week or next month? We’re living beside a supermarket and not planning a transatlantic passage any time soon.
It’s time to focus on the priorities – my family and my writing. And also to learn to relax a little. I feel terribly guilty when I’m doing ‘nothing’. Julian enjoys long walks, and they do him the world of good. I used to like long walks, but these days I only walk with a purpose – to the shop or to work, not just a walk for its own sake. When I read I have this nagging guilty feeling that I should be doing ‘something’, and not wasting my time doing ‘nothing’. A couple of days ago I sat in the cockpit and forced myself to read a magazine that Mammy had brought to me when she visited. I made a cup of tea and read for two hours. Sure, I felt a little twinge of guilt that I wasn’t doing anything ‘productive’, but I finally managed to relax. Yesterday morning I even managed to stop myself ploughing relentlessly through the water as though I was being chased by a shark. I stopped swimming, closed my eyes, and floated in the warm sea water with the hot sun beating down on my face.
For us, moving aboard Carina was never about giving up work, but rather about approaching work in a different way, concentrating on our passions, and working damn hard to achieve the goals we set ourselves. And that’s how we live our lives. As Stephen Fry said on the Graham Norton Show recently ‘Work is more fun than fun’. I agree. (Oops…I let it slip…I watch Graham Norton on YouTube sometimes!)
But recently I have been trying to accomplish the unnecessary. So, for now, I’ve hung up my cape and superhero tights. I’m teaching myself to relax, to recharge my batteries, and to make shorter, more realistic lists. Five books by fifty remains my goal, but there’s not a chance in hell any of them will be written in Spanish!