When I was about ten years old, some church event or another asked us to dress up as what we wanted to be when we grew up. There were plenty of tiny preacher men, nurses and teachers (all the proto-teachers brought apples. In my teaching experience, I’ve never once been given an apple. Maybe some Juicy Fruit or a tangelo, but no one has ever given me a nice Fuji.)
I took this occasion very seriously, and dressed was “a writer.” My outfit consisted of a plaid dress with a giant lace collar, my hair pulled back into a very stern looking bun, and a big tome of three Charles Dickens books bound in the same volume which, in retrospect, was quite the hefty accessory for a 80-pound kid. My mom was a little confused by my choice of outfit, likely because I forgot a pencil and paper. But hey, when you have Bleak House and a bun, what more do you need? I remember her saying, “I usually think of writers as being a little more…comfortable.” I was horrified. How dare anyone suggest that my future profession displayed itself publicly with anything other than strict personal discipline and austerity?
Well. Here I am, “a writer,” wearing what seems like a daily rotation of yoga pants and washed-out, ill-fitting band T-shirts. When I head out to my writing office I at least deign to wear a pair of jeans (although there’s a guy who takes the same bus who seems to lack pants altogether, so I wouldn’t be the worst offender) and throw on my trademark red lipstick such that people won’t call me “sir,” but that’s about the extent of my display of personal discipline. Add to the fashion issue my tendency to slouch over my desk, then add a secret stash of–I shudder to write it–“dunkable” cookies and several boxes of tea on the shelves of my office and you’ve got a pretty grim, crumby, cromagnon-looking scene.
While you could say my writing has made me a bit tidier in some ways, mainly because laundry and tile-scrubbing are great procrastination methods, the whole looking-like-a-human-on-a-daily-basis thing has definitely taken a back-seat to the drafting of new work. And when I start feeling terrible about my slovenliness, I remind myself that I could iron the shirt, put on the uncomfortable leggings, curl my eyelashes and wobble up the hill on heels, or I could roll out looking like a crazy person and get a chapter written. And as odd as it is to celebrate letting myself go, I’m pretty happy to have been such a slob these last few months, because rather than having looked respectable this fall, I today finished a draft of Jacob Wrestling. An entire draft of a book I started only last May. That’s a lot more substantial than so many consecutive days of tidiness.
Now, off to slap on a little more red lipstick and get my revisions underway.