Save the Trees: A Cautionary Tale by Eden Mabee

I took a long time in writing this. I wasn’t sure that a post of this nature would be appropriate—or welcome. It’s not very inspirational. Nor have I filled it with writerly wisdom.

What it is… is important.

Under the purview of a ROW80 sponsor post, it involves the insidious creep of an “Everyone else seems to be doing so well, what is wrong with me? I’m so tired and stressed and… I must be doing something wrong” mindset that pervade social media these days, including ROW80 member blogs, and the inherent dishonesty behind that belief.

a5068ffe5391e9181e63d7e5a4653814a379b8a78647bcace01a494eeeb29245Yes, the ROW80 is the Writing Challenge that Knows You have a Life, so failure is an option where the Cray-cray comes to visit. But how many of us really want to share those personal heartbreaks that mess up our word counts or knock our goals out for the count a week or more? We cannot stop life from having its way with us, but we can stop sharing—we don’t want to seem like we’re whining or being downers, after all.

I’ve been involved in the ROW80 for about four years, and I’ve sponsored for a couple. I’ve watched how we all seem to back off from employing the support we could give each other when life get hard. I’ve seen how we beat back Life’s Frustrations with cudgels of optimism, “I know I can do better next week”…. only to drop from the challenge within the next few check-ins.

I know this pattern from personal experience too. Last year, around now I dropped out of the ROW80 (and a few other writing groups I was involved in) for several months (I’ve only returned early this spring). Life had gotten … punchy, and on top of the many things I was dealing with, I was blocked…. blocked as I had never believed I could be.

From a series of deaths (two family, two friends, and one pet), to having to help my son deal with adjustment to two different schools, to the university bureaucracy as I sought to finish my teaching degree, my husband’s change of employment after sixteen years…. It’s been one hectic year, the kind of year that could –should have filled a thousand stories.

If I could have… as I said, I was blocked. I was stressed, tired… and I was desperate for the solace of my words.

"Do All The Things!" with dust bunnies subletting the vacancy in my emotional and physical reserves.

Do All The Things!” with dust bunnies subletting the vacancy in my emotional and physical reserves.

I returned to the ROW80 because of this… After all, what could be a more natural place to find a way back to one’s words than to take up a writing challenge? It might have been fine, but in my mad need, I also joined the two CampNaNoWriMos and the JuNoWriMo (as crew). I was determined to kick my Muse into action, somehow.

It took nearly ending the life of an innocent maple tree with the 2-ton guided missile that is my truck after a late night visit to my parents to accept that I couldn’t do it all anymore. I never could.

From my social media posts, few would have known. I tried to stay upbeat. I tried to cheer on fellow writers, believing that showing how much things weren’t going well would discourage others. I wonder now, though if it wasn’t dishonest. Things weren’t going well, and this was bad; I wasn’t allowing the ROW80 to be what it was designed to be. At its simplest, I wasn’t truthful in my check-ins. At the worst, I was denying my fellow ROWers the chance to see the bad with the good and the chance to be supportive… to be part of the community that they joined.

This is why I had to write this post, why it was important for me to share.

Because you deserve better of me… and of yourselves. We are a community. Maybe we don’t want to always air our dirty laundry, but we owe it to each other to admit when things just suck. We should feel comfortable enough to say when we need to step away without falling off the world. Because we’re not the only ones out there who need a kind supportive word.

Who knows? Maybe we’ll save a tree for it.

~*~

Eden Mabee

10 comments

  1. I’m glad you and the tree survived. And I agree. There’s a place that’s not whining, and also not self- recrimination. A place of honesty (as in – I couldn’t write a baby-in-jeopardy story in the month that holds the anniversary of my baby’s death. It was too much, so I wrote fan fiction instead.”

    Together, maybe we can remind one another -be real. Step back if needed. But let others know, so we can help one another through the rough patches.

  2. I really needed this. My last post was about all the bad stuff that had been going on in my life pertaining to my husband’s illness. Then what did I start my second to last paragraph with? “So, no more whining.” I felt GUILTY for telling all the stuff that had been going wrong. I didn’t want to come off as poor, poor, pitiful me. Why do we do that? In a group like this, why shouldn’t we vent and share our problems? I’m usually such an upbeat person, I have problems sharing things that are negative. But what good does holding it all in do?

    Thank you for writing this post!

  3. I needed this post, too. I was brought up to not “bother” anyone, not to “impose,” so I always apologize for having a tough time, like Lauralynn. I am usually a positive person, but not for a few years now. I was struck over the weekend by a post on an FB group I follow, about a “positive mindset” that will solve writer’s block and other associated ills.

    Your post put a finger on my discomfort. I’ve had a lot of loss in the past three years, and it’s okay that I’m reeling from it. A positive attitude may help me not “bother” or “impose,” but it isn’t getting me very far on living with the loss, much less with my writing.

    Thanks for a brave post.

  4. I’m joining those who said wholeheartedly, “Yes, I needed to read this.” ROW80 brings me a sense of community that says we care about writing and each other. Participating and reading what others report can bring us hope when our own writing stalls. This has been true for me through my husband’s illness those dark months of Feb-April this year. I don’t believe there’s a “one-stop fix” for writers’ block or the peaks/lulls in my own writing. But I do persevere and hope. Each word, each day brings me closer to achieving my goals. ROW80 helps me feel connected to other writers who do care about writing in a serious way. Their accomplishments help me see new ways to plan, carry out, and assess my progress. And once in a while, we celebrate together. Thank you, Eden, for every encouraging comment and for writing very helpful and poignant ‘writerly wisdom’.

  5. Thank you. I have been struggling for two years, and I finally just dropped out. And I miss it, but I’ve been afraid to try again. This post…I needed to read this. Thank you.

  6. Yes. Thank you. “Cudgel of optimism” indeed – sometimes it’s the well-meaning “things’ll get better; just try and smile” people that really sinks the battleship USS Depression.
    My beloved Thene told me recently that one of the best things she ever learned to do was to tell herself to shutup about comparing herself to other people and that people almost always underestimate their own suffering… thank you for the reminder to be kinder to the self.
    2016 has been terrifying bad in so many ways and I’ve not done what I wanted to get done — but I suppose that’s okay. (I’m trying! Maybe I’ll get to “that’s definitely okay” after some more self-therapy)

  7. Thank you, all of you for your supportive words and insights. I’m glad it resonated with you and was helpful to some of you.

    I’m sorry I didn’t reply sooner (or more personally). This is.. a challenging couple of days. Timing… Today, one of those friends would have celebrated his birthday. Yesterday, marked the one year anniversary of the other friend’s passing. Not so much sad days, just thoughtful ones… But still timing.

    1. Anniversaries and birthdays are hard. I’m still feeling the ones that are three years out, so I can’t say it gets easier, but maybe more familiar. *hugs*

      Sing out if we can help with anything. After all, you reminded us about being a community.

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