It’s been a long while since I’ve had the Late For Work Anxiety Dream – the one where I suddenly realize I’m very late, especially to a job I’ve just started – so I’m wondering now if the anxiety decided to step things up a notch. The one dream I recall from last night not only had me late for work, but it was at the library where I currently work, on Sunday when I’m the one who opens us up for business, and the only librarian for the entire day. In the dream I was doing a marathon of the final season of Babylon 5, when suddenly I realized that I was supposed to open the library five hours before.
I think I can pick this one apart. One of the biggest hurdles I’ve had getting back into spiritual exploration – along with spending more time doing personal things like pleasure reading and catching up on favorite TV shows and movies over the last few months – is that I’m geared towards being productive.
This has manifested a lot when I spend a day doing something besides writing or working on the house – I’d get guilt feelings that I wasn’t being productive. There were days in between novels and where nothing around the house needed working on where I would end up fussing over busywork just to assuage the guilt of not having a (pseudo-)productive day. (This is also how I got into the habit of reading in bed at night as the last thing I do before going to sleep – because I knew I wouldn’t be writing or doing anything else during that time.)
Pleasure reading? Outside of bedtime, even this has been digging up guilt thanks to the fact that I also write book reviews with strict deadlines. If pleasure reading doesn’t dig up the “Shouldn’t you be writing?” guilt meme, then it goes for “Shouldn’t you be reading that review book?” (At the moment I have two that my brain is reminding me I haven’t started reading yet – and never mind that I only received them yesterday.)
I think the being late aspect of the dream reflects the feelings that crop up from time to time, moreso the older I get, that I’ve wasted a lot of time over the last few years, and that I feel like I’m getting a late start again, alongside worrying that I’ve gotten started again too late. (That’s the anxiety talking again. Logical me figures it’s never too late to start.)
The library angle of the dream is probably the responsibilities aspect of being productive. “Why are you doing that meditating / reading when your responsibilities mean you should be doing X around the house instead / getting to work on the next book?”
The thing is, I know that the spiritual exploration is productive – almost certainly the most productive thing for me personally that I can be doing right now. As Alexandra just pointed out to me today, what I’m doing now is building the person I will be later, and planting the seeds of better things. It is an investment in my own future. The results may not be immediate like writing a thousand words or getting that gutter remounted, but they will be deeper and more lasting in many ways.
The pleasure reading is needed mental relaxation. I know, logically, that a big part of the reason I haven’t started work on another novel yet is that none of the ideas I currently have are gripping me right now – especially not enough to possibly spend a year or longer working on it – and that this exploration is more important and more pressing. But the productive guilt and anxiety are longtime residents that won’t fall back without a fight.
I’ve gotten much better at scrapping with negative feelings than I was just a few months ago, though. Sometimes I just slog through. Sometimes I read spiritual works. Yesterday I chose to fight simply by enjoying some pleasure reading: In this case I’ve picked up the historical nonfiction book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yaval Noah Harari, and the classic science fiction novel Worlds, by Joe Haldeman. The first for my ongoing and insatiable curiosity about Almost Everything, the second purely for fun.
Then today I was productive, for real. This was by way of raking, leaf-blowing, and gutter-clearing. And I was productive not out of guilt but because these were things that really did need to be done, and it was a lovely day – not to mention that this was a good way of practicing my idea of finding spirituality in work that doesn’t appear to be the least bit spiritual. (I’ll write more about that again one of these days.)
Using a Dr. Evil meme for this entry’s intro picture is also a form of fighting the guilt and anxiety demons. I do take them seriously, as I take fighting them seriously – but sometimes you just can’t take things too seriously or you’ll fall apart. I’m not above making fun of my own negative feelings now and again. Serves ’em right.