Lately I have been feeling the weight of unfinished business. I have all these creative plans and dreams and ideas and have not made progress on any of them. I’ve been expending way too much energy beating myself up for this, calling myself lazy or finding excuses why there’s not enough time or putting other projects ahead of the ones I claim to really want to do… and that’s all half true. But the bigger half – the untrue part – is why it’s not getting done.
I’ve been leading a group of women through Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” and it has had its ups and downs for me personally, but yesterday I came across the chapter on perceived laziness. She says something like: ‘Blocked artists aren’t lazy. They are afraid. Don’t call it lazy. Call it what it is: fear. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of doing it badly. Whatever it is.’ I applied this thinking to my own panoply of creative unfinished dreams and it hit me. Right between the eyes, it hit me.
This unattractive photo shows the broken toilet roll holder in my bathroom. Ever since we moved into his house two years ago, I’ve been making various renovations and repairs. Unlike my last house, which was in a lower income neighborhood, this one is in a pretty ritzy area. I have to be careful that any repairs are to the higher quality demanded by the kind of people who would buy into this neighborhood. Not that I’m inviting people to see my toilet roll holder, but if and when we intend to sell the place, any renovations must be done well. So what’s happened? We’ve done some. We’ve put off some, partly because of money (renovations are expensive) and partly because of time (we do the work ourselves and renovations take lots of time).
So the story with this toilet holder is complicated because it’s one of those projects in which one thing leads to another…. We had this toilet roll holder which was installed on top of a very obviously poorly done drywall repair job. The hardware was brass color, which I don’t care for, and I hated the color of the bathroom walls. We plan to redo the whole bathroom. So it isn’t just about the toilet roll holder. It’s a whole string of interrelated renovations.
When we first moved in, the bedroom carpet was not only old and worn but smelly (sorry, but pets are smelly). Replacing the carpet with bamboo hardwood was easy – we’ve done that before. When we had the windows replaced, we chose to make the bedroom windows into a door because it’s right on the patio and why not? Replacing the windows meant the alarm system doesn’t work anymore, so I pulled the alarm pad (which we weren’t using anyway) off the wall and patched the drywall. I also had textured walls, which I don’t like, so as long as I was patching drywall, I went ahead and replastered the entire room and painted it a color I liked. As long as I was painting the bedroom, I could at least choose the paint color for the bathroom so they would match. Once the bedroom was grey instead of yellow, that orange bathroom made me crazy. It also had textured walls which I wanted to remove and that bad repair job behind the toilet roll holder.
One step at a time. I replastered the whole bathroom, spray painted the toilet roll hardware, painted the whole bathroom (except around the mirrors which we are planning on framing but haven’t gotten to that yet either, mainly because we are planning to replace the sinks, which means replacing the backslashes, which means removing the mirrors….) ugh. The point is that I put up the toilet roll holder thinking that because I had newly plastered the wall, I would not have to use the anchors the previous owner had in there. Ok, I admit it. I was wrong. But I did it anyway and of course the holders became loose again right away. Did I fix this? No. It’s like six months later now and we still have the toilet paper sitting on top of the toilet tank because I haven’t done this five minute job of fixing the toilet roll holder.
I thought I was being lazy. Or procrastinating. Or any other barrage of insulting things I could say about my lack of housekeeping ability. But this Artist Way course gave me a new perspective: I am afraid to redo the bathroom and fix the toilet roll holder. Why would that be? Because unlike my old house in which I was free to play around with tile and baseboards and floors and plaster and stencils and all kinds of fun cosmetic changes in my house (which all looked great, I might add), in this house I feel pressure to make it perfect. I feel pressure to make it up to the standards of some imaginary person who one day might be in a position to see my toilet roll holder. The other piece that perplexes me is that some of the repairs I have done here don’t look as good as similar ones I did well at my other house. The more I put on pressure to be perfect the first time around – and in all honesty, some of these repairs were done in the midst of some pretty hefty exhaustion – the worse it is.
Julia says that artistic children who are not supported in their art by their parents often feel that rebelling against them and doing art anyway makes us think that we have to create the opus magnum to prove that our rebellion was well founded. That is A LOT of pressure. This toilet roll is a symbol of that pressure.
My parents were recently visiting to care for the kids while my husband and I were out of town. They stayed in my room, so they saw my broken toilet roll holder. My dad offered to fix it. My daughter was relaying, by text message, questions about where tools were and I was trying to pay attention to a speaker in a conference as I argued with them – I will do it!! Just leave it alone!! It’s like I didn’t want someone to just walk in and preempt my failure with an easy success.
That was a month ago. Every day I walk in that room and see that holder and it’s like another slap in my face of how I’m not finishing what ought to be so easy. And yet every day I walk right back out that door promising I’ll do it later. I’m also in the midst of writing a novel. I have the same feelings toward it that I do about the toilet roll holder. Every day I beat myself up for not working on it and every day I give myself an excuse and (false) promise to work on it later. It is the same fear. Whether it is fear of failure or fear of success ultimately doesn’t matter; they both prevent me from doing it. It is the doing of it that makes the difference.
At this point, I probably should say something clever about heading off to work on my novel. Recovery is slow, but I’ve worked on it already this morning. Something tells me its time to fix that toilet roll holder. Maybe I’ll even have a little liturgical ceremony while I’m in there.