I want to talk about guilt.

Sometimes I mutter to myself, “I have left undone those things which I ought to have done.” It has, from time to time, seemed the defining quality of my life.

I don’t feel guilty about undone housework, or the fact that I’m not, in classic terms, a “good wife”, whatever the hell that is. Almost forty years ago I wrote a manifesto and tacked it to my studio wall. The last line of it said “If you think my main purpose in life is to see that some grown man has clean shirts and is fed on time, then screw you.” Various people, including my own mother, have tried to make me feel that I was failing in this department, and they have failed at that.

No, the guilt that eats at me is the undone writing, the long neglect of my novel, my failure to keep up with the writing groups I belong to, or even with my friends. I feel guilty that I can’t write more for Jeffrey at the Sault Star, that I’m not prompt in reading and commenting on things for friends, or for Aurora Wolf, where I’m the editor. I feel guilty for making those writers wait for feedback. I know how that wait feels.

I feel guilty when I take time to read something purely for pleasure instead of research. There’s so much research that needs to be done. I feel guilty that my dog doesn’t get as much playtime as she used to and that she has to be left at home alone because I have a day job where I can’t take her. It was never my plan to have a dog and leave her alone for hours at stretch every day.

An old schoolmate reconnected with me recently, and in the course of our correspondence, he sent me a fifteen-page story. I don’t have time to read it. I quail from telling him “I can’t do this; I don’t have enough time to do the other things I have to do.” I don’t want to look like I think I’m too important to look at his work. It makes me feel – guilty.

Guilt takes energy. It stalls you. When you feel guilty about something, you don’t want to face that person, that group, that job, that story. First it’s a week since you meant to write the letter, or the chapter, then it’s a month, or six months, and where do you get off the guilty-go-round again? The damn thing never seems to stop.

After my posts about the warrior writer, admitting to this frailty could make me feel guilty, except that I’m pretty sure all of you also have some thing or other left undone that gnaws at your conscience at 3 a.m. I’m not alone.

I’m steady on the novel again; one piece of guilt gone. It’s a start. if I can do that, I can handle the other stuff. And if I can do it, you can do it, too. Maybe it’s not as fast as we’d like, maybe it’ll never be all gone. But we’re not alone, and even the warrior writer is only human.

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10 Responses to Guilty

  1. Wow. Thanks for posting this.
    Something that helped me was hearing that every creative person gets more ideas than they can ever possibly develop. And I suppose any sociable person has more friends than they can possibly keep up with. And we all have more duties and obligations and chores and expectations put upon us than we can possibly complete in a day, in a week, or in a lifetime. So the key is to choose wisely between the things we take on and the ones we let slip away as gracefully and guiltlessly as possible. Family, friends and creative pursuits seem to be three top choices that are worth making.

  2. Jennifer says:

    Well said Gordon!
    I’m reasonably sure that the 15-page unsolicited manuscript – while completely a signal that you are “real author” now – is only the start. Most writers I have read or listened to from afar talk about needing to say “No” to unsolicited manuscripts. In this case, you have a double reason, not only does your time go to your writing, editing is one of the jobs by which you expect to make a living. It is not different than a friend asking an artist to just draw and give them a sketch. Or getting a medical diagnosis from a doctor friend at a party.

    • ecreith says:

      I’m pretty sure he doesn’t want me to edit it – he just wants me to see it. I don’t even have time to give it the attention it deserves. But, yes, I know that – ahem – “real writers” frequently get these requests, and I have no trouble saying “here are my rates”.

  3. Father Steve says:

    Since you begin with a quote from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, it is only fair that I be allowed to contribute a line from a much more recent version of the Book of Common Prayer, that from the Church of New Zealand. In their service of Night Prayer (which is akin to the monastic office of compline), they pray:

    “It is night after a long day.
    What has been done has been done;
    what has not been done has not been done;
    let it be.”

  4. ecreith says:

    Thank you for this, Father Steve! I love it. I think I’ll have to write it on my office wall, next to that Zen diagram “Do you have a problem in your life?” You know, the one where every answer leads you eventually to “Then don’t worry”.

  5. Great post!! Guilt can plague us, we have to learn to let go and believe in ourselves.

  6. angileengallop says:

    So great to hear this from you Ms. Creith!! I’ve written Father’s Steve’s quote from the book of Common prayer in my quote book. One to live by.

    My most recent piece of guilt: having the baby come home from daycare with her bag of Valentines. I realized all the other parents did up cards for the whole daycare while I just did Cassidy’s class. I also had a bunch on my desk that I had yet to mail out. It all would have taken a couple of hours I didn’t have.

    I asked myself, “Am I judging those parents who didn’t send Cassidy a card?” Nope.

    I took a deep breath, swept the unsent Valentines into the recycling bin and went to enjoy watching Cassidy open and play with her cards.

  7. Ah yes. I can totally relate to the whole guilt thing. Thanks for sharing that and telling it like it is. I’ve been a little overwhelmed with stuff and of course, feeling some guilt but I think (as Father Steve suggests) I’ll call it a day and just let it be!

  8. ecreith says:

    I think that’s what we have to learn to do – let it be. Easier to say than to do, though.

    I seem to have hit a nerve with this one. It kinda reminds me of when I was in university. A lot of my residence mates took ZOO200, the zoology course on human biology. One of them said, “It’s amazing – they talk about normal human sexual behaviour and you think – I thought I was the only one who did that!”

    I guess you’re never the only one who does that, whatever “that” is!

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