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.