Toil and Trouble

Hand_wash_dishes.jpegI was raised by a clean freak. She was focused on a clean house. I’m not sure if that is how she decided she needed to show her love, or if she just liked a spotless home, but when I was four and I wanted to feel close to her, I would help her dry the dishes. I remember the feel of my bare feet on the cold chair I had to stand on to reach the drainer. I remember the feel of the humidity within the pitcher when she handed it to me still hot from the drain. The towel in my hand, thread bare and rough, felt strange and exciting. I was so happy to help. She loved it and gave me so much attention. I thought I was the world, and I was addicted to it. Soon it was expected of me. I was the one who dried the dishes and it became my first chore. Within a week, that is what it was.

They began to add up. Taking out the trash, cleaning my room, mopping the floor, cleaning the toilet. One thing after the next was added to my list. By the time I was eight, I had over 12 chores to keep up with. She used it as a punishment. When I did something wrong or undesirable, I was handed a chore to do. I’m not sure how this happened, but my sister was always given as many chores as I was, and my mother cleaned the house as much as we did, if not more. There were always plenty of chores to do and always little time to do them. We were trained to work fast. As fast as we could. No dilly-dallying. No taking your time. You were on a clock and you were expected to get it done in a timely fashion. If you took too long, you were yelled at. It became my life. I was always cleaning something, always wiping something down and stacking things where they belonged. Kids are supposed to have chores. My sons have chores. But it doesn’t take over their lives.

Soon I hated to clean anything, and then work came into my life. When I was about ten, I was loaned out. Someone would need something done, furniture moved, things organized, objects or walls painted, or anything of this nature, and I was sent out. I was told to work hard and get it all done right. When I got back, and I was given a good report by whoever had used me, she would lavish me with love. She would bring me drinks, make food I liked, and show me that when I worked hard, I was rewarded. Again, not all bad. A child should learn that there are rewards for hard work, but when this is the only time you are treated this way, it sends the wrong message.

By middle school, the chores had taken over. School work fell to the side, and the most important thing in my life was getting my chores done. A teacher once identified me as a gifted child. My creativity was, in his words, “off the charts”. He said I had a beautiful mind, and lined me up to go to a gifted program in the summer. When I told my mother I was gifted, she said, “No you’re not. If you were gifted, you would do all your chores without being asked.”

School fell away and work took over everything, and I hated it. Loads of work had to be done before I could go to my friends’ houses. Severe punishments were given out for not getting the chores done when they were supposed to be, and all this time my work ethic was being soured. I soon hated all work, anything that could be halfway labeled as work. Hated school because it was work. I hated home because it was work. I hated being loaned out for things because it was work, and by the time I was out of the house, I loathed anything work related.

I entered the job market and excelled. Every place I worked, people said I was the fastest and the best worker they had. But that didn’t stop me from hating every moment of it. I did it because work is what a man does, but I hated my life. Every minute I was at work, I grew to resent. Every moment I was off was spent dreading my next shift.

When I got to college, I couldn’t stand the work of keeping up with classes. I was good at it, but grew to despise every facet of learning, even the subjects that I loved. I grew to regret every moment that I was writing. I couldn’t stop. But every word i scribbled in my comp books and journals was a torture for me. My work ethic had been completely destroyed and anything that took any effort at all filled me with the blackest hate that could be contained within my body.

I started writing novels. Not easy work. It was not something I could stop myself from doing. It was a deep desire biting down upon my mind and my body. My need to create was a crippling factor in my life. It locked me up and I needed to do it. But I dreaded it, even though to write fulfilled me in every way, the act of sitting down to do it pissed me off. So in 2010, when I decided I needed to take it all seriously and work toward the goal of publishing, I needed help getting past the worst of my burning rage at the thought of any kind of work. I went to my therapist and told him about this problem. I told him I needed help. My entire work ethic and way of looking at work needed an overhaul. I needed 19 years of training ripped out of me and I needed to be filled with the desire to get things done.

So we started chipping away at it. Every week, we examined another facet of work. Every week, we went over the emotions I had felt when writing that week. I wrote out a contract with him to work on my writing at last three times a week. Many people were fulfilled by their jobs. I was taught and work was not always a drudgery. Work could be life affirming. After the first two weeks, I was working every week day. Two thousand words of new content had to be produced in a day’s work. I wrote my first epic novel at this time. It was the first book in a trilogy. Looking out over the span of the book was terrifying. The sheer amount of work it would take to complete what I was starting was crippling. I stepped off into that project knowing I might never finish it, knowing that this might be the first true failure of my writing career. How could someone who hated work so much commit to a project that would take years to finish? I stepped out into it and it took a lot of courage to do so. That book was called Eastgate. It was the first in the Tribes of the Mountain series, which was supposed to be three books long, each book averaging about 800 pages. What it turned into was a series of seven epic-length books that has not yet seen its end. I have written five of those books. I have started three other big series projects since. These books all weave into a tale that will take 21 books in the telling, every one of them related to the next, every one of them dependent on the others. I project this telling will be done by 2018. When that is done, if I publish my first book in 2016, and publish the rest at a pace of one book a year from that moment forward, I will not have to write a new book until 2040. My life will consist of revising work that has already been done. But because of therapy and vision, I know that when this body of work is done in 2018, I will not be able to sit without creating something. Because work fulfills my life. It fills a void that used to contain angst and hate. Now all that remains there is drive and endurance. I have a new project planned for 2019. It is a little bigger than what I’m working on now. I’m thinking 25 or 30 books. At this rate I will not see all of my books go into publication before I die. I’m alright with that. As long as I never have to stop working.

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