SELF-IMAGE IS A FUNNY THING. I used to consider myself as being quite proficient at multitasking (pre-fatherhood, of course!), though as a male I’m not necessarily genetically predisposed to that particular skill set. Since the beginning of time, women have always had the ability to juggle a number of tasks simultaneously: feeding the baby, stirring the spaghetti sauce, clubbing invaders and saber-toothed tigers, texting, slamming the door on the brush salesman and answering the phone. And, on top of it, doing all those things with finesse and glam-oor.
It’s not that I’m incapable of multitasking, it’s just that it seems incompatible with Attention Deficit Disorder and raising a family. Or maybe updating my Facebook status and picking my nose at the same time doesn’t exactly qualify as multitasking in the first place!
The truth is, and it pains me to admit it, I have the attention span of a squirrel, that with normal things is about one second and about four minutes on acorns and nuts. This explains why I need to do many things at once in order to at least finish one. It’s what I call the Morris Theory of Do Lots of Things and Maybe You’ll Finish One If You’re Lucky. I suppose that explains my moderate success in raising my children, and dogs, working two (or more) jobs at a time and my simultaneous writing projects. I used to joke about wanting to have two wives which, for some reason, doesn’t seem funny to me anymore (maybe that’s because it wasn’t funny in the first place…).
All of this is leading up to the bigger issue of why it’s taking me so long getting down (and staying down) to some serious writing. One reason being that I’m stuck on the idea that my writing is mediocre (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), and another is that I always have great excuses for not writing (kids, dogs and housekeeping, to name a few). But while those excuses may earn me compassion from friends and family members, it’s starting to get old and I’m quickly beginning to tire of the same old blah blah blah about why I can’t seem to just get on with it.
More and more I’m learning to multitask, especially with my domestic and family responsibilities, but it takes a great deal of effort and concentration. It’s a matter of thinking like a caveman, worrying that while I’m doing the dishes, cooking and preparing the baby’s bottle a saber-toothed tiger might crash through the garden window and make off with one of Wendy’s fresh-baked pies (heaven forbid!). I need to have my club nearby because no one, or nothing, is running off with my pie. Now if I could only be as serious with my writing as I am about pie, who knows what I could accomplish…
(This post was originally published on July 24, 2009.)
COWS ARE AMAZING ANIMALS. Beautiful, serene, patient, focused and disciplined. I should have been born a cow—at least to have been able to satisfy my professional ambition of being a writer. I’m actually quite surprised that more cows haven’t chosen this line of work as they are quite suited for it.
So what is it about cows? Grazing, chewing, standing, passing long hours with saint-like grace and patience—here a moo, there a moo, every now and then a moo-moo—and for very little compensation.
Had I the focus, determination and discipline of a cow, I could imagine Paul Auster sitting in bed with Siri on a Sunday morning reading Janet Maslin’s brilliant review of my latest novel in The New York Times and turning to his wife to say, “Usatinsky’s done it again. The bastard’s 16 years younger than I am and has published twice as many novels as I have and written more screenplays than me and Mamet put together. And listen to this, Maslin writes about how ‘writers like Paul Auster and Philip Roth have inspired Usatinsky to achieve an even greater level of commercial success than his literary mentors.’ Literary mentors?! How do you like that? I don’t know how he does it, how one writer can produce so much material. He’s like a cow, just grazing all day, up and down the pastures, head down, determined, unstoppable.” Siri looks at her husband as he continues to shake his head while reading the review, “Would you pass me the Sunday Style section Paul darling.”
I suppose what makes cows—and Paul Auster—successful in what they do is that they have been able to adopt a tried and true strategy, and that’s the key to success. That is where my shortcomings lie in that I constantly fail in my quests to devise methods or viable strategies leading me to focus fervently on my writing. At best, my work trickles out. And it’s certainly not due to a lack of ideas. You know the old saying, “if I had a nickel for every good idea I’ve come up with I’d be a millionaire.” Well that’s me, lots of good ideas and short on follow through. And it’s certainly not due to lack of motivation: eating is nice.
Perhaps what I’m lacking all boils down to maturity. It may inevitably be a result of my childish musings that I still—even at 46—ponder the question: what do I want to be when I grow up?
Being a writer seems to be a good profession. Look what it’s done for Auster and Roth and Mamet and Irving. On the other hand, being a cow seems a lot simpler—and maybe even a bit more practical. I mean, have you ever known a cow to get a bad review in The New York Times…?
(This post was originally published on November 9, 2009.)