Juggling

Sunday Letter | #344

Still cloud in blue sky, trees speeding by.
Along M-72 near Grayling, MI

While working on revisions this week I wrote the following in the voice of a character:

I feel like I’m trying to juggle five balls in the air at once. Every time I focus on one of them, I stop paying enough attention to the others. How do people do it—keep all those balls in the air?

When I read it over the next day, it struck me as maybe too on the nose—too self-aware for that character. Then, I realized, it was probably less descriptive of how the character was feeling than how I myself was feeling, trying to juggle different plot threads and character arcs, and also trying to juggle revisions amid house emergencies, relationships, planned travel, health and self-care, etc. etc.

In self-helpy texts, I’ve seen the various aspects of one’s life represented as spokes on a wheel. It’s not enough to focus on improving one area, it goes, without also working on the others; a wheel with one extra-long spoke is a wobbly one. There’s legitimate insight there for sure—in that health, finances, love, relationships are all interconnected. It can be hard to make time for exercise if you’re stressed out about being able to make rent, and vice versa. But I do not recall seeing, in these same self-helpy texts, an approach to balance other than ruthless hard work and prioritization—a kind of serial hyperfocus that seems prone toward burnout.

I wondered what advice I’d have for my eleven-year-old character who was trying to juggle his family obligations, his school and extracurriculars, and his burgeoning (as well as falling-apart) friendships. What I would tell him is that instead of focusing on the outcomes for each area of his life, he could live with honesty and presence. He could own up to his mistakes and broken promises, and speak and act his truth. Maybe, in terms of actual juggling, it would be to focus more on the throws, as opposed to the catches.

Like I said: probably cutting room floor material for this character, this book. But a kind of therapy, for this writer.