Five AM has always been a very worrisome time for me. For instance, there was a time in my life when I avoided the dentist like the plague, and in the wee hours of the morning I would find myself staring at the ceiling – or into the red of my digital alarm clock – worrying about my teeth falling out of my head. Whenever money was tight, I would worry about losing the house. When I drank and smoked regularly, five AM was a good time to worry about becoming a cancer-ridden cautionary tale to the friends who shared my habits. I would worry about the condition most of my organs, brain, kidneys, liver and stomach. I would worry about my memory and whether or not I had a case of early onset Alzheimer’s. If I had a twitchy muscle I would worry that it was Parkinson’s. In other words, saying I’m a little bit anxious is like saying the Niagara Falls boat ride, The Maid of the Mist, is a little bit moist.
Interesting thing about these pesky worries was that they would always evaporate within half hour of getting out of bed. One minute I would making toast, brooding over the inedible loss of my front teeth, and the next I would be as right as a sunny day. I had spent a more than I decade compartmentalizing my bad habits – drinking and smoking once a week, usually Fridays – and somehow I inadvertently managed to do the same for my anxieties.
But thanks to regular visits to the dentist, better money-management skills, and NOT being allowed near Ava (my nine-month old) after having a cigarette, most of these worries, and their causes have since receded.
Except for one that I can’t seem to shake.
It’s about time, and my inability to control it.
More specifically, it’s about having less and less time to achieve what I need to do.
OK, if you must know, it’s about being ever-closer to middle-age and thinking, every morning at – you guessed it – five AM: I’m thirty-eight and only a poet or I’m thirty-eight only a ESL instructor. If I’m feeling particularly cruel that morning, I think to myself I’m thirty-eight and only a daytime supply ESL instructor with a permanent night-time gig, but that one does take a lot of effort at the crack of dawn.
Of course, I do try to defend my career choice by telling myself that I’ve always needed something to pay the bills while allowing me to write, and as luck would have it, I’ve fallen into a career which I find very fulfilling, take pride in, enjoy thoroughly and – if I may toot my own horn – do very well at.
It then comes back to my writing. More specifically, my poetry. How much am I willing to gamble on even a moderate level of success/recognition? If you have a look at the bios in any anthology, quite a large number contain the phrase discovered posthumously. Now, I just want to stop right here and address the people who routinely say: Who cares about recognition? Just enjoy the act of creation!
To those people I would like propose that they burn all of their finished works right now. After all, if it’s just about the agony and ecstasy of artistic creation, then they should have no trouble putting a match to all of their finished artwork. Most would balk at the suggestion, demonstrating that in even the most idealistic of artists, there’s still a part of them that wants a little recognition for their effort, something that says I was here. I just happen to embrace that part more openly than others.
Of course, one of the drawbacks to embracing a demon is that tends to whisper in your ear at five AM. Which you can’t help but respond to. And in the end you have the equivalent of Gollum’s monologue going on in your head and you haven’t even gotten out of bed yet.
Or maybe that’s just me.
When you right down to it, this last remaining anxiety of mine is simply a matter of me not reaching the level of success I thought I would have reached by this time. I guess one way of looking at my predicament is that it’s a good thing to always expect better of yourself. Or at least that is what my online cognitive therapy avatar would tell me. But you know, I never cared much for those Pollyanna types anyways.
I have no choice. It looks as though, despite this last remaining persistent worry, I’ll just have to keep plugging away until my number comes up, or until 100 years from now, some crusty old critic discovers one of my poems in yellowed magazine, and thinks: meh, not bad, but what’s with all the kvetching?