Last night, I hung out with my sister in our Brooklyn apartment. We made dinner, finally caught up, and did our nails. Despite the fact that we live together, I see her the least. It may seem impossible–how can I live with someone and barely see them? Quite frankly, we’re hardly home. Between our work schedules, seeing our significant others, spending time with friends & family, and completing our own creative projects, I actually barely have time to relax by myself. I’ve always “known” how busy I make myself, how hard I push my body to “do everything,” whatever everything means, but I never fully realized how impossible “doing everything” is.
In the past few years, there have been countless, sleepless nights. Or nights where five hours of sleep seemed almost sufficient. Yet I would constantly wonder why I would feel tired midday, why I kept getting small colds, why I constantly felt irritable. It’s easy to blame irritation, lethargy, and sickness with the weather, PMS, a bad diet. Of course, these are all factors, but I somehow always overlooked my lack of sleep and constant feelings of guilt over not completing every internalized goal immediately, as being main culprits. In essence, I make myself crazy. I am my own worst enemy.
Lying on my bed, I realized how it’s okay if I don’t finish every item on my to-do list. (Yes, I make a new to-do list everyday.) I began to question why I constantly beat myself up for not being “productive” enough, why I feel the need to edit twenty-pages of poetry in one night, as opposed to five. I despise laziness, and perhaps in my diligence, I had become insecure. My insecurities over being perceived as unsuccessful, uninteresting, or not intellectually dynamic enough had become overwhelming.
As a woman and a poet, I especially feel the need to hone myself, not just my poems or my body. Instead of being asked about when I want to get married or if I want children, I want to be asked about my art. Perhaps, in this way, I have set outrageous goals.
Literature has long been a man’s game, and while women are competitive players, I sometimes still notice its strange inequalities. In graduate workshops while completing my MFA at Sarah Lawrence, other male students would say my writing was more geared toward women. Yet, I never heard a woman say: “Oh, I like your poetry, but it’s about men, so it’s hard for me to relate.” Comments such as that, even though they are harmless, have made one thing clear: writing about women still isn’t normalized as part of our literary canon. Thus, my mind decided I had to push myself harder, write more, sleep less.
As my sister came into my bedroom last night, while I complained about how tired I was, how I needed to edit, she said: “just let yourself relax. You’re always running around.” Finally, I realized it. Why can’t I just take a break, and let myself relax? Because, I realized, I don’t want to run myself into the ground, six feet deep.
Joanna C. Valente currently lives in Brooklyn, where she is a part-time mermaid. She received her MFA in poetry writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Some of her words can be found in decomP, Thrush Poetry Journal, La Fovea, The 22 Magazine, and other places. In 2010, she founded Yes, Poetry. Her ghost resides here. @joannasaid