computer not optional.

We all consider certain things in our life as not optional. Sleep. Sleep is not optional. Food. Food is not optional. I’ve just added something to my list of not optional: computer.

My computer has been at the great Apple Repair Store in the Netherworld of Sent-Away. For. Days. DAYS. Okay, I thought, this is no big deal. I was wrong. 

Since being in an MFA program in writing, time on the computer has become intense, to say the least. Between writing for the MFA and my job online (writing courses and teaching “live”) my eye doctor and I figured out that I spend an average of 10 hours a day with my face in a computer screen. (I broke some kind of record for him.)

Before you think me weird, I do have a life. It begins at 5:30 with a chunk of writing, is shifted to kids in the middle, and is then mixed with kids and writing, often until wee hours. We do fun things. We eat meals together. We discuss Tony Robbins, Dale Carnegie, and Jesus Christ between algebra and biology and Mavis Beacon typing. We drive to dance studios, where I sit and correct papers and write courses while they sweat and grin. We even watch The Voice religiously together (when it’s on). But the truth remains: The computer is attached to me for many hours.

So I’ve asked myself, in this uninvited hiatus from the computer: Am I missing anything? Can I do it any differently? 

I mean, I saw The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I saw Sean Penn pull away from his camera and give up the coveted ghost-cat picture. Is my keyboard and screen like his camera lens?

Yes and no.

The MFA will finish. But there will always be the next book to write.
The class will end. But there will be the next course to teach.
Email will not go away. (It can’t. It’s how I communicate with bosses and jobs.)

The yes: I suspect that there’s a shift in the wind. Ghost-cat-experience moments are on the radar now. Becoming more important. Being without the computer did that.

The no: Life as a writer is life in the screen. It’s part of me — so much a part of me, that the synapses are connected from the brain to the hands to the fingers on the keys. You writers know what I’m talking about. Artists know what I’m talking about (it’s the pencil in the fingertips and the brush in the palm). Musicians know what I’m talking about (it’s the instrument in the hand). The tools of the trade become an extension of us.

But they don’t become us.

Recognize the non-optional parts of our craft. And now and then, pull away from the lens.



  1. Hello Erin,

    I can see where you are coming from. I am a visual artist about to begin on my own MFA in Illustration. After over 20 years as a teacher in Asia, and coming back to the USA, I see a need in the American Education system that I can fill. So, my focus will be children’s book illustration. I see where the balance between what is optional and what is not is a reality that one can lose control of. Steven Covey’s The 7 Habits talks about this in his Time Matrix Management Matrix.

    A big aspect of this balancing act is not losing focus on the creative path, and not losing the spirit that drives the creative path. Finding a way to experience inner silence is a necessity to me. How you deal with the tsunami of time drainers?

    Anthony Emmolo

    • Anthony,

      Thanks for the note — sounds like you’ve had some adventures (always fun) — and Bravo for the MFA! For me, it’s a challenge to fit it all in, but it’s so worth it. I’m sure you’ll find the same.

      I know Covey well (I used to teach leadership and management at the college level, and we used quite a bit of his work in the intro classes, as well as in a wellness class). There are a bunch of cool tools for us, as artists, to use (Covey, Robbins, etc. — shoot, they’re cool tools for everyone!). I believe that artists of any kind need to learn the tools and guard, measure, and mete out our time, in order to protect the craft.

      I completely agree with nurturing the spirit, particularly in the face of tsunami time drainers (love your word picture) :).

      How do I deal? Lots of ways. As you’ve hinted at in your post, I believe that there are two categories that challenge us: 1) how to deal with making sure that we have inner energy and 2) how to deal with making sure the schedule doesn’t overtake us.

      Here are my personal guidelines:
      * I’m super protective of my health. Health = energy. I do all the “healthy things” like juicing, clean and lean eating, etc. It’s a lifestyle.
      * I prioritize daily, beginning with thinking about daily schedules the night before. That lets my brain process and think through what’s coming, while sleeping. (There are some cool studies on how the brain works at night 🙂
      * Though I’ve been a proponent of prayer for years, my newest inner silence time is a short but meaningful meditation time every morning (first), followed by prayer. Very centering. Calming. My motto: Great strength comes from great faith.
      * You’ll like this one: Often, to renew, I paint. Check out “Celtwynd” on Etsy :). Though painting has been for myself for years, I was encouraged to open the site, as well as putting paintings in local coffee shops. Very fun to return to my roots of physical art. And it’s great how certain things (like painting) actually feed us, not drain us (it makes my writing time more productive).
      * Finally, I have a tight but manageable schedule. Yes, there’s margin in the schedule (see Richard Swenson’s book, Margin). But, for the most part, I know what I’m doing when. Scheduling writing time is an absolute must. Then scheduling “homework” in the MFA is in there…and scheduling work…and even scheduling time with kids. I look forward to a day when the schedule is not as guided, but for now, it works.

      Whoa. This turned into a post. (ha)

      I appreciate your questions and would love to hear back on what you do, as well. After all, we’re in this together.

      * Thup

      • Oh, and PS. I love your work and encourage anyone reading this to check out Anthony’s site and blog. Though I’m nowhere near your level of skill, Anthony, lest you think I’m a complete hack in visual art, the Celtwynd shop is only for the freeing abstract part of what I do, opening myself up to story. (Creativity breeds creativity, I say.) I’m actually classically trained, and my pencil work (not on the site) is realism. So, hey. Take the pages with a a shaker of salt, lol. Again, love your work.

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