Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Becoming Nocturnal

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I've had a lot of jobs in my life. Many of them have been great, and a few of them have been hilariously terrible. I've been a bank teller, a research assistant, a copy centre employee a/k/a xerox whisperer, the managing editor of two literary magazines, a cheesemonger, the events coordinator for an incredible bookstore, a high school english teacher, a writer in residence in a Catholic school, and a copy writer for a porn company. I've worked in office environments, classrooms, refrigerators and outdoors. I've had bosses who were wonderful and bosses I was convinced kept a chest freezer stuffed full of torsos in their apartment. I've had co-workers who would be my lifelong friends and one who I detested so much that I once hid her phone in a pumpkin.

I've been good at my jobs. I'm usually the one who is trusted with their own key first, who agrees to stay late to finish that weird task. I've been offered additional responsibilities and new job titles, extra hours and first pick of assignments. A couple of times I was let go when my job disappeared when funding dried up; usually, however, I have quit. There has always come a day, usually shortly after I have been offered a promotion, extra responsibilities, and a more integral role in the company, that I hand in my resignation.

Sometimes it has been due to a lingering, chronic illness that I can't seem to shake that is making me miserable. Sometimes terrible circumstances have caused me to have to give up, move, start anew. Sometimes it has been due to a string of panic attacks. Sometimes it has simply been because, despite the fact that I like my job and am good at it, I have broken down and wept at the thought of having to go in again.

It took me until I was 28 to realize that, although I am smart and competent and perfectly good at the tasks that make up jobs, and more than willing to take on responsibilities, I am not very good at having a job. Going to the same place every day wears me down, sits like a physical weight that is exhausting. When I have a job, I find myself going to bed earlier and earlier, accomplishing less and less, and yet forever feeling tired. 

For a long time, I thought I was being a wimp. I was spoiled by my years in academia, I thought, not having to keep a regular schedule; I was being a flightly weirdo; maybe I had mono or something. But finally, after banging my head against enough walls, it finally dawned on me: A job doesn't allow you to become nocturnal.

Every once in a while, I have to turn myself inside out, and see things from another angle. I need to shake up my brain and my routine. So, one day, I become inverted. Instead of getting up like I always do I'll sleep in late in the morning, take a long nap in the afternoon, wander around in a cocoon. Then, as evening hits, I'll feel a sudden surge of energy. I'll wake up, my morning now the night. Writing that would have been impossible early in the say is suddenly easy, liquid, natural. Sometimes it lasts a few days, or a week; sometimes I just need one night.

I have learned that being able to start my day at different times, to shake up my schedule, to spend the day dreaming and the night working every now and again, is deeply important for my health and well-being. I don't do well having to be at the same place at the same time ever day, for an appointed length of time. 

For a very long time I interpreted this fact about myself, this need for freedom in my schedule, as a weakness. So many people I know are capable of keeping full time jobs, many of them demanding, and creating beautiful work. So many people have no choice but to work, for debt or family responsibilities or the sheer refusal to live in a basement apartment at the edge of the city. But I need it; when I am able to start my work day at the times that are right for my body, I am infinitely more happy, peaceful, and productive. Occasionally becoming nocturnal is a way that I can be kind to myself, as a human and as a writer. 

Why am I sharing there here? Well, partly because this blog post is going up at 8:30pm on a Thursday, and I thought I would explain myself for not posting during online prime-time. But also because I think it is incredibly important for all creative people to explore, as much as their circumstances allow, exactly what ways, places, and modes of working are best for you. To see that, what you need to be at your best is not an indulgence, but a necessity and a kindness. That sometimes, putting on your night-vision goggles is just want you need to see a project through to the other side.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Natalie Zina Walschots

Natalie Zina Walschots is a music writer, poet and editor based in Toronto. She writes for a number of publications, both in print and online. Natalie's second book of poetry, DOOM: Love Poems For Supervillains, was published by Insomniac Press in the Spring of 2012.

Go to Natalie Zina Walschots’s Author Page