I failed at NaNoWriMo this year.

There’s a lot of reasons I failed. I failed because I started this project while my mother is in a skilled nursing facility on the diagonally-opposite side of the country from me, suffering from several medical issues, so I have been flying back and forth a lot. I now blog professionally for a living, so once I’m done writing about things for my job, I find I have less brain power to write the things I do want to write. I felt guilty taking even more attention away from my solo performance, which has been languishing for months. I’ve been writing a lot of emails to medical administrative types to get my mother’s eventual move and treatment on the West Coast figured out. When I’m not doing something related to my work or my mother, I find that I have no brain power left at all, and all I want to do is marathon “Star Trek” or play “Skyrim.”

I knew I was going to be up against some challenges (to say the least) in November, but I wanted to guilt-trip myself with NaNoWriMo anyway. Why? Why, with all the emotional and mental stress I have been dealing with since my mother’s diagnosis, would I possibly think it would be a good idea to take on a 50,000-word challenge?

Because I needed to have a commitment. I failed at that commitment, and I feel bad about it. But I needed to commit myself to my creativity and my life. As I take on more and more responsibility for my ailing mother, I watch the fine strands of the life I wove for myself in Seattle unraveling, turning to cobwebs, and blowing away in the wind. In the coming years, it will be very easy for me to forget that I had long-term plans for myself, once. I wanted to finish my solo performance this year and take it on tour next year – which won’t happen, now. I wanted to pour lots of time and energy into this physical theatre company I work for, because they do awesome work and I want to be more involved creatively – I don’t think I will have to give them up, but I will have to scale back the artistic commitment I intended to make. I wanted to write more creatively, but I haven’t found the balance for that and holding my mother’s hand while she mourns the loss of her own life. That balance might not exist.

It was important for me to jump on the bandwagon of NaNoWriMo because I did get some writing done. Only 7,000 words, granted, but I did get guilt-tripped while I was waiting in airports, and struggling with insomnia late at night. I did get a structure of a plot hashed out, and I think I can continue it. I did not forget what I want to do with myself. I will probably be involved in the Editing Month – more likely for NaPlWriMo than NaNoWriMo, but theatre is my focus anyway.

When you take on the title “caretaker” for an ailing parent, the number one piece of advice that everyone gives you is “Be kind to yourself.” This is a Sisyphean task. You want to be there for the family member, but all the complexity of your relationship, all the weight of watching this person physically and mentally fall apart, makes that hard. So you go do something for yourself, and you feel so guilty that you are not there with your relative that you can’t enjoy yourself. The boulder runs you over. You return to the valley to push it back up the hill, in shambles. Soon, doing anything other than feeling sorry for yourself seems impossible. Motivating beyond “get out of bed, go to hospital” hurts. It is crucial to make sure your relative eats, but eating meals yourself … well, it doesn’t happen. Spending an evening with a friend might happen, but spending an evening alone with your own thoughts is impossible. Looking to the future is too painful, so career plans fall by the way-side. Life is irreparably different, and it doesn’t seem like anything can be salvaged.

It feels like an impossible task, but it is important to force yourself past that.

So I feel both thankful that I participated this year, sad it’s over, and crappy that I didn’t do better. But challenging things are always worth doing, whether it is caring for my mother, getting over my insecurity, or believing that my creative instinct is worth indulging in.

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