Discover more from By the Book: Jamie McGarry at Valley Press
Reflections on a disrupted week
or "Autism, Part 3: The Musical"
This post is partly a follow-up to the autism duology in August – in which I talked about my diagnosis and symptoms – and also to last week’s Readers’ Questions, in which I mentioned disruptions were getting in the way of an epic ‘to-do’ list. There will be almost zero publishing content today, so consider yourself warned; I won’t judge you if you decide to bail out now!
In the past seven days I have:
Composed two blog posts (if you include this one).
Completed the editing of a 5,700-word poetry typescript (a “publishing services” job which has taken all month; thank you to that client for their patience and wonderful poems).
Got very close to my final decisions re: the September submissions window (but I haven’t told anyone yet – that’s the next job, expect to hear soon!)
Negotiated and secured a £2k “publishing services” project for the new year.
Fulfilled a few big book orders (well, I helped, anyway).
Sounds pretty impressive, right? But hold on – you’ll recall I had literally hundreds of other things to do besides those, so as a result, my inbox is full of disappointed people who were expecting progress on various fronts. I did my best, but still; it sucks.
So why didn’t I do more? Because the following also happened:
Due to travel disruptions, a day visitor turned into an overnight guest; they were entirely well-behaved, of course, but that was the first significant deviation from my normal weekly routine.
Next, there was some uncertainty involving my son’s schedule, which is inextricably linked to mine; and though it was a false alarm (for now), the uncertainty alone was enough to do some harm. (It also happened to be his “parents’ evening” this week, which takes some considerable reserves of willpower to do justice to.)
For no good reason, my small TV, mounted on the wall, fell off – creating a massive hole in the plaster. (This actually happened the previous week, but it’s an ongoing concern. Current status: have texted a photo to a handyman. The TV itself was fine.)
My washer/dryer broke down, forcing me to arrange a repair man (who frowned at it and removed rusty parts for a half hour until deciding we’d need a new one), arrange delivery of the new one (we live on the sixth floor, with no lift, so you can imagine the complaints from the father-and-son delivery men) – which then didn’t work, so I had to arrange a plumber to check the water supply, then carefully examine the manual before completing my first successful cycle.
None of these things was a real challenge, or took up any significant time; but as a whole, they were enough to cause what’s known as a mental “shutdown”. Talking of “successful cycles” – it was as if I had been biking on a perfectly smooth, even path of my own creation (i.e. my usual schedule), then suddenly the track ran out, I zoomed into the wilderness, and was duly thrown over the handlebars. The result was that I could only manage four hours of useful work between Monday and Friday, two of which I used to shakily write that last blog post. Most of the achievements in that first list were squeezed into the weekend; but they only truly amounted to twelve pages of editing, six emails, a lot of reading and some extended pondering.
All in all, a pretty poor week; and before the sterner readers roll their eyes and call me a “snowflake”, a reminder that I’m entirely self-employed, without any external funding. If there are four weeks in a month, and one of them is written off, with it goes 25% of my income. Being unproductive is an existential threat in my case, so I would not do so lightly, much less willingly – and as it happens, we’re now heading into my son’s half-term holiday, likely to be another unproductive muddle (albeit slightly jollier). Of course, the anxiety caused by a lack of productivity can be a major disruptive influence in itself; it’s a vicious circle.
I believe this “shutdown” to be a symptom of autism. Thanks to my carefully-arranged, self-determined lifestyle, my variety of autism (what used to be called “high-functioning”) is almost invisible forty-eight weeks a year, when I'm in my element and things are going well – that's why half the people I originally told thought the diagnosis was a load of old nonsense. When there’s a one-off disruption, it’s absolutely fine, as I am on a roll from the preceding string of normal days; but when the third and fourth surprises arrive in close succession, off come the wheels, and there’s very little publishing getting done. In short: to work my usual magic, I need stability.
Besides those four productive hours (and parents’ evening), the one remotely constructive thing I could manage was to sit at the piano and write a song, which as I revealed in the last post, is something of a regular habit. It’s almost more of a coping mechanism than a hobby; as I wrote in the second autism post, music puts emotions in a “stable, repeatable and examinable state [to] be unpacked and understood at my leisure”, so when thrown off kilter, it’s the first thing I reach for. (I do dabble almost every day though, whatever’s happening; usually just before I go to sleep.)
The difference on this occasion was that, provoked by last week’s Q&A, I pushed on and produced something tangible from the enforced downtime. I had asked blog readers if I should share a song, and the results of the poll were somewhat clear – though whenever I look at the post, it says 94% yes from one vote, presumably from a lone, slightly undecided individual..? (Is anyone else seeing that?)
In any case, the poll provided enough of a push to share the song I wrote last week – which, ironically, is about writing songs and keeping them to yourself – and make more than the usual effort with it. As I mentioned, they don’t usually develop beyond lyrics and vague chords in a notebook, but sometimes I do record a simple version on my phone. Here’s a poor-quality “demo” of the track, eventually titled ‘I Work on a Song’:
I’m sharing that version so you know it’s really me; as you can hear, singing is not one of my talents, despite 30+ years of regular practice. However, since this is a special occasion (and maybe a one-off), I took a few hours at the weekend to properly arrange the song with more instruments, and asked a friend who can sing to take over the main vocal. (They agreed, on condition of anonymity, and did a marvellous job.)
Here’s the final result:
Hope that brings you a smile! Even though I wrote it in a time of anxiety, as with most of my creations, the music has ended up irrepressibly jolly. (I grew up listening to bands like The Beautiful South, who combined jaunty arrangements with miserable lyrics.) My songs are almost always a commentary on what’s on my mind that particular week, but the issues get mixed up, so the lyrics end up being just a step or two away from making literal sense. (I deliberately worked to make this one semi-respectable; they usually fall clearly into the genre of “outsider art”.)
So anyway, that’s that. We can put the whole issue of music back in the cupboard for now, perhaps to be revisited when my main blog project – teaching you everything you need to know about publishing – is done and dusted. Meanwhile, I’m back to full working order… just in time for half term, with a new Lego set to open and, at some point, 400 submission replies to send (mostly with the same wording, fortunately). I’ll see you on the other side!