Letter to my Unfinished Manuscript

Vanessa Mei Crofskey writes a letter to their unwritten manuscript, and dwells on the way Western notions of time, plus the pandemic, have affected their relationship to productivity and success.

Dear unrealised idea for a manuscript,

I’m sorry I haven’t written to you yet. A lot has come up. Years, in fact.

I have a lot of excuses as to why I don’t spend much time with you, even though my younger, more ambitious self would expect you to already be written by now. To be fair, there are other elements of my life that have surprised me by just passing by. I don’t own a car, for instance, and I don’t know how to drive – like I expected to just get it over with and have learnt by now. Unlike my more fashionable peers, I never purchased an NYT Cooking subscription over lockdown, meaning I haven’t learnt how to cook more than the ten recipes I basically rotate from. I’ve never learnt to speak Mandarin to the point where I could meaningfully converse with my grandparents. I have a gym membership but infrequent rates of attendance; I don’t wake up early to maintain a daily practice of journaling; nor do I sincerely play a sport or a musical instrument. I keep in touch less and less with my overseas friends, especially when life gets busy. Life always seems to get busy. Life is full to the brim.

Life is full to the brim, and I have cultivated an accidental nicotine addiction.

Life is full to the brim, and I have cultivated an accidental nicotine addiction. Then again, I never anticipated the invention of peach-ice-flavoured vapes, or that working life would be so fucken taxing. I play video games until three in the morning, switch inboxes over my lunch break, and reach for excuses as to why I have done nothing about my several unrealised ideas for a manuscript. Either life went wrong from the moment of the industrial revolution, or maybe I possess a demon of a victim complex.

In one of his Learn to Write Good classes, Dominic Hoey told me that if I wanted to get better at writing, I should write every day. It’s good advice that I didn't take. ‘Should’ is a word I heard an aggravating lot of as a child, from my mother in particular. For my family, ‘should’ ranges from mundane to philosophical applications, for example:

i) I should have taken the washing back inside when the clouds were gathering, and not when fat drops started to pitter-patter on the windowsill.

ii) Should I have done anything differently when raising you kids?

My mum asks me this on the beach, all windswept and forlorn in a supposedly festive season, and I have nothing encouraging to say to her. 'Should' is a pointless pursuit in the past tense with no bearing on the present.

In an On Being podcast episode titled ‘Time Management for Mortals’, journalist and author Oliver Burkeman speaks to host Krista Tippett on the notably modern, notably Western idea of time being seen as a resource to control. The idea that we can control time causes us to have an uneven relationship with it, to feel like time is capable of being ‘wasted’. As if we don’t just have each moment, present to present.

“And this is where”, he says, “you walk into time management, but you actually unfold that this is about the meaning of our lives. Our lives are as much made by the things we couldn’t plan for, and didn’t see coming. In order to live fully and in a more gracious way with time, we actually have to forgo not just things that we don’t want to do – but things that we’d actually like to do, because you have to make choices about what matters, and the choice will be made for us regardless.”

Imo the best part of the first proper lockdown was that I never worried about achieving jack shit, I just let myself get stoned and cocoon in my duvet for weeks on end. I made no vital decisions about my life. No plans for the future. I just lay in bed.

It’s now 2022, and the world has reopened. I actively resent it. I remain cocooned, and scroll through my friends’ feeds: Houston, Paris, London, Mexico, Vietnam, Brisbane. Another day passes. I wake up at 10:30, then 11am, and lay my head to rest in the bed of my own decisions.

I think about the way Covid-19 has fundamentally shifted our expectations of life, how the world completely changed its tempo, then everything restarted with incredible gusto. It’s as if capitalistic superstructures clocked straight back in and made us all feel terrible for sitting around, for all those years we had ostensibly ‘wasted’. But were they really a waste? Nowadays I see my creative friends push out projects faster than they receive invoices. It’s as if we all feel we have to make up for something we have lost, as if time is something that could ever be wasted, or ever be regained.

“I wish you could read this the way I wrote this, with days between the lines.”

Some years ago, I heard this statement at the Poetry and the Essay conference organised by Victoria University of Wellington. I continue to hear it, even now, though I’ve got no idea who to credit. There are days between these lines, years between others.

Instead of writing my manuscript, I watch a Harry Styles music video. He croons “Gravity is holding me back” and I am unexpectedly stirred by the sentiment. Cuz what does gravity know about the decision to publish a book, have a baby, stay home, or go travelling? What the fuck does gravity know about manifesting? Life is already full enough without the additional migraine about whether I’m getting the most out of my ride.

To finish this letter to my unwritten manuscript, to my humblest collection of little notes in my phone, I open a passage at random from the book Motherhood, by Sheila Heti. Whenever I feel stuck, like wtf am I doing, reading has always given me guidance.

“I asked [the psychic]”, Heti writes, “how long it would take me to finish this book, and she closed her eyes and asked God, and the answer was that I would write it in days and weeks and months and years”.

This letter was originally commissioned and performed by the author for the ‘In Your Dreams: Letters Aloud’ Salon, with the provided theme ‘Letter to My Unfulfilled Idea’, produced by Pirate and Queen with The Spinoff. The text has since been revised for publishing.

L to R: Guest speakers Dr. Becky Kiddle, Vanessa Mei Crofskey, Alex Casey, Dr. Hirini Kaa, Courtney Johnston and host Claire Mabey. Photo by Rebecca McMillan.

Upcoming Salon events:

In Your Dreams: Letter to the Future
31 August
Meow, Wellington

In Your Dreams: Letter to the Climate
28 September

In Your Dreams: Letter to the Best Thing I've Ever Done
26 October

Header image by Rebecca McMillan

This piece is featured as part of Issue 06: Vibe Shift, guest-edited by Tayi Tibble. Click here to read more essays in the series.

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The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

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