Recently, I’ve handed in a new project and am looking up from my desk, blinking, taking care of the masses of errands, responsibilities that always pile up and languish when I’m immersed in a manuscript. Some of these are purely domestic–camp decisions, electricians, curtain rods–which, I will admit, bring me a lot of pleasure when I am feeling lighter, and less burdened with deadlines.

But I’ve also been shooting e-mails to people around what I would call my ‘civic’ life–two groups that impact the community I live in; a blood donor drive; organizing a cohort of parents for potential study abroad programs for our children. This is the part of me that belongs and joins, and I must admit, I have always been highly inconsistent in this regard. I have bursts of intense, almost executive energy, and then I withdraw into the personal cocoon of my own writing and creating.

I think most artists are torn about how much to give to our civic life. In a way, art is a selfish act. You block out the rest of the world, and only what is right in front of you matters. In fact, when I am deep into a project, I am suspicious of any demand on my time, and regard most activities as a dilution of my real calling. As well, since part of what I do is give public talks and readings, that feels like yet another heavy demand–one I enjoy and appreciate–but which can drain me and leave me rattled. I’ve also watched marvelously creative people diffuse themselves needlessly, and never get that manuscript done.

And yet, some part of me craves something of a civic life, and has real ideas about what what needs to be changed. I admire the people who are far more energetic in this regard–those who serve on boards, volunteer, coach teams, join groups. But I could never be that consistent. Is it good enough to swoop in now and then? How do other writers and artists create this balance between their private and public selves?