Tag: Workaholism



We were supposed to have Wi-Fi. It was one of the two features I insisted on for last week’s vacation rental. Number one was a parking spot—every car deserves at least a fighting chance of surviving Naples intact—and number two was connection with the outside world. I know it’s healthy to unplug every once in a while, but I’ve learned a few things about myself and isolation over the years, and… well, let me just turn you over to the post I wrote last Monday. In light of the following seven Wi-Fi-less days, I’m titling it Irony.


Monday, April 02, 2012

Late-afternoon sunbeams sprawl through the open doorway and across my toes, painted a sugared lavender in honor of these first barefoot days. I’m starting to think, however, that I should have gone with orange. It’s everywhere in this Neapolitan villa—tangerine curtains, sunburst floors, goldfish prints swimming across mango walls—and I wish I were unabashed enough to do the same in our own home. This color, it’s the only invitation I need to waltz wholemindedly into Easter break.

Orange in Naples

In the absence of orange Neapolitan villas, I’m notoriously bad at vacation. This will come as no surprise to any of you, but it’s easier for me to leave my toothpaste than my productivity complex back at home. Even my usual blogging hiatus turns into a form of obligation, a must carpe every damn diem teethgrit no matter how far behind my self-awareness starts to lag. So this, lounging in tandem with the sunlight and letting my fingers stretch long on the keys, is my highest form of rebellion for the week.

Our vacation rental is nestled in a maze of farm roads on the slopes of Vesuvius, and from the living room sofa, I can see past the tips of lightly fuzzing peach trees and across the rooftops of Naples to where ships weave silver tracks in the bay. We’re high above clamor and hurry, time trilled away by birds flitting through a bower of wisteria blossoms just off the terrace. I never thought I could feel so completely relaxed in a city whose streets jolt the afterlife in and out of focus, but here I am. Purring.

 Room with a view


Oh yes, there is more to come. See you tomorrow, same time, same place?

P.S. – It’s crazy good to be back.



This is when I know it’s an addiction—when I haven’t read a bedtime story to my girls in a week, when a friend leaves a voice mail after an email after a text message and then waylays my husband to make sure I’m okay, when I start thinking up next week’s grocery list on a Monday and run instead of walk to find a pen. My drug is accomplishment. It always has been, from the impossible checklists of my childhood to the precarious tower of college jobs, and like any chemical-inflamed dependence, it hollows out my living appetite.

Some wild-eyed part of my brain insists that when I can no longer find a single loose end to wrap up, not a single other must or should, my craving for accomplishment will finally be satisfied. However, I’ve watched through the keyhole as my own mind invents responsibilities, and I know the truth—that I crave the hunger more than I crave its end.

It’s a sobering realization that I can’t just… stop. Not without some iron-clad justification—six hours until sunrise, a waiting room lull—and even then, I only grant a temporary concession. I wake up in the morning pre-tired. I have woken up nearly every morning of my life this way.

No need to tell me that the valuable moments of life are the slow-cooked ones, the savoring of time with loved ones, the meditation melting on my tongue. I have known transcendence, but never in the scurry. It’s only when I’m still that the important unblurs. This blog owes its existence to my need for reflection and refocus, but sometimes, weeks like the last one take over and I lose sight of soul-care in my scramble to do more, always more, just one thing more and maybe it will finally feel like enough. I medicate the endless gnawing with my dust cloth.

Right now, sitting here honestly with you brings on the shaking effort of withdrawal. I can see every spill on the kitchen floor, every unfiled paper on my desk, and every shaded block on the calendar all at once, and they wage a trembling tug-of-war against gravity. My coffee is just strong enough to keep me in my seat as I fight myself on two opposing fronts. It’s every kind of unsettling.

But oh, I can feel it’s good. Deliberately refusing my compulsion to hurry and accomplish, choosing instead to stop and write and reorient, pushing back my panic at the ticking of the clock, ducking outside for a tryst with the cherry blossoms… this is my rehabilitation. It’s not easy, but it’s good, and I’m powering through the withdrawal this morning because being here does what grasping for accomplishment never can: It fills.


Above Expectations

My first reaction to sleeping in this morning was anger at myself. I feel like I’ve had enough post-trip adjustment time, and I had stored up big plans for this week, big deadlines with equally big hopes, big expectations of myself. Prying my groggy limbs off the mattress at 9:30 this morning? Not part of said expectations.

My frustration continued as I scrambled eggs for a family breakfast, fuming all the while at the steady ticking of time and my own weakness against it. But then, probably certainly thanks to the sanity-sparking effects of coffee and an unhurried chat with my husband, the truth began to dawn on me—this is what I had been so afraid of wanting.

During our time in the States, I let my boss know I wouldn’t be returning to work. There were a variety of reasons why I couldn’t continue at my teaching job, but it was still an extremely hard call for me to make. With Dan freelancing now, mine was the only guaranteed source of income, and I surprised myself by how reluctant I was to let go of that security blanket… even if it was only the size of a handkerchief.

Our lives needed some major changes for the new year, and even though leaving my job was a clear step, I had to do a lot of soul-searching before I found the courage to turn my resignation in. What finally convinced me were the guiding values I wrote about here: flexibility, generosity, authenticity, beauty, courage, creativity, community, intention, art. It would take every one of these to make it in an all-freelance, all-the-time household, and I was terrified of what could happen. But at the same time, my soul began to soar every time I imagined unrushed days with the freedom to let my fingers loose on the keys and opportunities to love well.

Days pretty much exactly like today.

 Freelancing(It’s hard to stay frustrated when you’re soaring.)



Frequent Over-Analyzer Miles

Vacations are always tricky terrain for me. My overly analytical brain drives itself dizzy reminding me that I need to make every moment count but that I shouldn’t lose myself in the process but that I shouldn’t take precious time away from family to recharge but that I shouldn’t neglect my writing but that I should be out living so that I’ll actually have new writing material but that I need to take care of my introverted soul so that I can enjoy these moments I’m living but that it’s selfish to claim time for myself when we have such limited opportunities to spend with the people and places we came to see but, but, but, but, but. Basically, there’s no winning this one. (Anyone else get way on trips? Please say yes.)

Last week was especially intense, and as we’re gearing up for another stretch of absolute insanity—which will hope-beyond-hope land us all back in Italy together—I’m trying to figure out how to process all of it in triple time. My working strategy involves a little bit of running and a whole lot of peanut butter M&Ms. Other suggestions welcome, though I can’t promise restraint when it comes to M&Ms.

The jury is still out on whether or not my mental processing methods work, but one aspect of this trip stands out in my mind in stunning detail. All of the upheaval and impossibility and hair-pulling bureaucratic situations we’ve faced over the last few weeks have made the perfect backdrop for divine intervention. We’ve been racking up miracles like frequent flyer miles over here, and it’s the best possible way to start this year—assured in my own heart, for whatever it’s worth, that we’re not alone.

It’s a good thing I feel this way because we still have some pretty big hurdles to clear before I can get on a European-bound plane. If I weren’t able to trust that everything will work out, I might end up resorting to self-medication. Scarfing down peanut butter M&Ms, for instance. Can you imagine?

Just ignore the arm sticking into it

(Don’t feel like you have to answer that last one.)


Power Down

(Photo from our misadventurous trip to Milan in October;
wouldn’t you love to just sit on the side and watch the water glimmer by?)

The trick is finding a way to be still. I could push myself beyond sleep, breathe coffee, prioritize like a woman running for her life. I could certainly find a way to do more. But my soul… It starves while I pour myself into other forms of survival, and my heart retreats, scared off by the panicky mess it knows is coming.

You would not believe how frustrating it can be to fall into soggy crumbles when I try to sustain productivity for any significant duration. Those times I am trying the hardest to move mountains are often the times I showcase my incapability, and how the hell did I hold down jobs and a scholarship GPA in college? (Answer: I was a decade younger. Also, unlimited coffee refills at the all-night IHOP.) I can feel the shutdown coming on when I try to power through another late-late night, and that’s when I know it’s time to shut off.

If you’re wondering why I haven’t replied to your emails or responded to your comments or kept up with your blogs or thanked you personally for supporting my book, please know that I’m not ignoring you. On the contrary, I’ve never been so reliant on or so appreciative of this gorgeous online community. However, I’m trying to balance out the runaway rush of life light now with moments of quiet, computer closed and mind unplugged. It’s the only way I can fall asleep these days and the only way I’m going to survive this month with body, heart, and soul intact.

So this is me signing off for the night. See you tomorrow? 


Now or Never

I am absolutely positive on this one point: I had no idea what Dan and I were getting into when we started this Kickstarter project. Of course, had I known, I would have waited for sometime when I had a month off work, excess energy, and aligned stars guaranteeing our success, which would have been never. There’s definitely something to be said for just squeezing your eyes shut and taking the plunge. Things get done that way.

But goodness. The past few weeks have taken an industrial-sized ice cream scoop to my insides and scraped up every last speck of energy. Every. single. day. Through the giddy fun of setting up our fundraising page, I failed to see that it would become our full-time job this month—managing websites, editing media, socializing, networking, writing, writing, writing, and asking people to exchange their hard-earned money for our dream. I don’t use the word “our” lightly, by the way; the only way this campaign has been possible on top of my teaching schedule has been sharing the load with my nerdy rockstar husband… who is also keeping up a day job. We haven’t been sleeping much.

If you want to know the truth, though, the most draining thing so far has been the emotional effort of all this hoping. I dearly want to see this gamble pay off, so every new minute sends me swinging between elation and despair. The hopeful calm in between feels as impossible as the $10,000 I’m asking for. I can’t help comparing my project to some of Kickstarter’s wild success stories and then slumping lower because I don’t have their thousands of Twitter followers or their corporate sponsorship or their professional video shoot. I know jealousy isn’t attractive, but this is me, real.

I want this book to happen. I want the chance to work from home this winter writing it. I want to be present for my little girls again instead of dashing off to work every day. I want to follow my creative impulses and devote my time to what gives me life rather than what saps it away. So many wants… yet the word itself makes me cringe at my own selfishness. Only the thinnest line has ever separated gratefulness and guilt for me.

However, I can’t agree to live without hope, without reaching toward what matters even when that hope feels undeserved. This book is part of a larger vision for our family, and dismissing the idea because of misplaced guilt would be like coating a kaleidoscope in concrete.  So we’re doing this now, knowing that the other option is never and clinging to color for all we’re worth.*

*Which we hope is at least $10,000.



The morning smothers. The sun, already high above our traditional November fog bank, filters down as a sickly and distorted parody of itself while familiar landmarks waver like shadows. My head feels no more stable than the ground shapeshifting below.

I finally cut back a bit on working hours. Dan had to convince me that it wasn’t worth losing myself to make a few extra euros, and he’s right, but now I find myself in a sort of No Man’s Land of perceived failure. I’m not available enough at work or present enough at home, and my contributions to our family’s wellbeing seem paltry at best. I don’t know how to find my niche through all this fog, my mind continually swirling in and out of focus. I hardly even know how to find my keys these days.

Even with a full morning off and strict instructions to myself to spend it tapping into the live feed from my heart to the keyboard, all I seem to be dredging up are flecks of rust. This time last year, I was working on a book I haven’t had time to touch since, and the comparison presses in more heavily than all the murky skies this week combined. I wince when I think of this dearly neglected little blog and the stories I would love to tell. Despite my neuroses over the word, I have to give time and importance to the writer in me or else… well, the previous two paragraphs give a pretty good idea of what happens.

And while I can keep my laptop closed and ignore away the blank-page aching, I can’t forget that I am still mother, wife, and friend. No space on the margins equals me treating loved ones like half-slots in my calendar, rushing through each thin patch of minutes because I can’t afford any other pace, and honestly, it leeches the color from all of our lives. This is the shadow-world of stress and overcommitment and lost perspective, of self-smothering and fog that stretches much, much farther than the eye can see.

If I had to pick my ideal life right now, it wouldn’t look so very different than the view from this comfy pomegranate sofa that coaches (couches? heh) most of my blog entries into existence. I would still choose this house with its tall windows and delicious ski lodge vibes. I would still choose this city-town with the tree-lined parks and chatty friends within walking distance. I would still choose these two exuberant little girls and this dream-chasing husband. Really, the only thing worth changing would be myself… from a harried shadow wraith to a human [learning] [creating] [enjoying] [loving] being.

I just have trouble believing that cutting back a bit on working hours is sufficient to blaze away this gloom.

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