Tag: Writing

19Feb

Anti-Survival Instincts

Yesterday, I poured myself into a writing project that drained every last bit of me out through my fingertips and left me as useful as an empty waterbed. I emerged from my computer around 5 p.m. to be on active mama duty, and let me tell you—the following three and a half hours until the girls were safely tucked into bed rivaled snowboard cross for difficulty. Every “Mo-om! out of their little mouths felt like someone ramming my board just before a jump. The fact that they expected to eat dinner sent me skidding. Our bedtime routine stretched from here to Russia. It. was. hard.

This is how things go when I’m tired; everything ramps up in intensity, and a wipeout is inevitable if I don’t let myself slow down. That’s the key, isn’t it? Slowing down? It sounds so simple here in the straight lines of a paragraph, but in the glorious mess of real life, slowing down runs exactly opposite to my instincts. Here’s what goes through my head when I feel fatigue start to drag at my reflexes: Oh no, I’m running on fumes. Better SPEED UP so I can get to the end sooner!

Yeah. Have I ever told you about my other anti-survival instincts? Like how my palms start to gush sweat if I even consider the human act of dangling from a precipice? Or how my fight-or-flight reflex could more accurately be called the curl-up-in-a-ball-and-forget-everything-but-the-lyrics-to-Bohemian-Rhapsody impulse? My instincts do me few favors when it comes to winning at life.

So yesterday evening, I sped up to reach the finish line faster, and it wasn’t pretty. Sure, I got the kitchen cleaned and the laundry put away and the allergy treatments administered and the children homeworked/fed/cleaned/pajamaed/storied, but I did it with a kind of urgent clumsiness that left the girls reeling and myself too tired even to sleep. (Irony at its most insomniac.) What I’m trying to say is that no one was particularly happy with the result.

Here at the starting gate of another exhausted day (see above re: ironic lack of sleep), I’m writing this down to cement some facts into my modus operandi:

  1. Daily life is not a competition… unless you’re on reality TV, which I am not nor ever shall be so help me God.
  2. Slow is good for the soul, especially when said soul is feeling drained.
  3. Putting down the frantic dishrag and curling up with my daughter is a two-way grace.
  4. I should probably consider hiring Bear Grylls to be my personal life coach, help balance out these unfortunate instincts a bit.

Wiping out in style
(Oh yeah, I could totally rock the snowboard cross.)

4Feb

When a Head Cold Leads to Paralysis

The cold virus I’ve been dodging for weeks closes with a snap around my brain one evening, and I know I’m in it for the long haul. It drags me to bed like a wolf with fresh prey, preferring to gnaw at me under the protective dark of blankets. Noise hurts. Light hurts. My head feels like it’s being digested. I force myself up far too soon (the children need me! and if not them, the laundry certainly does!) and regret it almost immediately. Gravity pulls the cold from my sinuses down to my lungs, and I’m down for the count.

This is why I haven’t been writing lately—because sickness has a way of wrapping itself like fog around the landscape of my mind until it’s all I can see, and because no one wants to read about somebody else’s head cold. That’s a fact.

With so little of color or substance penetrating this head-fog, I’ve stayed quiet, and in some ways, it’s been nice. I don’t tend to give myself slack unless I’m forced to by extenuating circumstances, so sickness can be its own form of grace. I’ve been devouring books in long, thirsty gulps, sleeping without an alarm, and letting Dan bring me hot drinks without repurposing his kindness as guilt. Rest is such a gift.

To be honest though, I’ve let the gift turn into an excuse. Quiet is a little too easy a condition for me to accept, and it doesn’t take anything more significant than a head cold to validate the lie woven into the threads of my life that says I have nothing of value to say. See? my mind asserts, No one wants to read about what’s going on in your head. This is faulty logic, of course—swollen sinuses and theological reconstruction are hardly the same kind of head issues—but it’s pretty damn hard to refute all the same.

It’s staring me in the face each time I open Facebook. Link upon link upon link to other people’s words… some beautifully penned, some slapped into a template for maximum page counts, all competing for the attention of a public simultaneously addicted to and numbed by viral posts. The Internet has gotten so loud. How could my voice possibly matter in this sea of words, in this roar of marketing machines and big opinions? Why work to put my heart into sentences when someone out there has surely already said the same thing, only better or with more impressive graphics?

Please don’t take this as a hankering to be louder or to build a competitive platform. Fame isn’t why I’m here, and God knows the world doesn’t need any more noise-for-noise’s-sake. I do want to matter though. All my life, I’ve hungered for significance, rooting through theologies and grasping at circumstances for extra legs on which to stabilize my position in this world. I’m not saying this is a healthy habit, but it’s the truth. In fact, I’ve poured far too much time, energy, and money over the years into activities that no longer worked for me simply because I couldn’t acknowledge that their significance was over. (See: classical ballet, psychology courses, and every craft in which I’ve ever dabbled. Disgruntled cross stitch samplers, anyone?)

I know that I tend to pour more of myself into time-wasters in a [misguided and ultimately doomed] attempt to make them matter, but I also know that I tend to give up on good things prematurely for fear of starting this time-wasting cycle… and it all becomes a jumble, my perspective darting around wide-eyed and disoriented in the muddy in-between. How do I prioritize without clearly glimpsing the thumbprint of significance? How do I distinguish my creative calling from the cacophony of my expectations, much less from the noise of the world around me?

In times like this, Dan often reminds me that I think too much, which, YES, CLEARLY. I’m a lifelong pro at thinking a good idea to death, at second-guessing my second guesses until the whole thing goes belly-up. I’m a serial doubter, which is different from a cynic in that cynic has pre-packaged negativity ready to slap on an issue whereas I can’t decide on which brand of negativity to use. This isn’t likely to change. (Sorry, dear.)

All this leaves me in a rather paralyzed place regarding the new year, especially in regards to writing and blogging and social media and the ever-changing face of the creative community. WHY is a pretty big question to be bringing to the table, and I’m having a hard time proceeding without knowing the answer.

However, inviting you into the discussion in my mind is why this blog exists, so here we are—on the downswing of an epic but still categorically boring head cold, searching for personal meaning on a global scale, and actively refuting the lie that there is nothing of value left in this world to say.

Join the discussion, would you? I’d love to hear what your thoughts are on navigating the noise and content overload we encounter online. What motivates you to keep showing up? What helps you keep standing on your own two feet in the fire-hose stream of input? 

16Oct

When A Manic Perfectionist Takes On Recovery

The sky this morning is a disrupted marina, clouds racing full-sailed across like illegal dragsters. I’ve been watching them scud into each other and kick up backsplash for the last twenty minutes or so. Maybe longer. I kick myself under the desk on purpose.

Here is what happens when a goal-oriented achiever with perfection mania decides to take the month as a mental recovery period: She will wake up the next morning determined to engineer the best damn recovery ever. She will stock her Kindle app with inspirational books and her desk with lined notepads just right for spontaneous to-do lists. She will schedule the entire month’s mornings with activities that should most effectively result in a whole heart—two hours of writing, one of reading, half an hour of meditation, and then time left over for language study or correspondence before the kids come home for lunch.

She will forget, of course, that the kids appreciate having an actual lunch to come home to. This will startle and dismay her every day for two weeks until she remembers that soup makes excellent leftovers. Lunch will become known in her house as soup o’clock; one problem solved. Unfortunately, having a fridge well stocked with leftovers will not solve the other flaws in her plan. For one thing, she’ll quickly remember that her creativity does not respond well to stopwatches. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make her crank out a heartfelt essay in two hours flat.

A typical morning will start with her sitting down obediently at her desk, typing the date on a blank document, and then staring out the window for twenty minutes wishing that she could just describe clouds for a career. She will realize with a start that she is failing to follow the Efficient Recovery Plan and will redirect her gaze to the blank document, which will perversely remain blank as the left half of her brain shakes the right half in frustration. Time will slip by. Soon, she will grow far too sad to write anything, but this is her scheduled writing time! She is following the golden rule of just showing up, and nothing is going to move her from her chair until she has accomplished something.

To help combat the frustration and jumpstart her inspiration, she will open her blog reader. There will be 674 unread posts. This will make her want to cry, but she will wade in anyway because this is her one and only strategy for salvaging the morning. Lovely sentences will grab her from the screen, and she will spend the next hour and a half pacing between Bloglovin’ and her blank document asking herself, Are you there yet?

Finally, with twenty seconds left in her allotted writing time, a first sentence will present itself. This will stir up joy, relief, and panic in equal measure. She is writing! Whew! But also: The schedule says she should have finished by now! What to do??

She will stick with the writing, of course, because she knows that words are irreplaceable; nothing else in her day will bring satisfaction if she lets go of this thread right now. She will be furious, however, at her obstinate horsey brain for not coming around earlier, and the footsteps of passing minutes will echo above the sound of her typing. She will almost certainly not finish before lunchtime.

Once the afternoon crests, she will be swept up by the current of daily responsibilities, and maybe she’ll find a few calm minutes to finish writing and maybe she won’t, but the schedule is shot anyway. She has failed to recover efficiently. She will berate herself for failing and then, realizing how counterproductive that was, berate herself for berating herself. This will go on for several layers of beration before she’ll give up trying to make the day mean anything and resolve instead to make the next day count extra. This is a great plan, she’ll think. I’m going to win the hell out of this recovery. It’s not even going to know what hit it. Boo-to-the-yah. 

Yeah. So.

Over the four weeks since declaring my intentions to recover from soul shut-down, I’ve meditated exactly zero times. I’ve read a few books but lacked the energy to process much of what they said. I’ve managed to get words on paper about ten times—a good start, all things considered, but I’ve struggled to feel any satisfaction over it. My Plan called for so much more. Of course, one might argue that my Plan was poorly reasoned and doomed from the start, but then, one might never have tried to soothe a goal-oriented achiever with perfection mania before. We will not be soothed. In fact, we may even subconsciously crave failure; why else would we so adamantly insist on setting ourselves up for it?

I’d like to be able to say that I came to my senses and abandoned the Plan today, but that wouldn’t be entirely accurate. After all, I’m sitting here with my eyes full of clouds, goading myself into writing because I’m desperate to accomplish at least this much with my day. However, there is one subtle difference in my reason for doing so compared with my reason other mornings this month. Rather than sitting here writing because I remember it used to make me feel alive (thus warranting a spot on the recovery schedule), I’m sitting here writing because I know that it does make me feel alive. Present tense. And yes, there were other things I’d hoped to do with my morning, but this thing I’m doing now is recovery… and what else is a recovery period for if not for throwing well-intentioned schedules to the wind and watching them set sail?

22May

[De]Constructing Art

There are the destroyers—

the rejection letter

the pregnant pause

the allegiance to duty

the comparative streak

the checking of stats

the boxing-in of style

the commercialization

the resignation

the self-doubt, self-deprecation, self-imposed silence

the slow drift away from joy

And there are the restorers—

the swell of intuition

the note of kinship

the devotion to whimsy

the confident voice

the savoring of time

the releasing of status quo

the authenticity

the intention

the self-care, self-celebration, self-administered grace

the alchemy of water and light into color

20May

Twenty-Minute Vacation

I woke up this morning in deep dark funk territory. You know it, yes? That mapless bog of unfocused angst reeking with a sense that you should be doing something else! but no clarity as to what that something is or how you should summon the energy to do it? That one.

For me, the funk is almost always tied to a lack of writing time. Words are my anchor to the human race, and I can’t drop the daily practice of communing with them without also relinquishing my hold on sanity. I know this… and yet my relationship with writing is a complicated and painful one that I walk away from on a regular basis. All it takes is one day of tasks clamoring for absolute precedence; others step into their place the following day, and within the week, I am clinging to a defeatist mantra, a lifesaver carrying me out to open sea—I can’t do it all, I’m not enough, I have to let the inessentials go, let the hobbies go, let anything remotely falling within the self-care category go. There is no time for self-care selfishness, no justification for pouring valuable hours into something without direct and measurable benefit to my family. I can’t do it all; I just have to suck it up and accept that there is no room in my life for writing.

The funk inevitably follows, though I can sometimes power through for weeks before admitting I’m lost. Sometimes. Other times, the crash follows hard on the heels of a busy weekend, and I wake up to a beautiful wide-open morning with complete paralysis of soul. When this happens, there is little I know to do. Nearly every option I come up with is dredged in my sense of futility and promises to make me feel worse about myself. Wash the dishes? Sure! If you’re okay with my letting the occasional plate shatter on the floor in a fit of Kirkegaardian misery or my stabbing the occasional husband with an errant steak knife. Go for a run? Why not! I need another reason to feel the breathless, side-crampy extent of my failure at life. Read the Bible? Clearly you don’t know much about my mangled relationship with that particular text. Work on taxes? Are you f-ing kidding me??

However, I say nearly every option because I have discovered one—am discovering one—that lifts me out of the bog rather than engineering new sinkholes under my feet:

Meditation.

Now, before you indulge the mental picture of me in the lotus pose with a beatific smile and a halo of silent tranquility gracing my head, please understand that I am awful at this. Truly terrible. My meditation practices would give the Buddha high blood pressure were he unfortunate enough to witness me sitting crookedly against a pile of sofa cushions with my phone timer ticking down twenty minutes beside me. All the worse if he could see my mental process, which involves a lot of chasing thoughts down rabbit trails and yanking myself back on a leash and precious little of the focused silence I’m trying to achieve.

Still, I’m always shocked when the timer goes off and twenty minutes have passed in the guise of three. I know I’m terrible at meditation—buzzing around the spectacle of my own spiritual practice, hyper-aware of everything from my newness at this to the sound of traffic outside—but it works anyway. While my mind spends those twenty minutes fighting its golden retriever tendencies with all its might, my overwrought soul gets a twenty-minute vacation. It sips margaritas on the beach and naps under the palm trees and returns to me in a kind of time-warp glow. I might not be stumbling onto enlightenment or ascending to new spiritual heights here, but I am giving myself a desperately-needed break from my own mental bombardment.

Meditating makes me realize how much attention I typically give to each and every thought that comes bounding into my head, how I ascribe equal importance to them all even when logic would demand I place some on hold for more appropriate times and throw others out on their destructive asses. I have no thought-filter. I simply absorb and interact with each new string of mental clatter as if it were valuable and urgent and true. Purposefully deprioritizing the yammer in my head, however, is showing me how subjective it all is—how reflective of emotion and circumstances and the weather outside my window. It is not all true, and almost none of it is urgent. When I forcibly silence my thoughts (or at least try to) is when I finally begin to understand them, to see their origins and motives and what it all means for my penetrable heart.

You should know that the funk didn’t entirely disappear with my meditation this morning. The twin pests of impatience and indecision were waiting on the other side of those twenty minutes to be swatted away again and again throughout the day. The difference was that I had the energy to swat them away. I had the optimism to lace up my running shoes and head to the park before lunch. I had the confidence to push all the complications and doubts and martyr complexes to the side and start writing this for no other reason than that I needed to write it. I had a lookout tower there in the funk, above the funk.

Tomorrow, I very well may wake up neck-deep in the muck and malaise again. If not tomorrow, then next week, or the week after. It’s going to happen again. But maybe next time I won’t need to cycle through my roster of futile options before admitting that less is more and what I really need to do is to not do—to sit and be and fight-rest my way toward the silence that lifts me up and out.

~~~

Do you meditate (or have you ever tried it)? Are there any meditation practices that work especially well for you? 

29Apr

Drugs and Cocktails

Family photo from yesterday’s jaunt to Assisi, snapped by our sweet friend Shannan.
(Not pictured: allergies.)

My allergies have done that thing they do wherein they take over my inner skull and morph into Inner Skull Head Cold of Suffering and Death. I’m on drugs (legal), which don’t so much make me less miserable as they do dilute my brain’s ability to distinguish misery. They also dilute my brain’s ability to do other complicated tasks like staying awake and generating thought. It’s awesome.

However, I’m determined to write something with actual words today, to check back in with all you in the land of the living and assure you in turn that I am still alive (albeit drugged). We’ve been so busy lately that it’s absolutely ridiculous. In fact, ridiculous is exactly how I feel every time I start an email with “Sorry it took me two months to reply…” or answer friends’ kind inquiries with a full-body slump and a conspiratorial eye-roll. I feel ridiculous because we’re freelancing and theoretically in charge of our time and energy. Masters of our own destiny, that kind of thing. We are currently under no deadlines other than the impending financial black hole of summer.

It’s that black hole, though, that’s got Dan and I hunched over our desks, eyes singed around the edges with LCD light, for a collective total of 120 hours a week. Freelancing is a trippy cocktail of creative mojo and guesswork garnished with desperation, and we simply have no idea which 12-hour day’s work will be the key to stability. During this particular stage of our lives, the only way to find what works is to try everything we can think of and then some more. We expect that one day, we will be generating more passive income than we know what to do with and will spend our days taking leisurely walks on the beach in Bali and using our annoying excess of gold coins as skipping stones, but for now, life necessarily has to revolve around work.

I can’t accurately describe what it’s like for me to be so far removed from the daily-writing-fairy-art realm in which my heart claims its citizenship. I’m a hard worker, and sitting down to power through spreadsheets or edits actually gives me a little buzz of satisfaction. I like accomplishing, I like knowing that I’m helping make my husband’s business possible, I like feeling like an indispensable part of the family team. I’m endlessly grateful for the ways my abilities and personality traits intersect to make our lifestyle work.

But by the time one day without the chance to write has turned into two (much less three or five or twelve), I’m already grappling with the bleak coping mechanisms my mind calls up for just such an occasion. The obvious solution, according to my brain, is to give up writing forever. If I don’t yearn to write, see, then my hopes will no longer be crushed by each overfull hour. Another option, lighter on both despair and logic, is to get up at 5 a.m. to write… after working straight until insane o’clock at night and figuring out how to forego both sleep and downtime with my husband. (Uh, no.) Repression is the easiest solution; I just put all thought of writing out of my mind and do what needs to be done. Unfortunately, one of the side effects is that I slowly lose grip of myself and end up shadowy and hollow-eyed, wandering through my days in a thick pocket of fog.

That’s why sick days like today actually come as a relief. I simply don’t have the neural activity required to Get Things Done, so the ringing in my ears is the sweet sound of permission to lounge around in my pajama pants and blog. (And perhaps later, even read a blog or two? Be still my heart.) I’m not exactly saying that I would choose to spend today with this Inner Skull Head Cold of Suffering and Death, but it sure beats repression-induced fog, and I have to admit that this mandatory break from work is helping me retain the light and color and pre-head-cold joy of the weekend better than any accomplishment-triggered buzz ever could.

~~~ 

How are you doing, friends? What is your spring looking like so far? 

26Mar

Life Tetris

I’m at the gym spying on the girls’ swim lesson with one eye and watching the clock with the other. Twenty-nine minutes until I’ll need to whisk them into their bathrobes, usher them to the showers, and begin the forever-long process of drying and lotioning and braiding. They’re off to Kidsville then, and it’s to the weight room for me, followed by Zumba, followed by supper and the girls’ bedtime routine and the reluctant winding down of evening. Twenty-seven minutes now, a pittance.

My mind has always bent clockwards this way, warily monitoring that old taskmaster Time. Each minute registers as a loss punctuated by a quick chime of guilt, so I tend to play my days like Tetris, filling every possible space and trying to best the previous day’s score. It’s a crummy way to live, and I know that, but old perspectives die hard, and I long believed “redeeming the time” meant treating each and every second as an emergency.

(Nineteen minutes now.)

I write about prioritizing so often because it is an all-encompassing part of my thought life. When I was a child, prioritizing was a biblical mandate; now, it is simply how I try to make practical sense of my limited and ever-full time. Even if the passing of time does not qualify as an emergency (a point on which I still waver), I still have to choose what will get done and what will be callously neglected not, and folks, it’s hard! All the things I want to do with my time are good things, worthy things; I’m not agonizing over how to fit an extra hour of Angry Birds in between soap opera reruns here. My debates are over how best to love the people around me while taking care of myself and finding satisfaction at the end of the day… and the process might as well be ancient Sumerian calculus for how well I comprehend it.

(Twelve minutes.)

According to my imagination, finding balance would involve morphing into a Pioneer Woman-style superhuman who lovingly raises a houseful of children, cultivates a social life, cleans All The Things, and keeps up with the latest TV shows while rocking at her dream career. In the real world outside my weird and dramatic head, balance probably means something a lot less glamorous—choosing between quantity and quality, for instance, or accepting sleep deprivation as a way of life. Almost certainly, it necessitates making peace with that clock on the wall, so that’s where I’m focusing this afternoon.

Tick. Not an emergency. Tock. Not even a minor peril. Tick. Definitely not the end of the world. Tock. Not evidence of failure either. Tick. You’re okay. Tock. No, I really mean it. Tick. Even if all you’ve done for the last three minutes… Tock …is stare into space looking for the right word. Tick. It’s part of the writing process. Tock. Just as listening is part of the relationship process. Tick. Just as sleeping is part of the daily process. Tock. Just as breathing is part of the living process.

(Zero minutes. Enough.)

~~~

Do you play Tetris with your time as well? What helps you release your grip on the controls and relax into the process of living?

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