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I Took a Break From Writing to Take Care of Myself

14 Jun
Laptop computer and desk

My laptop is taking a break from writing.

Sometimes, I blatantly contradict myself.

Like how I used to say it was so important to have balance in your life.

Then I went on this kick like, fuck balance, it’s all about the passion.

And now I’m kinda into the balance thing again. Or trying to be at least. Living a life of balance  is not the place I naturally default to.

But, both things are true. Balance is nice. Passion is cool, too. Balanced passion may be something to strive for, although sounds like something that’s probably impossible to achieve.

Or when, several years ago, the married man I was having an affair with abruptly ended things. I was devastated to the point of barely being able to function, but I was also relieved — relieved that I no longer had to spend agonizing days waiting for his texts, calls, or emails, or hours lost to fantasy, obsession, fear, and worry. I was devastated, but I was also free.

Both were true.

I learned this from my therapist, she says it a lot. Life is big and complicated enough for seemingly completely contradictory things to both be true at the exact same time.

The last blog post I wrote was about how I always need to be writing. I wrote this almost 9 months ago. So you can see already: contradiction.

Shortly after writing that post, things fell apart, as they sometimes do in my life. As a freelancer, I was doing work that I loved, but unfortunately not enough of it to support myself. I have a high tolerance for deprivation in service to following my vision; if I’m doing work I love, I can make do with very, very little in terms of material gain.

But at a certain point, the chaos of financial instability starts to interfere with my creative process. Waking up every day in a state of panic tends to make me shut down, writing-wise. As someone I know once said, “You can’t write a novel if your house is on fire.” And based on my own experience I can say: tru dat.

Not knowing how I was going to pay the following month’s rent, and with my financial house up in flames, I set out looking for work. Once I’ve reached this point of complete desperation and panic, I can’t like, casually look for work and keep writing on the side. At that point, earning money requires all my time and attention.

I got temp work right away, and a month later, a full-time job. My first full-time job in over three years, I now had health insurance, paid time off, and some stability.

Although I hadn’t written in a few months, I decided to consciously continue my writing break so I could get acclimated to my new job. Also, I wanted to be a normal person who went to work and then had a life — time for socializing, dating, and decluttering my apartment — instead of this person who has a day job and then in every moment of her free time is trying to make things happen with her own creative projects on the side, living multiple lives and driving herself to exhaustion.

But after a month at my new job, my friend said to me, “Jen, I think you should start writing again.”

Because what happens is, not writing takes on its own crazy non-momentum momentum. If you don’t write for long enough, it turns into this really huge, daunting deal, and you can’t imagine how you ever wrote anything in the past or will ever again in the future. I said something along these lines to my friend right before she said, “Jen, it’s time.”

So, I wrote my dating profile for OkCupid. It was kind of fun. It made me laugh. I thought, This is good and I can write.

Inspired by my success writing my dating profile, I dipped my toe further into the writing pool, and wrote an essay about writing my online dating profile. Then I wrote a few more things, like this, and this.

It felt so good to be back. I was on a roll. Sort of. I still start and stop. Write, take a break. Struggle with writing/self-care. Balance/passion. Working hard/rest. Being consumed by creative projects/having a life. I write, but then I have to take mini-breaks. Because I work full-time and have activities and commitments almost every night after work, and I get t-i-r-e-d and need to rest. Not be so busy and striving all the time. Just be.

Last Sunday afternoon, I planned to write. But I was exhausted. So I took a nap instead. By mid-week, I was aching to write. I’m doing it today. I may need to take a break tomorrow.

Taking breaks from writing can be good self-care, and necessary periodically, but still, still, if I go too long without writing, I feel really shitty. Sometimes I need to take a break from writing to pay attention to how I’m going to pay my rent. But when I’m not writing, inevitably, I hit a point where I start to get angry and filled with resentment. I feel invisible, unseen, unheard, disempowered, like I have no voice. And the only way out of this is to USE MY VOICE and write something.

I need to be writing all the time. And I need to take breaks.

Both are true.

There’s A Thin Line Between Making New Year’s Resolutions & Feeling Like A Failure

11 Jan

“2011:  another 12 months, 52 weeks, 365 days, 8,760 hours, 52,600 minutes, 3,153,600 seconds of struggle, growth, progress, and experience” – TumblrSays on Twitter

I saw this tweet the last week of 2010 and my first thought was, Great.  Another 3,153,600 seconds of struggle.  Can’t wait! But that was shortly followed by relief.  Because it described something so real:  a year of ups and downs, goods and bads, struggle and progress.  A year of a whole-wide range of experiences.

This sounded so much better than trying to make 2011 THE BEST YEAR OF ALL-TIME!!!  I’ve seen a lot of talking/tweeting/Facebooking about making this year THE GREATEST YEAR OF YOUR LIFE!  And full disclosure:  I may have once written a post that mentioned having a big year.  But I’m over it.  Now the mere thought of trying to have a big amazing year just makes me want to take a nap.  Until December.  Why does this year have to be FABULOUS and BIG and THE BEST?  Why can’t it just be regular and real and experience-filled?

For many years, I read and did the goal-setting exercises in the book Your Best Year Yet! where you wind up with a plan for your year (to make it the best one yet!) that includes your top ten goals.  In the past, I enjoyed a lot of things about this process.  But I had no desire whatsoever to do it this year, or to make any kind of BIG resolutions.

Last year, as I always do, I typed up my ten Best Year Yet! goals in pretty fonts and cheerful colors, and posted them on my bulletin board.  In September, I looked at them, and realized that I had only achieved one sub-point each on three goals thus far.  Goals that had A LOT of sub-points, so one on each was not statistically significant.  Since I was not on track with my goal-achieving for the first 3/4 of 2010, that meant that I’d have to make it my best October-December yet!  Instead I ripped my bright and cheery goals off my bulletin board and stuffed them in a file folder.  In the back of my file cabinet where the sun don’t shine.

I will come clean and say that I sat down a few weeks ago with my notebook and wrote out a few goals.  In black pen.  No pretty fonts or bright colors.  These goals are very small.  They are micro-goals.  Things I can do every week.  I am thinking of them as non-oppressive goals.  Doing them won’t make me have the BIGGEST, BEST, MOST AMAZING YEAR EVER!!!  But not doing them won’t make me feel like an abject failure.  And hopefully they will do what goals at their best do – give me direction and focus and spark enthusiasm.  As someone who loves a hearty To Do list, they will give me something to write down on my list and check off, week after week.  When I read them over, I felt excited and enthusiastic and not oppressed, which is a good sign that I am on the right track.

This post is not meant to be a criticism of that book.  The problem I have is with a society that constantly bombards us with messages that we and our years and our lives have to be BIG, BETTER, THE BEST, which leads to feelings that anything less, anything regular and simple and ordinary, doesn’t matter, doesn’t measure up, doesn’t even count.

Looking back at 2010, I had a year of…experiences.  Some joyful, some painful, and a lot of in-between.  In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown writes, “Sometimes we miss out on the bursts of joy because we’re too busy chasing down extraordinary moments.”  2011 doesn’t need to be my BEST YEAR OF ALL-TIME FOREVER AND EVER!  I just want it to be a year of experiences.  I hope to have more good days than bad.  I hope to experience more moments of contentment and peace than of depression and anxiety.  I hope to be able to spend time doing things I love, feeling engaged, excited, and enthusiastic.  I hope for curiosity, learning, healing, and growth.  I hope for connectedness and community.  And I hope to let go of chasing down brightly colored extraordinary moments, so that I can be blissful surprised by bursts of joy in the most ordinary of moments.