It is an unusual Sunday for me when I do not have a blog topic enter my consciousness and then start writing. But at the moment, with a workshop coming up in January and some ideas I want to sift through and outline I find myself with an unusual single-minded focus there.
I am grateful for that, since I tend to bounce around a lot of things in my noggin all at the same time. Generally they are on a theme, but they tend to be interdisciplinary. For example, I almost never have less than 3 books I am reading at one time. For some people, that might be challenging. For me, it is the intersection and collision of unique ideas that I enjoy.
I allow for sifting and sorting of what I’m learning to percolate through my consciousness. Sometimes this leads to interesting metaphors to describe concepts in new ways.
Thus, in honoring that focus, which obviously indicates some passion about my topic, I am keeping this short. I know better than to declare less frequency of writing here, though I have been able to take Tuesdays off reliably. I leave open the possibility of serendipity.
I borrowed the above title from a line in a guided meditation and I wish I could remember which one so I can properly attribute it. Nonetheless, it reminds me that building more space into my weekly time for reflection and writing my own work is more challenging than I thought. I am seldom the wordless person. I have lots of words. And I share them freely.
When you write your “morning pages” in your journal, you are the only one who can give yourself praise for getting your work done. Social media and the clicks and likes can be an addictive little “hit” for affirmation. As a writer, I write every day no matter what. It is like oxygen for me. But I am susceptible to that buzz that comes from others receiving the work well.
I am comforted to know that there is brain chemistry and neurobiology behind this, of course. Those clicks and likes produce a little hit of dopamine in your brain, and because we are social creatures, approval is important to us at a primal level. There is nothing wrong with that, and it is very natural. Please have some compassion for yourself if you worry sometimes about what other people think. Being part of a tribe or pack was how the mammals of today survived.
As a person who loves words, and who loves the ease of publishing that blogs can offer, it is even harder for me to be the “wordless” person. I joke to my husband that this blog is my little soapbox, so that I can express my ideas freely without subjecting him to all of my opinions. 😉 So he is grateful that it exists.
Some days, I am better off going into observer mode rather than writing publicly. It reminds me of meditation, noticing what is going on in my body, and in my mind, while not attaching to it. Emotions come and go, as thoughts do. Ideas float through and sometimes I want to grab a pen. But I sit, and allow things to flow through. My ego-ic mind can be quite impressed with my thoughts sometimes. But my higher self, the watcher, just observes and allows. No thought is better than another, they just are.
Is it challenging to be the wordless person? Heck yeah, more than I ever realized.
I found myself with another short article-writing project on Wednesday, due on Friday. I am getting used to these quick-turnaround pieces, and rather enjoy them. Though the pay is not large, they are good practice for my “journalistic” style and for working with an editor.
It reminded me of a strategy I used to use when I used to procrastinate on a project, and I think I learned it from Martha Beck back in the day when I was in grad school. It involves taking a huge project and breaking it into short chunks of only 15-30 minutes at a time, especially if we are avoiding just getting started. Often, just starting and gaining momentum is the hardest part.
Nowadays, I can usually set a timer for 60-90 minutes of uninterrupted work at a time because I have worked up to that. The idea is that you set everything else aside and just focus on that one thing. It is harder to do that in an era when we often feel tied to our inboxes and phones.
But really: email is not urgent. If someone cannot wait a day or two for a response, they should call you on the phone. We need to de-condition people to getting automatic responses from email, social media and all the other distractions.
After my 60-90 minute sprint, I typically take a break of 20-30 minutes. Research shows that few humans can focus behind 90 minutes anyway, due to our ultradian cycles. These are basic rest-activity cycles discovered in the 1950’s. When we respect these rhythms of focus and rest, we can better manage the ebbs and flows of our energy and be much more productive.
I think that is one problem with corporate work environments. Typically they are built around an 8+ hour workday, and are not sensitive to human rhythms or people’s individual chronotypes, which also influence their productivity. When I complete 3 of these focused 60-90 segments in a day I typically get a mountain of work produced, more than I ever did in a corporate day that was highly interrupted. I am so very grateful for being able to manage that and design these “work sprints” for myself.
What is your cycle for accomplishing your best work? How can you plan to incorporate that cycle into more of your days?
I spent some time Tuesday morning listening to podcasts with writers. In the meantime, I dusted off the boxes in my office and decided to put some order to my journals. As some of you know, writing for me is somewhat a compulsion. It is a non-optional part of my daily practice.
I hand write my journal. I am old-fashioned that way. The ideas that pour forth with a nice smooth pen on paper seem qualitatively different than what I write when I sit down to the keyboard. More raw. Less pre-meditated. Just me.
My intended audience for these journals is just me. I made my college roommate promise me that if anything happened to me she would have the journals burned without reading them.
I was a little embarrassed when I started sorting the piles of journals into decades. The sheer volume of the once-blank books that span the last 26 years astonished me. Think of all the wasted paper! All those poor trees have been sacrificed for my greedy writing habit…Then I was kind of amazed. I started to wonder about the periods when I had been faithful to journal at least weekly, or other periods when journals were either lost or not kept.
What happened to 2008-2009? No journals from that time. Mysterious.
Did I start journal-writing prior to 1992, the year I left home to go to Swarthmore College? I have a cute little lock & key style diary from when I was about 7 years old, a that I probably got from my Mom.
I decided to document via photos the journals I have kept. This is as much to illustrate my insanity as to be able to let go of these books at some point, as per my desire to live a more minimalist life.
My collection from 2018 includes 15 blank books (so far, since I just started #16 today). That is really embarrassing. But I suppose in a way, it is something I can embrace. I write. My days flow better when I write each day. I also seem to have less insomnia when I let it all out rather than letting it simmer.
When then if I want to work on a big project, a book idea? Do I keep writing? Do I perhaps use my journal as the “reward system” for after I’ve gotten my daily pages and work done?
Clearly it’s a habit that’s not going away. It feels like a lifeline to me, and I am sure I would need to spend a LOT more on therapy if I were NOT writing each day. Come to think of it, the gaps in my “years” of journals actually correspond to episodes of major transitions and/or clinical depression in my life: 1995, 2002, 2009.
Wow. Sh*t. Ages 21, 28 and 35. It seems I was due for an episode in 2016 at age 42, but it never arrived. I am giving credit to my consistent pile of journals and some proactive therapy. When you have tasted that flavor of darkness more than once you sometimes recognize the signs before it arrives again. Self-care is now a religion for me.
I told and AirBnB host back in September: I write because I must. Indeed. Apologies to the trees that sacrificed their lives for my mental health. And everlasting gratitude to you.
On the holiday yesterday I was reflecting a bit on the notion of space.
I learned through some reading (and probably a podcast as well) about a Japanese concept called “Yutori” and it caught my attention. It describes a notion of spaciousness. It’s leaving time between appointments so you can get there early and look around. It is allowing time for meditation or mindfully and slowly engaging in a quiet practice of some kind.
I really love this notion. The more I learn about this concept, the more I realize I have been actively trying to embody this notion in my daily life. From the desire for a more minimalist space to my conscious efforts to increase my meditative practices, I am pursuing this desire for Yutori.
As I allow for more spaciousness in my life, my creativity seems to open to ideas I might not have considered before. My days “resist” too much scheduling, but invite just the right amount of activity and rest to feel more integrated.
Though I am far from perfecting this notion, the concept and its appeal for me is driving me toward my next venture. I can feel that, as much as I occasionally feel I must accelerate things. Somehow I firmly trust that giving the spaciousness enough soil, air and water, I cultivate an amazing garden of inner richness.
Where and when do you find spaciousness in your life?
It is getting to be THAT time of year. You know the one. First is Thanksgiving, which is actually one of my favorite holidays. It is all about gratitude. There should be more of that in all of our lives. It also tends to be about food and gluttony, though in recent years, I have not over-eaten, so that’s been less of an issue.
After Thanksgiving, the Christmas season roars to full attention. Though I like aspects of Christmas, becoming less of a “thing” person in the decade or so, I often find myself getting overwhelmed with it. I dislike shopping, even if it is for people I care about. I have decision fatigue just thinking about the holiday.
My husband and I have managed to get 90% of the gifts for our nieces and nephews online, which has cut down greatly on the shopping. What a relief. But there’s still the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.
This year, there’s the hustle and bustle of finding paid freelance work so that my hubby and I do not end up eating cat food for Valentine’s Day… LOL! Just kidding, it’s really not that bad. But if you know people in the market for science writers, please send them my way via this Link. Thank you, y’all are the best.
For now, I need to be focused and disciplined so I will continue to read my usual favorite blogs, but I will probably not pick up any new ones. I am putting the Saturday Share on holiday until after the New Year.
Sometimes we must focus on what is essential, and eliminate the rest. I shall try to do that, and have plenty of time for what matters most. My best to you and yours. I hope you have a lovely and safe holiday season.