Sunday, March 26, 2017

An End to Busy

One week ago right now, I was sitting at my desk at home, just like I am now.

Looking out my office window, just like I am now.

A cardinal (perhaps BurgerMeister) is cracking black oil sunflower seeds, I assume happily, swinging to the windy Oklahoma day.

One week ago right now, I was overcome with the weekend I had just spent at the Writers' Colony at Dairy Hollow*, a weekend that was marked by risk, reward, frustration, unraveling, reinvigoration, accomplishment, and clarity.

Clarity is always the last step, right?

I'll talk more about each stone uncovered, each bit of wisdom, each gleaned truth but right now what sticks most with me is the truth that came to me during a walk, talking with Marisa (she was a big part of the unraveling for me that weekend) and I made a bold declaration: It's time to remove the word "busy" from my vocabulary.


Busy is a four-letter word I actually want to avoid.

How have you been? Busy!—really? Because no shit. I think we could all answer that the same. I know I'm not the first to call bullshit on "busy"—there are any number of results if you Google "busy syndrome" going back years. I feel like "busy" has become a crutch to prove how important we are.

So, how have I been? I haven't been busy, I've been ... overwhelmed by the constant gear shifting in my freelance life ... I've been struggling to fill my kids with life lessons and parenting while I still have them to hold onto ... I've been trying to wrap my head around the fact that my job search has paid off and I've got that full time desk job I've been wanting and struggling to figure out how to transition out of freelance work when my first instinct is to say Yes! to all the shiny things ... I've been considering how to start putting myself first ... I've been worrying about all the things just like everyone else is doing ...I've been planning 101 home projects because when I'm feeling overwhelmed, I like to start a new project to divert attention away from the overwhelming thing (succulent garden, coming soon!).

That's more than busy. That's living. Sometimes well, sometimes not so much.

How have I been? Thriving and smiling when some days all I want to do is curl up into a ball with a bottle of wine and a really good playlist. Coming to terms that 50 is coming sofast and I'm not done being 40 yet. Shit, I'm not done being 30 yet but there you go.

You spend too much time being busy, you don't notice what you're missing.

Enough of that, already. I will be "busy" no more.


* I was invited to spend time at the Writers' Colony at Dairy Hollow in return for a fair and honest review of my stay there. This is one in a number of posts where I will share my feeling about the Colony (Spoiler alert: I loved it) and discuss the lessons I learned during my stay. All words and opinions are my own.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

(Not) Sunday Morning

I'm not a morning person, but I love Sunday mornings. I love to wake up when the house is quiet, and I like to get my coffee, clean off my workspace in honor of a new week, work on my to do list and drink my coffee staring out at the quiet morning for a bit. I get in touch with nature, with my nature, with the birds and the squirrels and the trees and the seasonal visitors we get. The bullfrog chorus has begun at night so it's just a matter of time before they visit our porch.

But I'm not sitting at my table staring out at my nature, I'm staring out at the trees and mountains of NW Arkansas. I have no idea what direction I'm facing but based on the lack of sun in my eyes, it's not east. That's not my cardinal in that tree.

This is not my cardinal.

I'm watching the world through a different window. It's still satisfying.

This is not my kitchen window.

And it's not Sunday yet. It feels like Sunday to me but it's only Saturday. And I could really use an extra day this weekend because Monday is going to be the start of all sorts of changes for me, mostly good.

So, this weekend, I've been staying at the Writers' Colony at Dairy Hollow (who graciously invited a group of writers to come and share our experience) and my worst writing-related nightmare came true: what if you go to a writing retreat but your words don't come with you?

I arrived with a great group of bloggers on Thursday night (Marisa, Heather, Bethany and Rebekah) and we all read our work to a room full of people—which was like karaoke for me: scary but invigorating. We spent Thursday night getting to know one another and discussing how productive our weekend was going to be.

Still life: writers' retreat detritus.

But then I spent a lot of the day Friday foundering around for my words and not finding them. It's not a great feeling. Instead I convinced Marisa to go for a walk with me that turned into a really, really long walk where we both fell in love with Eureka Springs for being so hilly and having windy streets and then got really pissed at it for being so hilly and having windy streets. I ate some awesome food. I stared out the window for a good long time. I organized my stuff. I took a nap. I Zentangled. I did the math: to write an 80,000 word book typing at 60 words per minute, it would take less than a day—a mere 24 hours. And when I'm in a groove, I can type more like 120 words per minute, so banging out a book shouldn't really take *that* long, right? I mean, aside from the research and the thinking and the outlining and all the things.

And then, I reread some old stuff I'd written, I let go of some stuff that didn't make sense anymore and came up with a plan.

Because, here's the thing: my words aren't used to me letting them come out and play. I most often steal moments to write when I can—like Sunday mornings when my people are sleeping—and this was middle of the day word time. I needed some time to adjust to that, and that's what yesterday was.

Will today be prolific? Maybe. Maybe not. Marisa and Heather gave me good insight on the story I'm trying to write and my characters hung out with me last night. But for right now I'm going to drink my coffee and listen to some classic country for a bit.


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Writerly Road Trip

I'm hitting the road with Marisa and heading east, across the Illinois river and then north, into the mountains of Arkansas, specifically to Eureka Springs and the Writer’s Colony at Dairy Hollow. I was invited to go so I could tell you all about it, and I'm ever so excited.

The timing seems poetic; it was 16 years ago this spring when I quit my full time job to do three things: prepare to move from Germany to Oklahoma, get pregnant, and write a book. Two of those things happened and one of those things has been a work in progress ever since.

Life doesn't always go like we want it to. Sometimes it goes better... and then worse... and then ways that you can't describe even if you are a writer. It happens, sometimes when I didn't notice. And then suddenly it's 16 years later and I've got (spoiler alert) a house in the woods in Oklahoma, one kid turning 15 and another one turning 13 and I'm going back to work full time at an office and I still haven't written that book. But then I get the chance to go to a writer's retreat and I realize this is a really good thing.

But I also realize that my brain is filled with reasons why not. Why I shouldn't—go to the writer's retreat, go back to work, put myself first, say yes to an opportunity, say no when I'm overwhelmed. It's a tremendous pile of bullshit, and it's insulating but not helpful. I need to let it go. I need to breathe in the now, the good things, myself; and I need to breathe out the bullshit.


I'm packing my journal and this laptop and washi tape and pens. A bottle of wine and some great snacks and all the leggings (and this is starting to feel like that scene in The Jerk where Steve Martin's character packs all the things) and headphones and music and I'm hitting the road with Marisa. Meeting some other writers. Reading some of my work out loud. And breathing out some bullshit.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

It's March Now

Funny things happen when you're busy obsessively pressing forward with your head down to get through now to get to what's next. I've come to some realizations as I try to stick with the #nobullshit battle cry of 2017.

Major Realization1 : I cannot give what I don't have.

This is one of my favorite bits of wisdom, dropped by one of my favorite no-bullshit wise women. How can you give love, comfort, nourishment, encouragement, anything at all really if you don't have it yourself?

When I'm obsessively pressing forward with my head down to get through now to get to what's next (for the sake of brevity, I'm going to go ahead and call that *busy from here on out), the first thing that goes is considering what I need. That's a slippery slope. I've learned I cannot allow my infrastructure to decay if I want to succeed.

Not taking care to do the things that are good for me makes it easier for me to do the things that are not so good for me. Which leads me to my next life lesson...

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Broken Stories

I'm so over the morning news. Anyone else feeling me on this?

I like to be informed about all the things in the world because that makes the responsible adult part of me feel like her needs are met. But some days I just get to feeling like the breaking news is broken. And frankly, a girl just might have to watch the unauthorized Britney Spears biopic on Lifetime on demand while she attends to her morning routine because the irresponsible part of her likes to do such things.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Stress Nesting

My husband actually asked me the other day: Are you pregnant?

Um, no. Most definitely not! But I could see why he asked. I've been irritable. Feeling sick. Major headaches. And the nesting. So much nesting.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Taking Back Thursday and Other Things

Confession: Thursdays are not my favorite.

It's the fourth day in a series of waking up way too early and not going to bed early enough, the fourth day of a week that's starting with peanut butter on toast because it's easy but I know I shouldn't start my day with toast because for me, it's a processed carb domino. Thursday is the day my son sleeps through his alarm, the day when my daughter's attitude is in it's most heightened form, the day when I want to be whisked away to what must be my real real life, more akin to a Real Housewives montage of shopping and sleeping in and primping.

But that is only Real on TV.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Note to My Future Self

Fall 2017


Dear Mari,

Hi, this is Mari from back in February. It's a rainy Valentine's Day and it's a Tuesday and it already feels like Monday part II at 9:00am.

But that's not why I'm writing.

Why I'm writing is that I looked over at our to-do list—the one we so thoughtfully posted on a giant dry erase sheet of poster board tacked to the wall in our office. The one where we had visions of tracking some to-do list items but mostly writing fun quotes to provide inspiration.

But today, I'm looking at that to-do list that's almost too long to fit on the 24x36 sheet of paper and it makes me want to crawl underneath the desk table and curl up with Trixie, still damp from running around in the rain.

Because a funny thing happened this year, like it does every year, like I remember every year and try to keep in mind for later in the year. Because right around the time you're reading this, you're going to think to yourself, Wow! A full to-do list sounds awesome! because this is the time of year when that list is fairly fallow. This is our ebb and flow of freelance life, this is what we should be used to, but—never fail!—come February, we are overwhelmed by projects that sounded great in the fall when we had so much free time but now they're just weighing down on us.

Silver lining? Come summertime, there will be a respite. But summer is a long way off.

Just like you're looking at the calendar thinking spring is a long way off.

I assure you, it isn't.

So I'm going to set a reminder to read this post come fall, when I'm all about the YES! Because it's like having babies, in the afterglow of accomplishment, we forget the hard work and sleepless nights. We are a serial yesser and were reminded yesterday by a great friend that saying "no" feels really good sometimes. But we still seem to want to err on the side of yessing, so we're going to need a reminder.

So, later this year, when I'm you, I'll read this and maybe chuckle a little before I start saying YES! to all the things all over again, because who am I kidding? As I write this, email is pinging me with shiny new things that I should say no to, but like Lin Manuel Miranda's Alexander Hamilton sang about Mariah Reynolds—how can I say no to this?

A girl's gotta try.

Sincerely,

Me

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Book Review: Nonsense

As previously established, this is a year where I strive to overcome the bullshit that surrounds me. It makes sense, then that a book about managing uncertainty would find me.

Nonsense: The Power Of Not Knowing by Jamie Holmes isn't a self-help book. Rather, it's a well-researched investigation into events that seem confusing and ambiguous. As humans, we are hard-wired to seek out the certainty in ambiguity but Holmes advises us that maybe we shouldn't try so hard.
"In an increasingly unpredictable and complex world, it turns out that what matters most isn't IQ, willpower, or confidence in what we know. It's how we deal with what we don't understand." — Jamie Holmes
This resonates with me and my struggle to gain control over my own reactions to the world around me. The book is reminiscent of Malcolm Gladwell's Freakonomics in that it takes statistics and facts (which, lets face it, don't always make for good reading) and makes it entertaining and easy to read. My only criticism would be a Bill Cosby focused anecdote in chapter one; some readers might be bothered by including a reference to the man with the recent legal issues surrounding him.

It's interesting to read more information about subjects I'm already familiar with (like the Absolut vodka late 80s ad campaign or the 1993 standoff at the Branch Davidian compound). Overall I like Holmes' style and think that "how we deal with what we don't understand" is an especially important topic in this time of unrest.

Disclaimer: this book was sent to me free of charge in exchange for an honest review. My opinions are not for sale, and all opinions included in this post are my own.

Aaron Burr, Sir

I had a bad day yesterday. So,
I spent a lot of time listening to Hamilton yesterday.

The songs of Hamilton are soothing when I'm needing to be soothed. And this is the line that keeps echoing in my brain.
I'm the one thing in life I can control... (from "Wait for It")
Maybe it's because Leslie Odom Jr's voice is like a warm compress, maybe because I sort of identify with Burr and his desire to be cautious in situations. (I know he's often thought of as the villian but is he? Is he really?) He's the cautious opposite of Alexander Hamilton, who as told in the musical, is the one who jumps and hopes the net appears.

What came after the words above in my original post was a long, whiny, unfocused rant. So I deleted it and will just post the following, which I will mediate on today: