This morning’s coffee is just right, and there’s nothing else I want to do besides drink the whole pot while I write, read and postpone every single thing on today’s to-do list.
Since it’s Sunday — i.e. the scary day in which we get ready for the workweek — the list is long, and I may regret lounging around later. In fact, in my peripheral vision, the movement of a fat squirrel up and down the trunk of one of the tallest trees in my yard seems like a message: Be diligent! Prepare! Or this: There has to be more to life than this singular focus on storing nuts*! Just like when I try to read the tarot cards, I struggle to settle on the “right” meaning.
One solution to feeling pressured by everything that today requires is to put self-care on the to-do list. Right at the top.
I’ve been doing that more and more in the past 12-15 months, taking time off from writing reviews, serving as a reader for a poetry journal, tackling poetry-writing challenges, assembling and re-assembling my manuscript, submitting-submitting-submitting poems for publication, writing here at the blog, etc. It became a J-O-B, and I was growing too earnest. I was obsessed with the product and not the process (a la our busy squirrel friend), and my stress level was through the roof.
I realized it at an inopportune time, and it took me way too long to respond. I was at a writing retreat in January 2018 in North Adams, Massachusetts. I gave it my all, but I was absolutely miserable. First: winter (piles of snow! inches of ice! $%#&!@!!?!). Second: I enjoyed meeting my fellow writers, but I was incredibly anxious and agitated and wanted to go home. That wasn’t like me at all. Time away to write has always been precious to me. It wasn’t until months later — the fall of that year and just about one year ago — that I understood what I needed was the opposite: time away from writing itself. And so I let go of all of the “doing” that made me a good literary citizen (running the Tupelo Press 30/30 Twitter account, writing/reading for American Poetry Journal, etc.).
And I stopped fretting so much about producing the work.
That was the most difficult one to let go and to do so without judgment. Was I even a poet anymore? After all, I believe 100% in the practice of writing. Show up to the page. Butt-in-chair. “If you want to write, write” (per Natalie Goldberg, whose example I always value, including the permission she gives herself to “write the worst shit in America”).
But I did let go of the judgment.
*And* the incessant badgering to write-write-write-write.
And so I’ve been resting a lot. Gosh, how I love my bed and blankets! I’ve been present with my kids. I’ve been on adventures with my fiance, and we’ve been experimenting in the kitchen with a lot of whole-food plant-based meals. As noted in my Eat Pray Love blog post from last summer, I’m all about intense flavors, and that’s one thing that’s been guiding us. (The soup pictured here is Thai Peanut Butternut Squash soup from fooduzzi; I’ve been making it for years, so this one’s not new, but I made it this week because I was craving something to help me get my sriracha/peanut fix.)
Over the last year, I captured some fragments and free writes in a notebook but only when I wanted to.
I didn’t always want to.
I’ve also realized that even without dedicating time to writing, there aren’t enough hours to do everything I want to do. I need more time for friends and family. I need more time outside. I need more time to take care of my house. I need more time to binge watch TV (wow, are there some amazing series being created!).
And I need more time to do absolutely nothing.
A previous version of myself would’ve felt pressured and overwhelmed by all of this (and of course I do still get anxious and overwhelmed), but what’s most different is that the old version of myself wouldn’t have stopped there. She also would’ve called the experiment a big failure. But now, I’m happy to thank that prior self for her service and back away from her slowly… LOL.
What I’ve come to is a place solidly situated in self-care.
And surprising no one, writing is again part of that self-care.
It’s interesting that Natalie Goldberg came up earlier in this post. As I watched Dorian come up the coast of the Carolinas, I was reminded about a writing workshop I attended with Natalie in Charleston. It was the first time I traveled away from my three young kids (babies, really) to give myself time to write. I stayed in a cute B&B where breakfast was delivered to my door on a large white tray with a full carafe of fresh coffee. Every. Single. Morning. I think it was just a long weekend, but it made an impression on me. This, I told myself, is the life. Of course since I’m not independently wealthy (and since I am a mother), being waited on constantly is not *my* life. But that’s not what I mean. What I mean is this:
Charleston helped me make the connection between writing and self-care.
In Charleston I also learned that cobblestones are difficult to walk on while intoxicated, but that’s outside the purview of this post. 😉 Back to Natalie and my notebook…
Over the last month or so, I started to revisit Natalie via a book of hers that was on my shelf but that I’m not sure I ever dug into: The True Secret of Writing. Early on, she says, “Get to work. Nothing fancy. Begin with the ordinary.” It’s a terrific mantra: get-to-work-nothing-fancy, get-to-work-nothing-fancy, get-to-work… And so I’m reading again and taking a look at that notebook of fragments from the last 12 months. Although much of it is “the worst shit in America,” there’s also a lot in there to work with.
I’m excited to see what’s next. May it be full of poetry, sriracha and self-care. <3
* A short note on this idea of how capitalism (and other -isms) can shortchange our ability to live the life we want to live, check out A Brief Chat. It’s a new podcast by my friend Jason Crane, and he’s using the chats to process his thoughts on how to live authentically in this space/place, which can be described (appropriately) by the cliche “between a rock and a hard place” (i.e. between breaking all the rules and having our hand forced by all the rules).