This November, I’m incredibly anxious about a lot of things. The election tomorrow is obviously a big one – I’ve donated, written letters, text banked, and talked about the importance of voting nonstop, but I am terrified and the pit in my stomach will not go away. We’ve also got Thanksgiving, which we’re not going home for this year, which brings its own kind of anxiety about letting people down in the name of keeping them safe and keeping us sane. And then, of course, the increasing number of COVID cases we’re seeing across the country. I sometimes wish I could be blissfully ignorant about everything going on, but I don’t actually think we do well as a society when that’s the case, so here we are. Me full of dread and you reading about it.
One thing I am not (as) anxious about this November is writing. I have decided, for the third time, to sign up for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and this time I am really committed. I have an outline, some questions I want to try to answer, and some rough descriptions of characters. I am not totally at ease here since fiction is not my normal genre, but I am excited for a challenge. I also haven’t entirely decided if this was brilliant of me to sign up this year (great distraction, a goal to focus on!) or completely idiotic (how distracted are you going to be after the election!? And with a toddler at home!?).
Anyway, it’s Day 2 and I’ve only written like 600 words after I got through brainstorming a few scenes yesterday, so we’ll see how this goes!
Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? Share your tips or your topic for your project – I’d love to hear them!
I am a mom, a partner, a communicator, a freelancer, a daughter, a sister, an aunt. I’m a creative person and a writer and a reader. A curious person trying to soak up as much information and experience as she can, even when the world she is experiencing is rather small. I am an empathizer, a worrier, an anxious person who sometimes just needs to shut down to begin processing what’s going on around her. And right now, especially, I am uncertain.
I am uncertain about so many things- the future of our country, what togetherness looks like now and in the future, who I’ll be personally and professionally in five, ten, twenty years. I am standing on a cliff, and can’t be sure whether it’s safer to stay or jump, because despite the precariousness of what’s below, everything racing at me from behind is incredibly scary as well.
I wish I had a more definitive answer to who I am right now. I wish I felt firm where I stood, but the sands beneath my feet, probably much like that beneath yours, keep shifting. I am a person who, even after 35 years on this planet is still forming, still asserting and revising opinions, still adjusting the lens through which I see the world. In short, I am only certain that I am uncertain.
Who are you right now, in this moment?
As mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been working my way through the “Name Your Anchors” series of writing prompts from author Molly Caro May. The post above is a result of one of those prompts.
You know Bruno Mars’ “The Lazy Song”? No? Well, if you’re not familiar with this 2010 pop gem, it goes a little something like this:
Today I don’t feel like doing anything
I just wanna lay in my bed
Don’t feel like picking up my phone
So leave a message at the tone
‘Cause today I swear I’m not doing anything
Yesterday, that is exactly how I felt. Except…I have a toddler. A curious, energetic, nonstop toddler. So it didn’t matter that I didn’t feel like doing anything – doing nothing is not an option when you have a small child in your house. Because even lying on the floor while he plays, is not “doing nothing” – believe me, I’ve tried it, and it’s more work than playing because I’m in defense mode, protecting my head and neck the whole time.
Anyway. While my son naps, especially on weekends, my husband and I do have a few hours to ourselves. We usually spend that time cleaning, organizing, getting caught up for the week ahead, and then each take a little bit of time to relax (for me, that’s usually writing or reading in bed). But yesterday? Our house was a mess, there was a basket of laundry waiting to be put away, and I had a lot of unanswered emails, and I just…didn’t want to do it. I wanted to lie in bed and read.
You might be asking, so what? It’s the weekend, do what you want! Which I would agree with in normal times. But we are not in normal times. We are in pandemic times, and our son is home with us all day, every day, with no breaks, so two hours during naptime (three if I’m really lucky) is all of the productive free time I get, no matter the day of the week. Because of this I often feel like I need to use up every second of it.
But yesterday, I was just not feeling it. The productive “but you should…” side of me was losing a battle with the “but it’s Sunday, relax!” side of me, and in the end, I let the latter win. I told myself to take a breath, think about what would happen if I didn’t do those things (uhh, nothing), and channel pre-pandemic Heather, who had fewer qualms about squandering her free time on a Sunday. With that, at 1:30pm, I jumped in the shower, put on clean PJs, and flopped myself into bed with the book I had been trying to finish all week. And it was lovely!
During this time of relaxation, my mind started wandering to my definition of productivity, and how I assume it means I always have to be on and doing, instead of simply being and resting. Because really, aren’t some of the other things I’m doing right now (not including scrolling Instagram), on top of taking on some consulting work, productive? Isn’t trying to raise a human being to be a good, well-rounded person productive?Isn’t doing something for myself, like reading a novel or working on my writing passion projects, productive? And isn’t simply resting productive?
So yes, yesterday, I let myself do nothing. But I engaged my brain and was productive in a new way, not in spite of the fact that I was trying to rest, but because of it. Perhaps we would all be more productive, if we stopped trying so hard to be exactly that?
I realize this is not a unique opinion, but I really, truly dislike multitasking. I have never been good at doing more than one thing at a time, and I enjoy the simplicity of focusing on the task at hand. I like to do the thing, while I’m doing it, and that’s it.
I’ve always been pretty sensitive to distractions, but I didn’t really think about it as not being able to multitask well until I hit adulthood, especially when it came to work. I never liked studying with the TV or music on (instrumental jazz or classical notwithstanding). I didn’t mind playing sports that seemed boring to others, like swimming and running. In fact, I kind of liked how “boring” they were, because I could really focus. When you’re swimming miles a day, the rhythm of your strokes becomes soothing, not dull. I also have always enjoyed studying alone (I suppose this is not the first time I’ve mentioned it), and reading is an activity I have always liked to do solo – doing both, I’m incredibly sensitive to the noise and comfort around me. It doesn’t have to be silent, but I like things to be a certain way, to be just so.
And then when I started working, especially in my communications/PR career, where the pace can be intense, I found myself attempting to multitask more and more. And things were never just so, the tasks at hand were never my sole focus. I felt constant pressure to do as much as possible within my work day, writing emails during calls and IMing with colleagues as I mapped out strategic plans. And though I worked remotely a lot of the time, whenever I had to work in an open-floor-plan office, I wanted to tear my hair out (another rant for another time). I already knew that I was a person who needed space and time to focus, but was trying to resist who I was at my core in order to get the job done, and getting really frustrated and flustered in the process.
Though studies have shown that multitasking does not, in fact, make us more efficient, it doesn’t stop people from trying to do it or from pushing the ideal of multitasking onto other people. But perhaps it’s time for everyone, especially those of us who are on the extreme end of being anti-multitaskers, to accept this truth and allow people to work within their natures.
Again, this is not a new or original idea! But it’s an important one. I’m not arguing for mindfulness here, exactly, but I don’t know that anyone is at their best when they try to meet the demands of two tasks at once. And honestly, sometimes it seems like more work, more for me to think about, in order to make my life that efficient. Yesterday, I unloaded the dishwasher, and that was it. It was silent, I was not listening to a podcast or music and I wasn’t on a call. I just did it. And thinking about, “oh I need to find my headphones and then turn on a new podcast” before I could unload the dishwasher or pick up stuff around the kitchen just seemed like it would have slowed me down. It wasn’t worth it to me to “maximize” what I was doing by learning or absorbing information while I did it. Sometimes, I like quiet and just not doing or thinking of anything else while I fold laundry or jot down my to-do list. And most of the time, there’s enough going on in my brain anyway.
Are you a multitasker? Or are you in the anti-multitasking club with me?
As a person who constantly overcommits, and then probably underdelivers (mostly to myself, since professionally, I unnecessarily beat myself up about what I’m achieving and who I might be letting down while still usually producing a good final product), I can tell you that I really wish I were better at following through. I set very lofty goals, and then when I fail to meet them completely, I struggle to stay motivated. This is definitely related to my all or nothing personality/outlook, but here we are. Below is an incomplete list of things I have not been able to stick to that, honestly, just hang over my head all the time.
A regular exercise routine. For a former personal trainer, I sure am lax about my fitness. Don’t get me wrong, on most days I move my body in some way – I do at least 15 pushups and squats almost daily, and I take my son for two walks around the neighborhood a day, weather permitting. But beyond that? It’s pretty hit or miss. I keep starting routines (full body workout, MWF! Two runs per week!), but the second I’m derailed by something like a busy day or a minor illness, it feels like I have to start over. I’m constantly battling between two selves: the one who has been type A and very regimented all of her life, and the other who wants to live and not lapse back into the unhealthily strict behaviors that plagued her throughout college and a good chunk of her 20s. Would I like to improve my cardiovascular health and feel like I could do 50 jump squats without being out of breath? Sure, but I also really would like to read this book while I have two hours of peace while my son naps, so….
A consistent writing practice. When I left my full-time job, I said I would set up a schedule to write every single day. But… it didn’t work out like that. Sometimes when my son was napping, I needed to get stuff done or run errands that I couldn’t do when he was awake. And sometimes, I just wanted to read and decompress for a bit while I had a break. And almost every day, I needed a minute to switch over from mom mode to writer mode, so I didn’t have the full amount of time I expected to have. I have journaled almost every day for the past year, but while I’ve gotten a few exciting ideas from jotting down my thoughts or daily happenings, sometimes it felt like I was simply going through the motions and not really writing the way I thought I should be. I have been able to write here a little more consistently lately, which I’m proud of, but I’m still working on what an ideal writing practice would look like.
Good sleep hygiene. I have always been a night owl, but I also really love sleep. Now, with a child and a job and a partner I want to spend time with, sleep has been less of a priority, even though I know getting more of it will improve my life pretty much all around. But I am always trying to squeeze in more hours to my day after we lay our son down to sleep at night, which results in me going to bed much later than I would like. I try to set up goals for myself, like “in bed by 10!” but then I get in bed and stay awake reading for two hours or looking at TikTok until I drop my phone on my face. To be fair, I haven’t tried the more extreme things like putting my phone in another room, but that’s probably where I need to go from here.
A long-term career. To anyone who has met me in the last couple years, I seem to have a career. I work in health communications and PR, and I’ve steadily moved up the ranks, even as I’ve had a child and gone into freelance mode a couple times. But this is not my first career (or even my second), and I don’t think it will be my last. I’m hoping I can make one move transition smoothly into the next, without having to start over, but I really have no idea what my “career” will look like five, ten, or 20 years from now. Knowing myself and my curious nature, I don’t think I’m ever going to feel like I’m in the one right career for me. But as I write this, maybe I’m OK with lacking follow through here.
Keeping up with friends. I feel like everyone feels this right now, though, right? We’re all socially (and physically) distanced, so our normal methods of seeing one another, whether it’s a couple times a year or a couple times a month, are not available. I had hoped, though, with the pandemic that I would find time to catch up with friends I had previously felt too busy to reach out to, since we were all suddenly video chatting and calling and texting more. And that happened for a bit in March and April, but then…we all got Zoom fatigue, and as we learned that the pandemic wasn’t going to be over anytime soon, I (along with a lot of people) started to retreat and turn inward. I felt like I had done that so much in my early and mid-20s, thanks to a long bout of depression (more on that another time), that I didn’t want to repeat it. But this pandemic is tough, and putting more pressure on ourselves for certain things isn’t worth it – it still bothers me that I wasn’t able to follow through on this one, though, because I miss people!
I’m not writing about this because I am asking for solutions (but hey, if you’ve been there and have tips, I’m open), but because I figure, aren’t we all struggling to follow through on one thing or another these days? And as much as I feel like I struggle with following through on certain goals and commitments, I’m proud of the things that I’ve been able to follow through on: a solid relationship with my husband (despite a pandemic, a toddler, and stressful jobs); my dedication to my role as a mother, even though I never felt a super maternal pull growing up, and I sometimes I take a few extra minutes when I run upstairs for “one quick thing”; and for taking the time to remember that I am a whole person, who is always curious and thinking of ways to bring more creativity to my everyday life.
Where do you struggle with following through? Or are you one of those people who meets all of your goals all of the time? (If so, what is your secret and are you human?)
Of all the things I’ve learned about myself during this pandemic, the most astounding is how much space I need. Though it shouldn’t be so surprising that I learned how much breathing room I require when the world of almost everyone I know has shrunk so significantly.
While some people have found more time to devote to leisure and side projects lately, around here time is precious. We now have a very active almost-two-year-old son at home with us full-time (and have since March), and any free moment we had during our work days is completely gone – part of the reason I transitioned to freelance work. Two adults working in high-pressure jobs while trying to alternate on childcare (and now attempting to teach colors and numbers and letters!) was tough. But even with a reduction in work hours (and a three-month complete break, which I was lucky to be able to take), time is scarce, and a two-hour window during naptime usually gives me just enough time to quickly clean up from our tornado of a toddler and write or work for 45 minutes. Of course, we’re not unique in having less time – I think every working parent who does not have childcare or does not feel comfortable using available childcare feels the same way.
And we’re also not unique in feeling trapped in our space. Before the pandemic, our 1000-square-foot home in DC felt like plenty of space – after all, we had the whole city to roam, with different neighborhoods to explore every weekend and what felt like endless options for culture and food. But now, with three of us at home at all times, it can feel like… a lot. Our bedroom is now a makeshift office, and the kitchen table in our one-room main floor is taken over by laptops, pens, and toddler board books (open concept is a little less appealing when everyone is home all the time). When our son is napping, we can each find our own space, either by heading to different rooms or one of us going on a walk, but the rest of the day, it feels a bit like we’re breathing down each others’ necks, especially when we’re not used to working in the same space, let alone with a child, no matter how happy he is. And if we have any visitors (very rare these days and only after they’ve quarantined), our house seems to contract even further, even though I love having people we’re close to around, especially in these times, which makes me feel conflicted and guilty and ungrateful.
I wish I had a solution for this space issue, but I really don’t. I share all of this because I know we’re not alone in feeling too much togetherness, too few moments to ourselves, too little control about… everything. After six-plus months of this, I’ve only come up with a few workarounds that keep me feeling like I’m hanging on by more than a thread. Things like…taking an extra five minutes when I say I have to use the bathroom, which I mostly use to lie in bed and stare at the ceiling. Or making sure that, if nothing else, I at least do a few squats and pushups a day to get my blood pumping. Or not feeling as bad if I just want to lie down for an hour after putting our son to bed, because I want our fluffy comforter all to myself for a bit. Because the things that worked before – getting out of the house to go to the gym or get coffee, taking the occasional day off from work while my son was at daycare, meeting up with friends for a glass of wine – are no longer options, so I have to make do with what’s available to me now.
During this pandemic I have learned so much about what I need to maintain my mental health, my relationships, my productivity. Mostly because I haven’t had as much of it as I require to really thrive.
I need space.
To be my whole self.
For now, I’ll keep finding little ways to make space, but here’s hoping 2021 is a little more wide open. How are you carving out space and time for yourself right now? Is it working?
I want to be out of my house, in a place – any place – alone.
Specifically, I want to go to a coffee shop, with a book, my journal, and my laptop, and just be. I imagine walking into a bustling cafe, probably Takoma Bev Co, standing in line to order a latte and one of those delicious almond bars. Behind me is Takoma Park’s main drag, full of people sitting on the patio or running errands in downtown Takoma, perhaps walking from the post office to ACE Hardware. At the counter by the window are two strangers reading next to one another, a young woman alternating between her hardcover book and her laptop; an older man, likely retired, mostly looking out at the sunny fall day, intermittently flipping a page in his well-worn paperback.
As I step up to the counter, the twenty-something cashier, who is equal parts cooler and nerdier than I am (we are in DC, so both have more appeal than my mid-30s mom vibe), definitely wearing a knit hat and glasses, asks what I want and hands me a little metal stand for my order number. I wait by the counter for my latte (perhaps I didn’t need the table number after all), while I crinkle a brown wax paper bag, dreaming of the pastry I’m about to savor alone. I take a peek into the always-crowded larger seating area and spot a small table on the far wall. While they’ll do in a pinch, I hate the tables in the middle of the room, where my bag inevitably tips over, and then I’m in everyone’s way in the never-empty dining room. But the tables at the edges of the room let me nestle in and leave me feeling protected under the rotating paintings of local artists hung on the wall.
After I grab my latte, I settle in, getting out my laptop, book, journal, and pen, as if I’ll use them all at once, prepping for a few hours of caffeinated bliss. The espresso machine and milk frother make themselves known every now and again, punctuating conversations while also giving me the ambient background noise I love to write to, both boosting my concentration and mellowing me out.
A few neighborhood moms are sitting on the couches nearby, one idly pushing a stroller a few inches back and forth to keep a child asleep, another nursing her baby, another lamenting the current state of the world for the one hour she has away from her child at home. Other people work nearby, camped out at the long communal table at the front of the room, typing away at manuscripts and PowerPoint decks. An older man, who always takes the family table for six and spreads his belongings out as much as possible, is oblivious to the family who just walked in with two squirming kids looking for a seat.
The server, who wears his matching shirt-and-short set screenprinted with kittens, bustles around picking up dishes and joking with regulars. A couple sits at the table next to mine, cheersing glasses of white wine at noon on a Friday (do they, too, have a small child who happens to be in daycare on their parents’ day out?).
As I observe all of this, I’m satisfied by the click of the keys beneath my fingers, seeing progress on a page. It’s not perfect, but in this setting, I feel free and myself, and I write like the wind, without self-editing or worrying about the time wasted or if the words are even any good. I breathe deep and smell coffee, breakfast sandwiches; I hear chatter and dishes clinking; I see a neighborhood full of quirky and utterly normal people crammed into a little coffee shop.
Of all the places I’ve dreamed of going during the pandemic, the mundane tops the list.
Lately, I find myself wanting to write more and more often, but on the days when I feel not even a spark of inspiration, I look to writing prompts for a little help. The past month, I’ve been working my way through the “Name Your Anchors” series of prompts from author Molly Caro May. Some days, it just gets me to put words on the page, and other days, I dig deep and want to keep writing and writing. The post above is a result of one of those prompts.
What are your favorite creative prompts? What kick starts your writing when you’re in a slump?
When I first left my full-time job back in July, I knew I needed to rest and spend time with family, but I also knew that I just had to revive my creativity. After a lot of aimless journaling and randomly taking Skillshare classes (both useful in their own right), I decided to take on a structured creative activity by way of #The100DayProject. In case you don’t know what #The100DayProject is, here’s a helpful little summary from the website:
#The100DayProject is a free art project that takes place online. […]The idea is simple: choose a project, do it every day for 100 days, and share your process on Instagram with the hashtag #The100DayProject.”
For my project, I chose to write short, free form poetry, at least four lines each day, but never longer than what would fit on an Instagram story. I would like to make it very clear here that I am not a poet. I took a few poetry classes in college in the mid 2000s, and that’s the extent of it. But I wanted a challenge, and to do something outside of my comfort zone, so poetry it was! Officially, #The100DayProject usually takes place in the spring, but I’m doing mine now, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking to bust out of a creative rut or stretch themselves a little. Now that I’m about halfway through my project, I wanted to share a few things I’ve learned so far:
Sometimes you have to just shove your ideas out into the world. When people talk about deciding to have kids, veteran parents always say, “you’ll never really feel ready.” I agree with this, but I think it applies to so many other things as well, including starting a business or announcing to the world that you’re just trying something new. One of the things that drew me to doing #The100DayProject was the fact that you had to share your project. With other people. Publicly. Even if you didn’t feel ready. Eek.
Sharing my work is what I struggle with most and the hurdle I knew I needed to overcome if I was ever going to put anything else creative out into the ether. I had essays and ideas I was really proud of, but I felt like I could continue tweaking them forever. I knew if I never got over my fear of sharing with the world, for people to praise or criticize or completely ignore, those things I had written would never see the light of day, and would likely just end up edited to death. So I chose my project as a low-stakes way of getting over this hurdle. As I introduced my project, I let everyone know that I wasn’t taking myself too seriously, and I knew I was not a poet, but I was going to just try something. And after the first poem I posted, it got easier from there, and I stopped worrying so much about whether what I was writing was “ready.”
Sometimes what you create won’t be good, and it might even be pretty bad. I agonized as I was posting my first poem. This is so terrible. Why did I ever think I should punish the world with my messy attempts at poetry? But then a lot of friends told me they thought it was a cool idea, and they admired what I was trying to do, even if they didn’t exactly praise the poem itself. Then, a few poems later people even told me they really liked a couple! And then, other times… no one said anything. Which was fine. Literally no one (so far) has said, “Boo, you suck, what are you even trying to do?” Maybe they’ve thought it, but almost 50 poems in, it doesn’t really matter anymore.
You care more than anyone else. See point #2. I could leave it at that, but seriously, no one cares that you’re trying to do something new and creative, even if it’s an utter failure, unless what you’re doing is harmful to someone else. People might think that what you’re doing is dumb or a waste of time or self-involved, but they will never care as much about your idea or project as you do. Even if they say something mean, they will probably move on with their day, and not think about it again. I took forever to even start posting my poems because I worried about how to format it just so, and how to introduce it, and I just overthought it in general, so much so that my poetry writing was about two weeks ahead of my actual posting. But then, I realized that no one cared, and I just started throwing my poems out there. And the worst that has happened is that I don’t like the poem and no one comments and we all move on.
Consistency is key. You know how I said sometimes, the work you do just won’t be good? Well if you keep at it, sometimes what you create might just be OK, or even kinda great! I don’t think my poetry, for the most part, is even close to good, but I have had a few poems that I will admit I’m a little proud of. Poems that I thought about throughout the day or that just struck me or that were inspired by something I was really feeling in the moment. But I don’t think that would have happened if I hadn’t been writing something every single day because of this project. For every good thing I write, there are probably 10 (or 100) terrible ones, but I was able to get to a few poems I liked because I kept stumbling my way through.
Have you done #The100DayProject? Tell me about your project!
If you’re interested in checking out my project for #The100DayProject and my very amateur poetry, check out my Instagram highlights on my Insta page.