Turning a Corner

Are you saying you're going to do something, or are you already achieving what you said you would?

Actions will always speak louder than words, and I am finally finding a way to balance work life with all that self-care entails. To me, self-care includes all of those things we put off to accomplish our work day. This may be diet, physical activity, personal goals (writing is my biggest one), quality time with friends, sleep is a big one. And I have been suffering — feeling further and further away from accomplishing my own personal goals with writing. Ultimately, I would love to write full-time, but for now the day job is a necessity. I've been treating it like it's the only necessity instead of prioritizing this with everything else.

Somehow, I have been able to turn a corner, and it all started with a holiday staycation. I am so incredibly happy in this moment, because I I felt like I was moving further away from achieving what has been my ultimate goal: publishing a novel. I keep working on all of these projects, even starting new ones, but I haven't finished one, and I think more than anything that this is out of fear. Fear of failure. Fear of disappointment. Fear of calling out into a void and receiving no response.

Over the Labor Day holiday, I took a couple of extra vacation days from work to really jump start my writing with a staycation and solo writing retreat. I didn't have a structured plan as to what I wanted to accomplish each day, but I knew I wanted to make a significant dent in a project that I've been describing for a really long time without having actually put anything to paper.

This particular project is not really the nearest and dearest to my heart, but I have been receiving a lot of positive response from friends and fellow writers that this particular project may be a great debut project. It's funny and raw in ways that are sometimes less chick lit and more women's fiction, but it's so apropos to the plight of a single woman. Friends seem to think that this piece will attract more initial attention so that I can gain a good amount of followers before I release the novel that is closest to my heart. I'm not completely sure that I agree just yet, because I think that this dating book is a little bit more in your face than the project I'm most invested in, and I worry that I might scare some people off with the bluntness with which I need to tell that story. But I suppose there is still time to make a decision on what goes out first (and it would help if I could finish both of these projects, leaving me the ability to choose).

Each day of my staycation/writing retreat, I wrote. I even took my iPad and a portable keyboard to my local cigar bar on the weekend. I joined a writing challenge, which provides you with a daily word count goal and a lot of support. I finished my retreat having written more than 70 pages. More importantly, my stress level was so much lower, because I wasn't feeling conflicted about leaving my big dream on the back burner.

After my first solo writing retreat, my advice would be the following:

  • Give yourself some structure by giving yourself concrete goals to achieve each day
  • Create a reasonable schedule for writing (I think that 1-2 hour sprints work well for me, and these can be two or three times per day)
  • If you will have too many distractions at home, consider AirBnB (I stayed home, but I cleaned my house and did laundry in advance)
  • Give yourself separate time to think through how you will arrange your scene, what you need to research, or for character development (I like to do this while walking)
  • Get in some physical activity
  • Don't let your breaks overrun your goals (sometimes you need that mental break, but there's a slippery slope, and you can end up feeling guilty about time wasted)
  • Track daily progress
  • Share your progress with your social media followers
  • Consider joining a writing challenge on Twitter and/or joining FB groups for writers to connect with other likeminded people
  • Rinse and repeat (my plan is to do this at least every other month moving forward)

So much stress was lifted from my shoulders by giving myself this time to rejuvenate! More importantly, returning to my day job was easier, because I created a way for me to continue consistency with daily word counts, and I maintain contact with fellow writers who are similarly situated. The light at the end of the tunnel is much brighter now.

Even if you find that none of this advice really works for you, the time you've gifted yourself will be invaluable. Give yourself the opportunity to get it done.

Tomorrow’s Promises

Are we always living for future? When do we decide to live for the present?

One of the things that I’ve noticed lately is that I am forever planning. Planning to write, planning to travel, planning to figure out my career path. Planning to figure out who my future will include. I’m starting to wonder if this is all I’m ever going to do. When do you start feeling like you’re just living to enjoy life? Are there people who spend their whole lives squirreling away for the future only to have it cut short? Am I one of those people?

I find that there are a lot of things that I want for myself that I can’t currently work out, so I plan. I want security. I want to write full time. I want a partner to share life with. I want to live healthfully and fully. Hell, I want a dog. But I can’t achieve most of this right now, due to various circumstances. Lack of capital being a big one. So I try to plan pathways to get me there. They’re not always successful paths, but they are attempts. 

Are my wants just unrealistic? Am I just not dedicated enough to making these wants my reality? Sometimes I wonder. 

I will say that I’ve turned a corner on living healthfully. A few weeks ago, I made some lifestyle changes that I’m hoping that I can really commit to, and I’ve seen some change in a short period of time. I just need to keep moving forward with intention. 

I am going to start with today. Making a concerted effort to work on my path more often. Tracking my progress. Not let myself fall off and impede my own dreams. Not let fear keep me from things that I believe will make me really happy. 

Goals: be more present, more mindful. Be more dedicated. Get more sleep. Enjoy right now. 

Tomorrow isn’t promised, so it’s time to start acting like it. 

Trapped 

One of the things I love about my friends is their ability to bring the realness and also share their personal experiences and insights. I am thankful for the conversations that we have and the connections that we share. 

I am currently situated in the land of excuses. I make a lot of them. I’m tired. I’m working too much. I’m busy. I’m stressed. I have a social life. But I stray from the thing that I wish I did full-time on a daily basis. I wish that I was a full-time writer. I wish that I could devote my time and energy to the craft that I love. And yet I don’t. 

I find that I make every excuse in the book, and I think these excuses stem from fear. Fear of failure. Fear that I’ll never finish. Fear that whatever I complete will be completely inadequate. And this is all self-imposed. This is all as a result of my own choices. 

I ultimately choose not to carve out enough time to devote to my craft. I choose not to put myself and the things that I value first. I choose to make my obligations a priority over my dreams. And what does that say about my life? Am I choosing a job-turned career over the career that I really want? Are the successes I currently realize less important because they aren’t really what I want to be achieving? 

I’m conflicted. I’m torn between what I see as survival and what I see as happiness. And I don’t know how to pave the way toward what I want. Instead, I allow fear and doubt to hold me hostage somewhere where I am good, but not great. I’m settling. 

I don’t have answers to my questions outside of the obvious. I need to make more time. I just don’t know how to absolve the guilt of not giving “100%” to my current commitments. I haven’t figured out how to re-prioritize. 

I feel stuck, and I need to pull myself out of this place. 

Post-Election Awareness

I find that now, as the dust settles on an election where the popular vote and the electoral college were at extreme odds, I am almost hypersensitively aware of my surroundings. Being a woman of color, I’ve been the subject of hateful and derogatory speech in the past, and I was raised to always pay attention to my surroundings for safety, but this is different. This time and space we find ourselves in as a country is different. On a personal level, I find myself hyper aware — practically on edge — gauging my level of safety in every room I enter. 
This week has been emotionally draining for me. I flew to Chicago for conferences, and  I made a plan with colleagues to meet at the hotel lobby bar, so that we could make a plan for dinner. The hotel lobby is this vast room, with detailed paintings spanning the ceiling, high above massive chandeliers. Seated at the bar, I drank a Manhattan and greeted colleagues as they arrived. As our group grew, the bar area became fragrant with the scent of garlic fries and buzzed with general merriment. 
As we sat unwinding and catching up, a man sat to my left, between me and a dividing wall. I sat turned in my chair, facing my friends, with my back to him. He was quiet for a time, but he began speaking to the bartenders about my group once he gained some liquid courage. He gestured toward us and said to the closest bartender, “I bet they’re talking about Trump.”

To this, I turned, and said, “We weren’t, actually.”

My response surprised him. “Oh, so you can hear me? I didn’t think you understood what I was saying. You didn’t turn around before.”

People who know me recognize my dry humor, but my response was not intended to be funny. “Yes, I understand and speak English just fine.”

To this, my friends ears all perked up, and they took notice of the man next to me. The watched as the man and I spoke for an hour, while he quizzed me on race relations and why it is that “Afro Americans” felt the need to be at the center of gang violence and drug trades. In my heart of hearts, I believe that this man really wanted to know how to get to know people of color, how to come from a place of respect, and how to start a dialogue. He just had a terrible delivery. 

Our conversation grew heated at moments, and there were several times that he had to walk away to digest what I had to say. I chose not to flower my words; I was as blunt as I could be, because I wanted him to understand the gravity of his approach and how it was perceived. If he really wanted to start a sincere dialogue, he needed to calibrate for his audience.

As we continued to talk, there was a moment where I realized that, as obtuse and completely unaware as this man was, he was genuine in trying to understand the struggles that people of color experience. He didn’t have friends outside of his own demographic, he was a self-proclaimed Republican who had not supported the President Elect, and I got the sense that he was really trying to figure out how to define his identity moving forward. 

I had to walk away toward the end. I excused myself to go to the ladies room, but it was primarily because I was so overwhelmed at the prospect of having to justify my frustration and challenges I’ve faced simply for being a person of color. When I reached the restroom, I burst into tears. I didn’t want him to see me cry; that what he said or how he thought affected me. That he unintentionally made me feel inferior. 

I regrouped and came back for our last round of conversation. He was a bit drunk by this point, but he was still talking. I finished my drink and decided I’d had my fill. I looked away, and tears filled my eyes that I couldn’t hold back. One Donny friends saw, and she came to envelope me in a big hug, as other friends and colleagues crowded around me. The man sensed that the conversation was over, and he left quietly, but I know he felt bad. 

I explained to my friends that, though this was a tough conversation, I appreciated that this stranger took the time to try and hear me out. He tried to process what I’d said, and he took the time to walk away and came back for more. I had to respect that. 

These conversations aren’t easy. Ones where people have assumed the absolute worst about your culture, your family, and you have to find a way to reconcile what they were taught and what really exists. It is so overwhelming to teach someone a history they didn’t learn in school or in life, to help someone understand that my community is how it is as the result of continuous prejudice and discrimination.  

I can’t even imagine what the harder conversations will be, how my nerves will fare, or if emotions will get the better of me. I don’t want to think the worst of these next four years, but I’m going into 2017 understanding that it could be more challenging than anything I’ve faced thus far. 

Let’s prepare ourselves. This next year is going to be a beast. 

Building Better Habits

I’ve been allowing too much time to pass me by, not only when it comes to writing, but with life in general. I have too many goals to hide behind the guise of being too busy, too tired, over-committed, or unable to focus. 

I keep waiting for someone to come along and allow me the opportunity to cook, teach, write, be active, love, volunteer, save, and practice self-care. Waiting, as if I can’t take a step forward and open these doors myself. Waiting, perhaps more out of a fear of failure than anything else. I keep waiting, but it’s time. 

If you want to create a positive habit, you have to make a routine and set out to complete it every day. No excuses. No waiting. No one is coming to do it for you or for me. Open the doors, and move forward. Even if the routine is built and completed on faith every day, each completion is a successful piece of the positive habit routine structure being built and solidified. As the routine becomes habit, confidence and contentment build. 

Anything is possible. Now tackle the blank book. 

Big Magic

I think about writing all the time, but I’m not getting to it. I need to improve the amount of time I allow myself for things pertaining to myself: health, sanity, and need to write.

A fellow writer is going into creative coaching. She said if you read one of three books on her list, and you still hadn’t found the motivation to practice your craft, you need her services. Ironically, one of those three books has been sitting on my dining table for about three weeks.

Guess I’d better pick it up and get to work. For me.

Sunday Rest

There is something about a truly restorative weekend – one where you get everything done that you need to accomplish, you enjoy quality time with good people, you have something decadent, you rest, and you feel prepared for the week ahead. Your living space feels de-cluttered and free of chaos. You expressed yourself in some creative way.

I don’t typically have this experience, but this is always the goal. More often than not, the only way I could accomplish all of this would be with an extended weekend. Even a three-day weekend feels short. Definitely works if we institute a four-day weekend.

A three-day workweek may not be very long, but I can tell you this: if I was looking forward to a four-day weekend, I’d be incredibly productive.

Though much of my time this weekend was eaten up by travel, I got to spend quality time with some good friends, have a good cigar and some cocktails, enjoy the sunshine on a beautiful Sunday, run some errands, and relax while watching my team in the playoffs. Maybe I didn’t get as much accomplished as I would have liked, and I didn’t necessarily prep for the week the way I’d like to, but I got in many of the good things. I didn’t check my work email too often, I laughed and had some really thought-provoking conversation, and I got to see some friendly faces.

One particular conversation touched on important aspects of life that matter most: finances, personal health, and friends/family. Though these things may seem narrow, they’re really umbrellas for career, personal goals, happiness, autonomy, etc. The other stuff is just ancillary. It was nice to feel like someone else related to that. Those three are enough to juggle, without worrying about outside factors that can certainly be complementary but aren’t necessities.

There are a lot of things you can’t control, but within these three categories, there is more than enough to focus on. Let the other stuff fall into place.

Protect Writing Days

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Err on the side of writing. Meetings will always be there.

Revisiting Storms

As I get to know my new colleagues — my counterparts– I find that we connect well, we team together often, and we agree on management styles, productivity, and creating policy. We fight the drama together, and we keep each other supported. I like this team.

Due to past experiences, I’ve taken my time getting to know them, having heard various accounts of their personalities and supposed tactics from my predecessor. I chose to form my own opinions under the belief that one person’s experiences don’t dictate the experiences of another. This decision certainly opened opportunities for us to bond and form new understandings based on our interactions.

Over lunch this week, the team began to share about family and grief, blogging and forms of therapy and detox. Another colleague mentioned journaling using the 750 Words app, so I shared that I’ve been blogging for 13 years now. That what started off as a purely organic mind dump each day, to lighten the burden on my shoulders, became my refuge for taking down the weight in exchange for a couple hundred words.

I shared my grief gingerly, unsure how it would be received by my colleagues, but they’ve been incredibly supportive and kind; they have been open and generous. The story has so many levels, intricately woven together to recount what happened when my sister died, how my parents were affected, and what I kept to myself.

After sharing, I was proud of myself,  mostly because I didn’t cry as I recounted what happened in the accident and during trial. I didn’t cry as I explained the effect of such a loss on my family. My colleagues were the epitome of support. Asking questions where they felt comfortable, offering short-term resolutions that could prove helpful.

I’m just grateful that we could connect, that they were respectful and kind, and honestly, that they have a greater understanding of how I operate and why I do what I do for my students. This was accomplished without a breakdown, or even a tear, in a solemn conversation that felt safe and delicately handled.

I can’t complain. Missing her is always heavy, but being able to tell others about her lovely personality and all her goals brings me a great deal of comfort.

Good talk.

Write. Good, Bad or Ugly.

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Even if you can’t write on the level you’d hoped today, you still can write. Get something on the page, edit it later if you need, but get ink on the page.

Just press play!