Clearing the Deck

This morning I got around to writing my last holiday card. Many people will be surprised to receive anything from me. I’m pretty hit-and-miss with correspondence around this time of year. I’m ridiculously insistent on writing personal notes, so sometimes I can’t even get started, since the task seems daunting. This year, though, has been more contemplative in nature. I took the time to do it. I’m ending the year on a good note, so that I can begin the next with an empty slate. No odds and ends left undone.

canstockphoto58759250I wrote up my work plan for 2019 yesterday, but I’ve been churning things over in my brain for the last month. I rearranged my study, got a new rug to spruce things up. Cleaned up my computer and did back ups. I now have a work calendar separate from my duties as mom, spouse, and household maintainer. For weeks, I’ve been listening to motivational books, thinking through my daily routines, writing lists, and basically getting my shit together.

It’s been the undercurrent to an uneven season of grieving the loss of my mother-in-law and holiday rituals. For the last year, our family has been in a holding pattern, where death seemed imminent, but not quite possible. And then it happens and it feels like a surprise. But the surprise is not just in the absence of the person, but the absence of the routine built around the person. Life collapses inward a bit.

The shift in time and energy, being snapped awake by a reminder of impermanence, the new year on the horizon – all these things have propelled me forward. I have to live my days differently. I’ve been practicing a long time, trying on and discarding habits that work or don’t work. I’ve been making my life more about writing than laundry. I’ve reached out and connected with other writers. The time for practice is over. Batter up!

canstockphoto3020214That isn’t to say that I won’t have to make some adjustments to my grand plan. Some things will still be untenable, no matter how good it looks on paper. My schedule and work plan are written in pencil for a reason. I think it’s going to be a slog, to shift into a writing work schedule from just “writing when I feel like it”. Moods tend to be a bad barometer for productivity, so my goal is to work anyway. Hello Excuse. I see you. Now go sit in the corner while I work.

So I prepare for the new year not with a burst of unrealistic goals, but with a sense of determination and an understanding that it will likely suck for awhile – the discomfort, the tension and pull of old habits, the voices in my head that tell me I’m ridiculous or untalented or incapable. Change is difficult, even changes that are simply a shift one way or another. What I do know is that this time next year, I want to have a different story to tell.

What do you want your story to be in 2019?

Some resources that give me a mental boost:

Books

Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro

I just started reading this book and had trouble putting it down. Compelling narrative, but also some immediate great lessons about being a writer. I’m going to have to take notes.

This Year I Will…: How to Finally Change a Habit, Keep a Resolution or Make a Dream Come True  by M.J. Ryan

This isn’t a magic pill, but she draws from a lot of useful sources and I enjoyed listening to the audiobook.

Small Move, Big Change by Caroline Arnold

I’ve recommended this one before. Important because she writes about how to create a workable goal for yourself and what that process entails.

Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John Ratey

Sometimes I just read things like this for reinforcement of what I already know. Occasionally there’s a tidbit that sticks and I add it to my own personal motivations.

The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander

The audiobook is great for those who love classical music, as it breaks each chapter with music. But there were a lot of ideas that I wanted to write down, so I bought the book as well.

Videos

The Power of Vulnerability” by Brené Brown

Hillary Rettig on “Overcoming Procrastination and Perfectionism

Inside the mind of a master procrastinator” by Tim Urban

Podcasts

The Good Life Project with Host Jonathan Fields

The Life Coach School with Host Brooke Castillo

18 Comments on “Clearing the Deck

  1. I’m coming back to this to checkout-all your resources. And to read it again – it so resonates with me. Beautiful bit about grief- exactly what happens- that collapsing in. Perfect image.

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    • Some of the resources are going to be hit or miss, but I usually find a few helpful thoughts. Humans are amazing at how often they have to reconfigure their lives in response to every change, whether it be a death or birth or all the things in between. I marvel at that a bit.

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  2. I’m using the Hubbit’s months in rehab as an opportunity to introduce some radical changes around our hole. Daunting, but exciting – and first and foremost they’re about setting me free to write. And no, I’m not happy he’s going through his own painful stuff, but that doesn’t mean I should sit around and feel sad and do nothing. In his absence all sorts of habits and routines have “collapsed inward”, as you so evocatively put it, and that’s actually a great opportunity to look at them from a different perspective and decide what stays and what must go.

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    • Sometimes it takes something drastic to happen to shake things up and make us reassess our lives. I hope your husband recovers quickly, but am glad that you are finding some space in there for self-care. We become so accustomed to our “ruts”. One of the more salient points in the TED talk by Tim Urban is that we procrastinate things that have no deadline – whether it be making space for writing or getting healthier – there’s no “panic monster” to get us moving. Occasionally the universe gives us a good thwack to the head and if we’re wise enough, we pay attention.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. i want to get my writing time back again. At the same time I do want to be with my family members as we deal with the sudden battery of life events that affect us all. It is hard to know how to prioritise what to do and when when the well being of myself and others have to be balanced.

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    • That is a challenge. The question I always ask is “Am I more present for others when I’ve nurtured myself?” The answer is inevitably yes. There are moments that require our full attention, our presence at bedside. There are moments when we run about trying to make someone’s life easier. But eventually we crash, if we don’t take care of some of our own basic needs. The trick is to find those windows of time and not spend a lot of it on issues of guilt and “should haves”. And nothing travels easier than a notebook and pencil/pen.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the good wishes. I am not, by nature, a pollyanna kind of person and from your comment, neither are you. Still, we have to use whatever power is within our grasp to determine how our time and energy is spent. I am constantly reminding myself to “choose wisely”. I hope that you find the next year a surprisingly good one.

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  4. Best wishes for a happy, healthy, writerly New Year, Michelle! I think there is something to sprucing up our writing spaces/offices. 2 years ago I got really serious about making writing my career path. Once I set that in motion by doing the work (writing, pitching, submitting, researching, repeat), things started falling into place. I’m not where I want (or need to be financially), but I’m further along than I imagined I could be when I started. And that keeps me going and growing as a writer. Thanks for a great list of resources. Have you read Big Magic by Liz Gilbert? I found it motivating and inspiring. No matter what we do, we have to do the writing. And sometimes that’s just hard. But still, it’s what we do. Best wishes!

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    • Thanks, Cheryl. Sometimes it just takes a tweak or two to give some new energy to a space. It sounds like you’re my future writer self! The upcoming year is going to be a lot of work, but I’m optimistic that if I put the time in, I’ll make some progress. I’m also simply determined to feel more joy – which I get when I commit to writing. It’s taken me a long time to get to the point that I was ready to go all in.

      Best wishes to you in the new year as well!

      Liked by 1 person

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