How and Why I Do It

gifts of imperfectionLate last year, I read The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. This book gave me a nervous breakdown, but it was worth it. Part of Brown’s guide is encouraging us to tell our stories. This is one of mine.

I work full-time and have several part-time gigs, mostly teaching webinars and facilitating online classes. I’m on the board of Sisters in Crime. I play the bassoon and write short stories. That might be it. It’s easy to sum up, but not so easy to talk about. People often ask me, “How do you do it?” I believe there is a hidden question: “Why do you do it?” Because I have a little boy, who clearly should be taking up most of my time. How could you give up all that time with your child? is the big judgment lingering in the air. The answer is, simply, that I don’t. I have plenty of time with my child. I’ll get to that.

Why I do it: I love everything I do, and I need the money to build my child a better life. Those are the simple answers. There are definitely times when I feel so frantic, so overburdened by responsibility, that my head swims and my mouth speaks (it has a habit of doing that, beyond my control). But usually, that’s because my brain is on Fast Mode. We are all so tethered to our e-mail and our task lists. Sometimes I maintain the illusion that I can control my inbox (or the actions of other people) and that’s when things go off the rails. When I surrender to Slow Mode and the immediacy of The Moment, I feel free and grateful for all that I have.

The reality of How I Do It has so much to do with mental energy and skill, using the right brain and the left when appropriate. I manage my calendar and task lists with precision, while also blocking out chunks of time to be spontaneous. It doesn’t always happen the way I plan (especially when one works with the public) but giving myself the extra time allows me to breathe. I do this with both my personal life and work life. At work, I can “manage by walking around” and see problems I might not have seen if I were holed up in my office all day. While on the floor, I am more attuned to patron needs and possible behavior issues. At home, I have time with my son. I don’t answer the phone or read email. We play, snuggle, read books. I commit him to memory, one hug at a time, because he won’t always be like this.  In a year, he’ll be some new wonder.

It’s not perfect. Of course, there need to be more hours.  My husband and I could use more time together. I could use more time with friends. I miss reading as much as I used to. But mostly, what I’ve given up is feeling guilty, and that’s the key. Sometimes my house is not perfect (most of the time) or all the laundry isn’t done. Some nights we don’t cook at home. Sometimes things wait till tomorrow. There’s no point in working yourself into a grave. You take every moment as it comes, feel the feeling, take ownership, and move on. That’s an ideal, and it doesn’t always work, but I am happier than I ever have been.

I used to spend all my time worrying and manufacturing drama I didn’t need. I acted like a victim. When I realized I had the power to change my own life, the world opened up. I know the dark depths of chemical and hormonal depression, and I know that there is no magic bullet. I have been struggling with this again in recent weeks, and I have had clawed my way out of many holes. But I have more tools in my toolbox now. I can lean on myself rather than expect others to bring me happiness like a present from Santa. And when I started doing that, magically, I had more time and was able to accomplish more.

Now excuse me while I go read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and have another nervous breakdown. It’s coming. I can feel it. 

Mindfulness and Me

Photo by user juliejordanscott on Flickr (Creative Commons)

Photo by user juliejordanscott on Flickr (Creative Commons)

Next week, I am leading a webinar on mindfulness at work, specifically in the library. Mindfulness, since I learned about it earlier this year, has truly changed my life. I have struggled with depression and anxiety my entire life. While mindfulness and meditation are not cures or catchalls, they are tools for the repertoire, swords for fighting the beast. There are many factors that produce depression and anxiety, and not every technique works for everyone.  It doesn’t even work for me all the time. But now, I practice these skills every day, with the intent of building them bigger and stronger.

I’m doing these posts for the students in my webinar, but I’m also doing them for anyone who wants to know more about this practice and how it helps one individual person. I don’t speak for everyone, and I have so much more to learn.

My road began with the book 10% Happier by Dan Harris. I’ve talked about this book ad nauseam since then. Harris, a television anchor, had a panic attack on air. He was struggling with drug dependency and anxiety, and he decided to look into ways to help himself. He interviewed Deepak Chopra and Eckhart Tolle, and he went on a ten-day retreat with no speaking. The stories are fascinating, but it’s his conclusions that meant the most to me. I wrote down his tenets, “The Way of the Worrier,” as he calls them, and stick to them as best I can every day.  Among them: don’t be a jerk, hide the zen if you have to, and realize everything is temporary.

Next I went on to Taming the Drunken Monkey by William Mikulas. I picked that one up at ALA and added it to my already overflowing bag of ARCs. This book stresses three concepts: awareness, flexibility, and concentration. It progresses in stages through the levels of exercises, so if you’re a beginner, you can start with the first level and move up. I’m somewhere in the second level right now. It’s extremely practical, and if you want to practice meditation, it’s a good place to start.

On the plane back from ALA, I read another advanced reading copy, The End of Stress by Don Joseph Goewey.  My takeaway from that book was that there were even more techniques and tools I could be using, and more that I’m probably not even aware of. My favorite tool in that book is simple – when you’re feeling stressed, tell yourself, “I could be at peace right now.” The anxiety in my head is temporary, created of my own nervous mental energy, and unnecessary. When I use this tool, I feel all the stress disappear from my body instantly, and all my breath goes out in a whoosh.  Focusing on the breath is very important in this practice.

Here’s how I currently apply the skills I learned in these books:

  • A lot of my stress comes from interpreting inconsiderate things said to me, often by people who care about me. By understanding that everything is temporary, and that I should focus on the moment, I know that what they think or say doesn’t matter. I am the only one in control of my own destiny. If they don’t like me, it only harms them. I strive to be a good person, so if I make a mistake, it’s not the end of the world. I can take responsibility for my actions and move on to the next thing.
  • My calendar is packed. I work full-time and do a lot of freelance side work. I also have a toddler and a husband. Balancing it all can be stressful. Focusing on the moment allows me to put my concentration and efforts on what I’m doing right now. I can put aside the endless to-do list and know that it will get done another time, as long as I write it down for later.
  • My child will only be two once. Knowing that helps me catalog the special moments and soak them in so I remember them forever.
  • Awareness of the moment has helped me connect with the world more. When life flies by, it’s easy to ignore everything and put blinders on. When you are focusing on the moment, you notice more: the beauty of a sunset, the unique softness of a child’s skin, unusual names on tombstones. Lately, this has created a powerful awe in me, and a profound gratefulness that I have this life, that I live in this world. My writing has improved with these observations as well.

Recently, I started wondering how I could apply these principles to other anxieties and neuroses I’ve held for a long time. I’ll talk about those in my next post.

 

SinC Blog Hop

Books

Photo by Ed Dubiel

So if you didn’t know, I’m an officer on the national board for Sisters in Crime, an organization for lovers of crime fiction: mystery writers, readers, and everyone in between.  I’m the Library Liaison, which means I help writers get hooked up with librarians and vice versa, to the mutual benefit of all involved.  This is a good role for me because I’m a librarian and a writer, so I know what it’s like from both sides.  (Even when sometimes those two identities have a hard time coexisting!)

Fellow librarian/writer/board member Barbara Fister and I created this September Blog Hop.  Okay, Barbara created it, and I’m just along for the ride. But this is a good idea, so I’m here to add my two cents. All this month, SinCers are posting their answers to prompts and tagging others to do the same.  I choose the following questions… (dun dun dun)

What’s the best part of the writing process for you, and what’s the most challenging?

I often ask myself why I write.  Sometimes I get so caught up in the drama and angst of it that I can’t even answer that question. I say to myself, I could be reading right now instead of beating myself over the head.  I think about my friends who don’t have the writing bug and get jealous. I start to wonder if the grass is greener.

I started writing because in third grade, a teacher handed me a pen and a Garfield notebook and told me to. Until that blank page stared up at me from the desk, I’d never entertained the idea. But this was part of our classwork, and like a good student, I followed the rules. Then I realized I didn’t want to follow the rules: I wanted to make up my own stories, for sport. My first story was called Trapped in a Video Game, and it followed the exploits of a main character whose name I cannot recall, but was, indeed, Trapped in a Video Game – Super Mario Brothers, to be exact. Also, she had a crush on Wesley Crusher.

I keep writing for the thrill of it. I like to see text unfurl on the screen, a scarf unraveled. I like to inhabit the mind of a character, figure her out, find out why she ticks. I wait for the aha moments and the quiet revelations that appear on the page. I turn my computer off and write longhand so I can concentrate, block out the noise in my mind and go to someplace that is entirely my own.

The hardest part of writing for me is dealing with the psychological burden that comes with it. I am only one tiny voice in a chorus of millions.  Why would anyone want to read my work?  Why would anyone care? Lately, however, I’ve been ignoring those questions, the little internal cry of Why bother? I’ve been sending out my work and letting others read it. Sisters in Crime has helped give me the courage I need for this. For years I’ve questioned my own self-worth in a number of areas, but I’m too old for that now.  I know I’m good at what I do, and it’s time to start showing myself off before I die.

What books are on your nightstand right now?

I’m a librarian and a book podcaster, so I have to answer this one.  Next in my queue is The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness.  Alas, I’m mystery/thrillered out, having finished several good ones within the last few weeks.  So, Harkness it is.  That is the last book in the fantasy series about a vampire and a witch who fall in love. I also have the advanced copy of Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult waiting for me.  When I do eventually get back to thrillers, I’m looking forward to Ice Shear by M.P. Cooley and The Secret Place by Tana French.