on this Christmas Eve: Lessons from Mary Oliver

I had grand plans for writing this week. I planned to work hard on my 2017 coaching content, with the goal of completing drafts for at minimum the three blog posts needed for January’s “consumable content“. Earlier this year, I had planned not only the topics for my first quarter of content for 2017, but had also gone through the task of choosing the art to use for each post. A task I love yet a task that tends to slow me down. A way to drag my feet a little, procrastinate as we all can do.

I also planned to write, if not daily, at least several times here. I miss this space, I need this space, a return to my roots of writing, when daily blogging began to break open the chains I had around my heart and creative life. Blogging back in 2000 resurrected the writer buried within me. Back then, writing online seemed safer than writing on paper.

Sixteen years later, I am in the midst of a creative evolution, I know that I need to write in order to think. I also know that the new routines and rituals I am needing haven’t gelled yet. Honestly, I don’t even know if I’ve found them yet.  I need to write in my journal, a place that is finally safe for me. But writing here gives me the illusion of some outward accountability. It’s easier to bury my head in the sand and pretend that my writing life is solid when I am am only sharing 1000 words every couple of weeks for work and another 1000 words over at Modern Creative Life.

Writing here regularly also dovetails with the adage of: the more you write, the more you write. Even though the illusion of outward accountability is mostly a trick since I only have a half-dozen or fewer folks popping in here. But, the thing is, tricks work to help us form new habits and strengthen our muscles. Yes, even our writing muscles.

This week has not turned out as I planned.

John decided to tele-work most of this week. I have yet to master getting solid amounts of writing done when he’s home. In part because early on in our relationship, I established the firmest boundaries for my work life I’d ever created: work when he’s at work, don’t work when he’s home. I’ve been self-employed since 2003, so this was a big deal for me when we first set up house together: to not work 7 Days a Week.

This has evolved over the last six years, of course, with me saving the more mindless tasks for work, like scheduling social media posts, for his tele-work days. Or reading while he plays his XBox  and replaying to emails while he analyzes the statistics for the Cubs.

My friend Melissa tells me this is something I must learn to do: to write when he is home. He plans to retire between the ages of 65 and 66, which means I will be 55 or 56. My long range goal for those retirement years is writing books and editing the brilliant work of others. I know she is right, but I’m not there yet by a long-shot. And trust me, I berate myself in the head for not having better discipline or a better ability to focus on my work and tune out what’s happening outside my office door.

I was feeling pretty frustrated about this (again) and then found comfort in words in Mary Oliver’s brilliant new book of essays Upstream.

“Creative work needs solitude. It needs concentration, without interruptions. It needs the whole sky to fly in,and no eye watching until it comes to that certainty which it aspires to, but does not necessarily have at once. Privacy, then. A place apart – to pace, to chew pencils, to scribble and erase and scribble again.”

As always, I learn from the wisdom of others. I have become accustomed to complete solitude during my writing hours. I pace, not just my office, but the entire house. I talk to myself, go up and down the stairs, spread out laundry, all the while plotting and planning in the space of no one seeing my crazy work habits.

Like most of my reading these days, Upstream has been borrowed from the library. There are so many books I want to read, but frankly, few I will read more than once or twice. I haven’t finished reading it, yet based on the sheer power of this single essay  “Power and Time”, I need this book on my own shelves.  I will return to the essay time and time again to remind myself that I am not alone. That my need to create isn’t selfish, but critical to my ability to feel alive.

“Power and Time” speaks so strongly about the creative life – the need for silence and privacy, the truth that we create during ordinary time that, because of our work, transforms into the extraordinary. How we must tend our creative work or else find ourselves living a life of regret because we gave our creative life neither importance or time.

There’s another major factor in my writing plans going awry: I’m sick. For the second time this year, I am fighting a cold/respiratory thing. This time, though, John isn’t sick. I’ve been fighting the edges of it for more than a week, and yesterday was the worst day of it. I spent a couple of hours on the couch just resting, watching The Librarians as I sipped chicken soup.  Then, John came upstairs and we watched The Thin Man and other movies, ordered a pizza, and did little else.

Today, it is Christmas Eve. I am still not back to 100% but do feel better. I’ve showered, had some eggs, and then made a brunch of breakfast tacos and hash-browns. We planned to go to Mass today, but the last thing I want to do is spread my germs to others celebrating the holiday. So, we will be staying home.

This cold is another slice of reality for me, though: another thing I have yet to master is learning to rest and be idle.

My body needs more rest than I am giving it, and by rest, I don’t mean sleep necessarily. Though I no longer live “busy” as my lifestyle, I do keep busy. This year has been busy, what with two new books of my own and the editing of the Anthology for Modern Creative Life. Not to mention madly working on the third book I planned to release this year, but didn’t.

I have expended enormous doses of energy without being as diligent as I need to be about preparing myself for the work.  I’m not taking enough time away from the internet. I haven’t been exercising as much as I need to, and though I stuck with a fairly conscious approach to eating from May through September (mostly a Whole30 approach). In October,I began indulging in way too much gluten in the form of biscuits, sandwiches, and the occasional slice of cake.  Though I am not allergic to gluten, it is an inflammatory food to my body and after a summer of being mostly pain free, the joints in my hand and hips are making themselves known.

Again, Oliver reaches out to me from the page:

“Like the knights of the Middle Ages, there is  little the creatively inclined person can do but to prepare himself, body and spirit, for the labor to come – for his adventures are all unknown.”

Committing to a creative life means preparing my body for the work to come. Writing requires large swaths of time sitting while using my hands – be it with a pen or keyboard – is an undeniable requirement.  Writing also requires that my body is rested and my soul is tended and fueled.

I have been planning to take from Christmas through Candlemas off from heavily working on my coaching practice or focused on a new body of work. My soul has been begging me to stop harvesting and rest. My brain, oh my brain, has pushed me to do a little more here and a little more there.

My body finally said “enough” and laid me low.

Though I had already committed to 2017 being a year when I turn the microscope on myself and examine where I am neglecting myself, my body has chimed in to remind me that it needs tending alongside my heart, mind, and soul.  It needs, not just the commitment and not just the actions I’ve taken thus far to seal that commitment, but the reminder it demands more from me, and the more from me it demands is sometimes….less.

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