The Metrics Of Procrastination

oooOOH!  I get it.  To be a writer means to actually, like, you know, write.  Right?

Some friends have reached out lately making sure I’ve not been moose-trampled or otherwise met with unfortunate Down East ends.  Not to worry, I’m still breathing.  Labored, maybe, but like my chiropractor noticed when he was massaging my diaphragm last month – there’s deeper breaths to be taken, if I’d just looooosen the heck up.

So, I tried.  Formally.  The result?  Breathing exercises, my ass.  Who knew Dirgha Pranayama and Ujjayi would be so challenging?  Couldn’t I just run a 10K instead?   I’ll huff and puff my way ‘cross the finish line.  I promise.

It’s not called practice for nothing.  Yoga, writing, meditation.  Practice, practice, practice!  Argh.  Can’t it just once be about the destination?

Well, March-May was hard, seeing as my measure of springtime are those glorious, manicured days in New York City, but here its name is M-U-D, aka the longest damn ending to the snowiest winter EVER.  No sun, mostly in the forties, and relatively leafless until, pretty much, yesterday.  While the rest of the country is smouldering already, I’m still in long sleeves.  And a scarf.

I DID have a moment of spark, post-cleanse, when the muses started dancing.  It looked like this:

Bret Michaels
Look what the cat dragged in.

Yeah, kickstart my heart!

It’s not all for naught.  Many words have materialized on the pages of my memoir-in-progress and I’ve researched some communist (and capitalist) propaganda for my Soviet-era play that’s been rattling around in the pinball machine of my imagination, but clearly this blog’s been the white elephant.  (True. I’ve stubbed toes and peanut shells as evidence.)  Each passing day the ant hill morphs into sheer rockface.  Where did I leave those crampons?

Maybe someone snuck in and let the air out of my oxygen tank.

Which reminds me:
“A little bird told me that jumping is easy and the falling is fun, right up until you hit the sidewalk – shivering and stunned.” ~ Ani DiFranco

…like those little finches that fly into the floor-to-ceiling windows at my sister’s house, I’m comin’ to and shakin’ it off.

Then I was waylaid while overcome with Multi-Entrepreneurial Disorder – which, when infected, causes the patient to want to start myriad businesses and collaborative ventures – all under the delusion that she wants to actually work for a living, which I don’t.  What a rabbit hole THAT was.

So, the mania is ebbing and I got myself an $8/hr gig to see how the other 95% live. All in the name of fact-finding and experimentation.  Or… after the snow-pocalypse, then the mud-apalooza and months of solitary scribbling, I know if I don’t get out of this house and talk to other humans, live and in the flesh, I’m gonna commit harikari.

Yeah, the writer’s life. Be careful what you wish for…

Meanwhile, in a parallel universe ~ the writing’s fabulous!  Everything’s goin’ swimmingly!  I’m endlessly inspired and well-disciplined.  I’m churning out magnificent book after book and my publishers keep advancing me enough to buy that charming island with the tricked-out Cape in Penobscot Bay.  Oh, the life – just like Dr. Seuss predicted: all the places I’ll go!  As well, I just won the Booker Prize, and James Franco hired me for a consult.

Or maybe I should keep channeling my inner Bret Michaels and go find myself some groupies.  They say sex tames the….oh, never mind.

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Another inertia-trouncing approach: Acknowledging A Year Of Triumphs

Acknowledging A Year Of Triumphs

Do you do this?  I sell myself short sometimes.  I look at my life and feel I’m spinning my wheels, making no headway, then pessimism and defeat settle in.  I feel a little less worthy and the downward spiral bores into the ground, rooting into hopelessness.  Crazy, right?  But why steamroll myself this way?  I wish I knew.  But recently, when a high school friend posted a photo of a (very young & very skinny) me on Facebook back from my days coaching cheerleaders, I decided to pick up my metaphorical pom-poms and be my own pep squad.  2-4-6-8!  Who do we APPRECIATE?!

My quest to restore buoyancy begins with a small exercise injected into my daily routine – I simply review the day and list what I completed.  Usually I do this in my head (washed the dishes, finally wrote a blog post, called my sister, saved the world, didn’t eat the whole bag of cookies…), but occasionally I’ll write it down, especially when the mental list doesn’t offer quite the satisfaction I’m after. Actually putting it on paper makes for a longer list, because writing it out is more of a commitment (and damn! Doesn’t the page looks more impressive the fuller it is?)  I include more than just mundane errands and the requisite household tasks – I’ll jot new insights, flesh out story ideas and add smiley faces and exclamation marks.   (It’s hard to deny the uplifting nature of drama and silliness, particularly when colorful markers are employed.)

When I’m feeling really dejected – stuck in first gear with my tires spitting mud while the ruts only get deeper – I stop and look for a higher view.  Maybe a few months back, or even a couple years, and I check out the scenery since then.  What I see never fails to surprise and delight.  I’ve been amazed by distances I’ve traveled both geographically and in the landscape of imagination.  Try it – think back to a point in time and take inventory of where you were and what you were doing.  Marvel at how far you’ve come. We are not the same people we once were.  We’re better.  Stronger.  Wiser.

What I’ve learned is to be more aware of my current state, to see with clarity – the situation is almost always better than I think it is.  Now, even before I start to dip below sea level, I head myself off at the pass by taking stock, and appreciating not just what I have, but also what I’ve accomplished, both in large and small ways.

So as I head into this fresh year, this new decade, I’m taking time to review my accomplishments from 2010:

  1. I created OFF~PEAK, to explore and develop my voice and writing skills, and to target future goals with you at my side, dear readers.
  2. I committed more fully to nurturing my friendships, after a few too many years of sequestering myself.
  3. After almost 25 years, I moved on from the restaurant business – while I still enjoyed it.  (The secret to a long life is knowing when it’s time to go.)
  4. I ate more green, leafy vegetables and less meat.
  5. I drank more water, and less alcohol and caffeine.
  6. I donated substantially to causes I believe in, using my money as a tool to align myself with who I am and what my values are.
  7. The Great Midwest Road Trip!  I saw jaw-dropping miles of cornfields; visited great architectural sites like Columbus, Indiana, the skyline of Chicago, and the unsurpassed splendor of Fallingwater; operated one of the locks on the Mississippi River; and met a quirky cast of characters, including a roadside BBQ chef who taught me to roll down the windows and let my hair and spirit fly.
  8. I trusted my intuition.  I listened to my gut.  I believed in myself.
  9. I purged material belongings that were weighing me down and holding me back.  A LOT of things.
  10. I cultivated my creativity.
  11. I moved, on a whim, to Maine:  6 weeks from inception to arrival.  I call that Life Flexibility.

And more than any other entry on that list, I transformed how I define myself.  I am a Writer now, and the most content I’ve ever been.  I can’t wait to check in this time next year and see how far 2011 takes me!

And you?  I would love to hear your peaks and proud moments…bet there’s more than you think.

You Say Po-TAY-to, I Say Po-TAH-to

“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”
“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”
“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing,” he said.

On good recommendation, I read a story of wonderful suspense this week.  The American naturalist John Muir recounts an Alaskan adventure with an unlikely companion, a little black mutt named Stickeen.  At one point, they venture far onto a glacier in driving snow, and are faced with a huge crevasse they must navigate to return safely to camp.  How they fare I’ll leave you to discover, but know that this predicament, though not always as dire, can be universal – the turning point of our life, and teach us much about ourselves.

I find myself sometimes in a similar place with my writing:  encountering a chasm I have no idea how to traverse.  I stare at it, walk the length of it looking for a bridge, even attempt to jump across, when I’m feeling brave enough.  What I’ve found is that having companions on the journey keeps me from giving up, because even though our drive for survival is instinctually powerful, when there’s another being by my side the drive becomes exponential.  In these circumstances, I  am empowered by a greater responsibility, and gratefully hitch  myself to my imagination on one side and to my companions on the other, and then get a running start…

In writing class today, I was asked by another student where my creative discipline comes from, for I write just about every day.  Different days yield different answers, and today I reference some of those treasured souls who inspire me, the ones I do not personally know:

  • Julia Cameron, an author who taught me to write Morning Pages, three lengths of (mostly) drivel & (occasionally) gems every single day, and the lifelong habit that it forges.
  • A. A. Milne, who created the Pooh, Piglet, Tigger and Eeyore characters, each who exist inside me and show true simplicity, equanimity, curiosity, joy and acceptance.
  • Henry David Thoreau, who had the courage to meet himself alone in the woods and advise us to “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.  Live the life you’ve imagined,” which is inscribed on a bracelet my mother gifted me many years ago.
  • Ani Difranco, a folksinger who circumnavigated corporate structure by starting her own record company at age 18, and who expresses herself with stunning integrity, intelligence and lyricism.
  • Constantin Brancusi, a Romanian sculptor who taught me to see the essence of objects and ideas through his distilled, elegant forms.

These are all people who persevered over crevasses and chasms, I am sure, to let loose their voice, their vision, their life’s purpose.  I am never without them, nor many other creative souls who listened to the knowing deep inside and shared their gifts with the world.  It is not enough that one recognize the inner voice;  we must liberate it, nurture it, guide it.  We must relentlessly practice it.  Discipline is crucial, as is the community we cultivate in order to support it.  Ultimately, we do not operate alone.

On a different day, I might answer that my discipline comes from considering the alternative – having to go get a job.  At this point in my journey, I will do anything to avoid punching a clock, having a boss, or submitting myself to someone else’s vision or rulebook.  For me to live authentically, I must listen closely and follow the rhythm of my own drum(heart)beat.  There’s magic there, and freedom and joy and – yes – commitment, struggle, even gaping holes in the glacier.  But to be alive is to discover oneself, and that is the most exciting  adventure of all.  Won’t you accompany me?

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