The new prompt from the DIY MFA Book Club: Tell a story about a time when you had to honor your reality. Has there ever been a moment when writing felt completely incompatible with your real life–when it felt like there was just no way you could make the two exist together?
I have been thinking about the concept of balance and honoring the truth of my life for the last couple of years. The idea has pinged subtly in books that I have read like ESSENTIALISM, or a mention in The Simple Show podcast. The concept pops into the front of my brain. Tsh from The Simple Show has been using the format of what you say yes and no to which has really resonated with me. The other podcast and writer that has made me think around this concept is Emily P. Freeman and listening to her podcast The Next Right Thing. She talks about noticing and determining what your personal important list is so you can make the right decisions and goals for YOU.
For much of my life, I have done what is politically correct or the impression of what I thought “I was supposed to do.” This can range from parents, partners, kids, or bosses. As a teacher coach, I use the term: self-imposed rules. Humans impose our own parameters all the time. We use our past experience and excitement and the rules are given to us but sometimes we make it harder on ourselves then we need to.
The job I have now causes me to spend a lot of time dealing with issues that are not related to the content of my profession. I have added tasks related to the commute. I cannot blame all the issues of time and balance on the commute, however. When I was reflecting on how I honor or do not honor reality I was brought back to memories of my first year teaching I became addicted to teaching and doing a great job. I believe in the mission of teaching, inspiring, and facilitating students to become lifelong learners. In my reality that is not just a catchphrase. I was at school 6 in the morning to 6 at night to try to get as much done as I could that first year and by March I was burnt out. I was exhausted and decided to make a solid end time to the day to go home. If I got the work done, great. If not, it would be there tomorrow. For the last couple of months, I took nothing home to work on. I had to replenish or I would be no use to my students.
I would like to say I learned my lesson that first year but I didn’t. I cycle through periods where I throw myself into my work and that’s all that I can focus on. Then I reach the point of sickness or complete exhaustion and scale back with a plan.
In my reading and writing life, I am obsessed with time. I love stories with a time element. I even have a timepiece as part of a tattoo. The white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland is my spirit animal. Time is important to me and I need to honor it because there is only so much of it. I better manage when I do some flexible planning with specific intention to help me complete activities that are truly important to me and my mission.
In spite of all the obstacles, I am always writing. I am composing in my head, dictating on my phone, thinking out issues of story, reading and listening about writing craft, and teaching some students and teachers along the way. This is my new reality. The largest breakthrough in relationship to writing was recent. Hearing Julie Duffy from STORYADAY on Episode 91 of the DIY MFA podcast allowed me to give myself permission to write a story a day even if it was bad. The self-imposed rule for myself was the story had to have a beginning, middle, and end which broke me of the pattern of just starting and letting the end of the story hang out in the blankness of the paper. With the daily story, I didn’t care about the word count. Just one story per day. I was so excited about it I started that day. After about 3 days the stories started to get better. It was a huge paradigm shift. Ray Bradbury’s advice seems appropriate here:
“Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.”
― Ray Bradbury
I have to honor the reality and make the writing a priority. I also now recognize that the physical writing is easier for me if I have a little plan. I like to write and see what happens but if I have an idea of three major pieces of a story the writing is much more fun. I honor the reality that my time in the car is not wasted I can enrich myself and think. I honor the reality that I can make notes at the gym in between sets and come back to it later. And I honor the fact that I am older, the commute sometimes makes me tired and I can just sleep or not think about writing. I can come back to it and it will always be there.
I have some goals that are doable. 1 story a week. Most of the time I do more. I need to schedule revision time and use the Google Calendar time blocking it.
For me, honoring the reality is not the big issue. I have to shift my own paradigm to make sure what is on my “important list” is what I know to be important for my own reality, not someone else’s.