Sunday, December 5, 2010

Making the Most of It

Artifacts of Longing Reading @ NE Library 11/21/10

Right now I am supposed to be at Write-o-Rama, the Hugo House’s all day writing workshop fundraiser, only instead I am sitting at a café, writing, alone.

I was excited for Write-o-Rama, excited to get away for a full day on my own, something I haven’t done in months (or truly, something I’ve never done since giving birth to Cedar—the longest I’ve been away from him is for 4 or 5 hours in July when I went to the spa with my girlfriends). In any case, a day like today where I have a free pass to be away is precious, and as I sat there in the first workshop session at 10 a.m., I realized that this wasn’t how I wanted to spend it. I didn’t want think about craft or try exercises in genres other than my own, as interesting as those activities can be. I wanted to be journaling, free-writing, unleashing a million and one thoughts that I haven’t had time to process. And if not that, then I wanted to be walking around Capitol Hill by myself in the sun, browsing through Elliot Bay bookstore, then buying myself two sweaters from Value Village in different shades of green, before eating my brown bag lunch at Lookout Park, and then driving back to Café Javasti, my favorite writing spot in my own neighborhood, to write for this blog.

So this is what I did, feeling only the slightest bit of guilt for leaving the Hugo House, and most of that guilt directed at the leader of the one workshop I attended yet barely listened to, instead journaling about my own private thoughts and scanning the day’s schedule to see what drew my eye. Sorry, man. As an instructor I know you can tell who is paying attention and who isn’t, and I know how hard it can be to be up there and worry about not doing a good job. So I just want to say, it wasn’t you or your workshop, it was me. It was me, and the fact that I am so seldomly alone these days, that when I do get these rare opportunities, there is absolutely no room for me to not do exactly what I want—or at least what is within my means. So that is why I am here, writing to you instead through this blog, or writing to myself. Because I desperately need to catch up with my heart in words.

It’s been way too long since I’ve posted anything on this blog. Over a month ago, I started a post that chronicles my four-month saga of being on an elimination diet and Cedar’s food allergy and gas issues, but that is turning into something much more involved; hopefully I will finish and post it in the near future. In the meantime, so many other thoughts and feelings worth capturing on the page continue to filter through my mind and heart that never get written down-- and thus processed, honored, and witnessed.

The last thing I posted was about my Els and Frank/inheritance project, mostly to entice you to come to my reading that happened two weeks ago. The reading went great, I thank those of you who attended or wished me well on the project, and I am also relieved it is over. It was a challenge to have a real deadline before me at the same time that I’m a full-time caretaker for Cedar, as opposed to just my own self-imposed deadlines, like writing for this blog. In the weeks leading up to the reading, my mom and sister pitched in and watched Cedar more often, but even then, I had a very limited amount of time to write, edit, advertise, practice, and edit some more. I ended up revising three sections from my manuscript to read, and in order for them to have the most impact as excerpts, I had to essentially craft them anew. Down to the morning of the reading, I was still making edits on the page. I couldn’t practice reading my drafts aloud even once without finding things I wanted to change. I am not used to reading stuff that is so new in public.

In the end the writing still didn’t feel finished to me, but the process was good practice in letting go of perfection. And now, I am thankful to be able to write anything or nothing again, and to ask myself, what’s going on? What do you need to write about?

One recent development is that I seem to have adopted a penchant for insomnia. The first time it hit was a couple months ago, and I can’t deny the apparent connection between the insomnia and the new (now removed) stress of my reading deadline. I am so stretched for personal time these days, that all it took was adding one outside pressure and I felt the added strain acutely.

For several weeks, insomnia struck about once a week. I’d be exhausted (as usual) and try to go to bed at a decent time (10, 11), but then I’d lie there awake an hour or more next to my snoring husband and sleeping baby, before I’d finally get up, frustrated and even more wakeful than before. Since I’m breastfeeding, I couldn’t indulge in several glasses of wine, which would’ve been a nice solo, late night activity. And chamomile tea or other herbal remedies didn’t seem to help. I tried a hot shower (I’d take a bath if we had one), tried yoga, reading, surfing Facebook, journaling, eating, going outside, whatever I could, but most nights I wouldn’t be able to fall back asleep until after 3 a.m., and by then my baby would start waking up again throughout the early morning hours and I’d end up with maybe three hours of broken sleep.

Insomnia is hell, yes, some of you know, or have known it far worse than my sporadic bouts. Especially when it happens multiple nights in a row. The night that happened brought me to tears I was so frustrated. Oh, to be that tired and not be able to sleep. And to imagine how tired I’d be the next day with my baby. I’ve had insomnia a handful of times in my life, but I’ve never considered myself a poor sleeper. Now, after it had struck enough times and I realized that it was not a fluke occurrence, I finally figured out that I shouldn’t be online, on the phone, or doing chores or any kind of work or correspondence immediately before crawling into bed. I absolutely need to have true down time, where I’m relaxed and am just sitting there reading or breathing in a chair for an hour or two before I go to sleep. It doesn’t matter how tired I am and how much I’d benefit from going to bed early. I need this time at the end of the day, without my baby, and preferably silent and alone. Going to bed at midnight or one a.m. is better than trying to go to bed at eleven, but then not being able to fall asleep and thus conjuring the frustration that keeps me up even later. There are no shortcuts. I need my own time and space each day to stay sane.

I also have recently recalled how in my “former life” it used to be so important for me to get exercise or at least to walk around outside for a bit each day. If I didn’t, then I’d feel all cooped up and wired at the end of the night, and I’d need to release that energy through drinking wine and dancing, or collaging, or staying up late and tapping into my inner depths in some way. But now, those outlets are no longer so possible. And although I can still stay up late if I please, I don’t have the luxury of sleeping in—not even on weekends-- to make up for it. So it’s always a compromise. The lesson in this is that I need to get out more on walks with Cedar during the day, even when it is rainy, oppressive and grey. This is essential. I must strive to maintain the delicate balance between my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. Any imbalance will otherwise reveal itself eventually in some way.

I’m doing better now, although the insomnia has not completely gone away. I’m happy I fulfilled my grant requirements, and I’m awaiting my final payment which I hope to plug back into my writing pursuits in some way. I’m proud of the job I did, and I have a better sense now of what it will take for me to keep working on my bigger projects in the midst of motherhood. I am also even more aware of how sensitive and stretched I am right now, and consequently how little it takes to tip me over. I need to be vigilant in making sure that I stay healthy and balanced. And I need to keep asking for help. Articulating my needs and then figuring out how to meet them.

It is imperative that I stay connected to my writing life. I can’t abandon my vital projects and goals. This is, after all, my life’s work, and I’ve known this for a long time. My writing may not bring in a paycheck, and it may pale in importance when compared to the heart-wrenchingly awesome work of motherhood, but it still absolutely will not and cannot go away. My soul will not allow for it. It must find room to thrive and breathe, even if it must make do with more limited time and space.

This makes me think of dancing. There is nothing I love more than to lose myself on the dance floor or out in an open field at some outdoor concert, to lose myself in the music and eventually ascend to that place of euphoria as I unite with each unfolding turn of the music. I love it the most when there is plenty of room around me, when I can twirl and stomp and jump without worrying about bumping into others. But when this is not possible, when I’m in a tight crowd or space, I must adjust my expectations, make my movements smaller and more contained. I must create a little bubble of intention, good energy, and movement around me, so that at very least those around me will respect my immediate space. And even though this may not be an ideal situation, I can still find a certain freedom within this containment, I can still eventually access that high and holy place inside if the music is moving me right. I might need to close my eyes and shut other people out at first, but eventually, once the music enters me, I can open my eyes again and see everyone and everything around me without having it distract me. My inner and outer world are in alignment, I am not striving to block anything out, nor do I need to push too hard to express myself. I am just dancing, lost in the movement and music.

This is what I am striving for now as I try to find balance between my life as a writer and a mother. I am learning what it takes to work within a vastly constricted bubble of time and space. And I am learning how to access those same transcendent moments where a commitment to a steady practice eventually yields to the gift of a moment where a sentiment or idea comes out perfectly expressed. I am learning how to ask for the space that I need, without pining for the expanses that are currently not available. I am learning how to make the most of all I’ve been given.


  1. Anne- What wonderful reflections! I especially resonate with your dancing metaphor. Thank you for sharing. -Meghan

  2. Anne, so good to hear your thoughts. Thanks for sharing!



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