Nobody worked harder than me…

“Nobody worked harder than me today.” – Saul Blinkoff

There was a time in my life when I felt I could honestly say this same statement aloud without any judgement against those others who didn’t work as hard, and without any complaints about the insane amount of work I had been doing. That time was when I was a teacher. And I’ll bet, if you asked anyone who worked with me, or anyone who knew me at the time, they’d be perfectly okay with agreeing to this sentiment.

While I was never a morning person, part of the reason for that was that I was up to all hours of the night writing and rewriting lessons and activities for my classes, or prepping professional development for the teachers I was working with. I stayed in the school building long after all other educational personnel had left, befriending the custodial staff near my classrooms. I volunteered to advise weird and wonderful afterschool clubs. I called homes, wrote letters to parents, tutored kids, rewrote lesson plans with teachers, practiced activities with them, and I had fun doing it all. It’s just what I did. It’s how I worked. I knew no other way.

Then I got sick – a fact it took me a very long time to admit. Ultimately, I had to be hospitalized for me to face the truth. Well… I had to be hospitalized and then go into deep denial for about a year, and then I faced the truth. The point is, I got sick and I couldn’t work harder than anybody. In fact, I couldn’t work. It didn’t matter anymore how passionate I was about my teaching, my body wasn’t up for it. At all.

So, here I am, at home finally in remission, dancing around a new passion and wondering if I have what it takes. I’m wondering when I am going to, again, be able to go to bed each night saying those beautiful words:

Nobody worked harder than me today.

I want that feeling back. I miss it desperately. And every time I remind myself of how fulfilling that feeling was, a small, annoying voice pipes up with this bit of stupidity: That’s what got you sick.

Look, I can’t deny three and a half years of doing literally nothing every single day just to give my body the time and space it needed to heal. I can’t deny the treatments, the specialists, the doctor visits, the hell of all that time when getting healthy became my one and only full time job. I can’t deny the scar over my left eyelid where my doctor sliced me open so he could gain access to my optic nerve to cut some holes in it just to save whatever vision I had left. I can’t deny the actual blindness I experienced – the two years of being physically incapable of reading printed words. I can’t deny the tears from the pain, the loneliness, and all the confusion stemming from my rare disease.

I can’t deny any of it. What’s even more, I won’t deny it. But, here’s something new, I don’t think I am going to own it either. No one knows what caused my disease. Why the hell does that little voice think it is such an expert where countless medical experts fail? My work, my passion, my joy did NOT make me sick. It made me me. Writing also makes me me. I love this tap, tap, tapping at my keyboard. I love configuring letters in such a way to create mental pictures for those who look at them. What beautiful magic!

Here’s what I know:

Writing will never make me sick. Writing is the cure.

Looking for Magic from Elizabeth Gilbert

cover170x170This weekend I submitted my current creative issue to Elizabeth Gilbert in an application to be on this summer’s edition of her Magic Lessons podcast. I loved the topics she tackled last year, and have felt buoyed by all the advice she and her friends doled out. I knew I’d feel honored if I could get her advice on what holds me back – it just took me a little while to figure out what it was.

First, I thought it was my issue with becoming a “jack of all trades, but master of none.” Since my curiosity drives me in so many directions – writing, blogging, writing group, reading, etc – it often feels like my energies are being split. I wrote up the statement and let it sink in a bit more before sending it out. Then I realized, no – it’s not that exactly – it’s the balance of mommyhood and writing. The issue with my curiosity driving me in so many directions is that it steals time from my family! I wrote that statement up and thought about it some more.

Then it hit me: my passions will not drive me away from my family. My family is one of my passions, so that can’t be the source of my fear. When I cleared all the cobwebs enough to find the truth, I realized I am afraid that I will repeat my personal history. I am terrified I will drive myself back into the clutches of my chronic conditions (Intracranial Hypertension and Crohn’s disease) and right out of remission because I don’t know how to pace myself. I have no idea how to be patiently passionate. When it comes to my passions I don’t rest. I am driven – which should be good – but I only have so many spoons (see the story of the Spoonies – The Spoon Theory). I need to find a way to be patient with my passions.

With that discovery, I finally came up with the following 100-word statement I sent to Elizabeth Gilbert describing my plight:

I have a problem with being patiently passionate. I dive into my passions – body whole – and apologize for nothing sacrificed. I did his with teaching, for 12 years. My reward? It was amazing. I was amazing. Then I got sick, really sick. Hospitals, surgeries, blindness, leading to the defeat of applying for disability. This pheonix burned to ash and swore she’d be blown away until she found writing. After 6 years home I have two novel first drafts, a 22-month old son, and organize a writing group. I’m ready to fly. How do I save myself from burning?

My greatest fear is that there is no answer to this question. Or, to be more precise, my fear is that the answer is that I can not do it all. That I should – once again – accept the limitations my body has strung around my life. That I should settle for whatever little happiness it allows. My fear is that the real answer is: Be god-damned grateful that you got your sight back, that you have a son you started to think would never be possible, and STOP BEING GREEDY! This is what the voice says whenever I am feeling especially defeated.

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How I meditate

But there is another voice that is so persistent. It is the voice of my soul and, let me tell you, that little girl never shuts up. Years ago, when I first came home from teaching, I took a stab at meditating as part of the healing process. That’s when I first heard the mantra, “I am not my body, I am my soul.” Ever since my soul never shuts up about it. You are not your body, Nicole, let me do my thing! Nothing would make me happier than for her to be right. I am so rooting for her to win this fight. Here’s hoping that I am close to figuring out how to help her do so.

In the comments:

What holds you back from fulfilling your creative journey?

Have you listened to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons podcast or read her book BIG MAGIC? What are your thoughts about her advice?

 

 

Project Dawn – Day 1

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This is not glamorous.

I call this “Day 1” of my Project Dawn, but, really, this is at least my fourth try at this experiment.

What is Project Dawn? A desperate attempt to find the quiet time in my day to get some writing in – whether it is here on the blog, or devoting time to my fiction projects. You see, for the last 22 months, I have been struggling to find the quiet I once took for granted. Motherhood, in all its wonder, has its own special hum that permeates every waking hour of my day in ways I never once knew possible.

So I went to an expert, my best friend Dawn – mom for over a decade  – and asked her how the hell she gets everything done. Dawn is one of those miracle moms, who not only manages to keep her household afloat, with a husband who has many business trips throughout the year. two school-aged kids, and two extra-large dogs and a cat, but she also manages to do charitable work, cook exciting dinners, and – god help us all – she feeds her creative muse through exciting (and gorgeous!) DIY projects. And – oh yeah – she’s an avid golfer, who has garnered a respectable reputation on Twitter as a reputable voice in the golfing world. I figure, if she can do all that, I should be able to find a tiny bit of writing time for myself each day with my teacher husband who’s home by four daily, my ancient half-blind ShihTzu, and my one child who isn’t even two yet.

No excuses.

That was until Dawn gave me her secret, “Nicole, you have to wake up earlier.” She sounded just like my mother (which makes sense because my mom always loved Dawn, particularly because she was such a “good influence”). She half laughed at the suggestion, because she knew it was the last thing I wanted to hear, but she kept on, “There is no way to do everything while they are awake.” They being the family.

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This is my calendar.

I knew she was right. Nothing is quite like conquering your to-do list while the house sleeps. There was only one problem with Dawn’s suggestion – it pertained to the wrong end of my day. I AM NOT A MORNING PERSON (see embedded picture of the calendar I purchased for myself this year).

My greatest issue with being a writer-mommy has been that I have been unable to do what I do best: create into the wee hours of the morn! I am a night owl. In my 12 years of teaching, I’d work through the night, crashing at around 2, 3, or even 4 in the morning before catching a couple of hours of sleep and then heading to work ready to conquer the world.

But teaching was wildly different than motherhood. For one, I got breaks during the day. Secondly, I was a lot younger and healthier then too. My body is not interested in functioning on little sleep. This is, in fact, one reason I have been so uninterested in Dawn’s proposal. I mean who in their right mind would set an alarm to wake on a day they didn’t have to?!

Today’s answer? Me. Because, at the end of the day, when it is all said and done, I do have to. Not writing consistently for nearly two years now is grating on my soul. And, after actually making it to a #StoryDam chat last night on twitter, it appears more than a couple of writers find it to be the best way to approach our passion.

And then this one really caught my eye:

Because it didn’t only underscore Dawn’s sentiments, it expressed my deepest desires: to stop treating my writing like the ugly stepchild of my life, to give it my full energy and attention. I know, on the days I do that, it infuses everything else I do with joy no matter how tired I am.

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Don’t you wake up tiny mister!

 

So here I am – an hour and half into my early wake up on Project Dawn Day 1. I didn’t wake at dawn, as I originally tried and failed to do. I woke with my husband, made him coffee, said good-bye and sat down to write, while the baby and the dog slept. Sure, I’m clinging tightly to the cup o’ joe I made for myself, and there are an infinite number of chores I could have done in this time, but no. I am so happy right now. This was the right thing to do. Thanks, Dawn – though I won’t wake with the sunrise, my project keeps it’s name in honor of you. Lord knows my mom would be proud today.


In the comments below:

Fellow writers, when do you find/make your writing time?

Fellow mommies, when do you find your quiet time?

To the morning people reading: any advice for surviving this new way of life?