Better Boundaries

One of the things I have encountered while trying to write full time is how much it just looks to other people like you are screwing around.

Yes, there is some screwing around to be expected, but a lot of what you don’t see is mapping out your thoughts, drawing in information, and trying to get to a state of equilibrium where the outside distractions are at a minimum and your work can begin.

I was talking with a friend last night who was in the middle of helping out a friend with some divorce drama. She had work of her own to do, but being a good friend, she took the time to work things out with her friend who was struggling. After a few hours of this, the end of the evening was closing in and she still hadn’t written her paper. The friend was fine, she probably would have been fine, but for my friend, there was still a paper to be written, an impending deadline, and now a whole bucketload of frustration and exhaustion.

Yesterday was a lot like that for me too. I started off the day after a rough night with the dog wanting to go out at 7:30am. We headed out into the snow, where she took care of business, and then we ran into my dad, who always wants a conversation. I am not much of a morning person. Unlike a retired man who begins every day at 5am and always has some kind of project to fiddle with, my brain refuses to engage until around 10. The reason for this is I often work until 2am. That is when the house is quiet, no kids are throwing Star Wars trivia at me, and nobody has to use my computer for endless busywork projects their online school throws at them throughout the day. Even the dog chills out from her need to be petted, a toy thrown, or let out.

My dad likes to visit. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s just I have a finite number of things I have to say in a day, and trying to fill out the early morning pre-coffee with conversation is really pulling the rope a long way in a dry well. So, my day started with guilt.

Are we going to fix the heater in your car today?

No. I hadn’t been planning on it.

Oh. Gonna write some blogs today then?

Fuck. I was. Now that I’ve been guilted about it, I think I’ll do a couple loads of laundry, and about a hundred thousand other things that aren’t writing. Maybe feel like I’m not doing enough to satisfy the production level which is expected of me by my family.

A buddy of mine once told me when I was struggling with some writer’s block and I couldn’t stay off social media, “Avoid garbage words in the morning.” he said.

The old legend of Samuel Taylor Coleridge who sat down to pen Kublai Khan and how he was interrupted by the Person from Porlock and most of the great bits of the epic poem evaporated from his head is something that happens almost daily for me. When I have to struggle to talk to people in the morning and force some semblance of conversation, which usually ends in some sort of criticism, I’m not happy. Between my recent daily emails of how I am lacking as a human being from my ex-wife and my dad’s critivisits, it’s a wonder I get anything done.

Sometimes I just don’t want to talk to anybody! Much less someone whose negativity I have to match to make a connection.

The hardest thing about the creative process, whether it is painting, poetry, art, writing, singing, songwriting, broadcasting, etc. is convincing people who don’t have to come up with shit from thin air that you are actually being productive. The same goes for writing papers, writing copy for companies, studying, etc. It’s work. It requires concentration. If roles were reversed, could they just sit down and put their thoughts into some kind of media? Those who can do it well make it look easy. It doesn’t mean that it is. It doesn’t mean that we don’t agonize over details to get them just right, so that a reader can just breeze through it and not appreciate the artistry that went into it.

Think of a cabinet. Somebody planned that, measured the wood, cut it to specifications, planed it, assembled it, stained and finished it, and all the rest. And you just stick your coffee mugs inside of it. Do you ever think for a moment the work and effort it takes to put something together like this? No! Because it is so basic and utilitarian you aren’t meant to throw yourselves at its feet and worship it for the art that it is! It doesn’t mean that passion and thought didn’t go into it. It doesn’t mean that they didn’t step back when it was done and say “I hope somebody really enjoys this.”

We all consume. We all just carry on. To the next one. And the next. And so on.

Stop it.

If you don’t make better boundries, people will come in to your life and grab everything they can carry off. If they get mad about the boundaries, then those boundaries were made exactly for that person. Boundaries filter out the people who just take and never give back. Feel about as guilty at the outrage they exude as you would someone flipping you off in traffic. It’s a meaningless gesture. If what you are doing has meaning. If you are chasing your dream or following a plan to achieve a goal, then keep moving forward. Put up those boundaries and do it without remorse.

Because when your energy is spent, they just go home with a full tank and a comfy bed, and you are the one questioning your life choices at 11:40pm. They won’t feel ANY guilt about it. They won’t be the ones without shit written, a late paper, another sleepless night, a sense of failure, and the whole thing to try to avoid again tomorrow.

We don’t get an unlimited number of tomorrows.

Distractifications

Last night when I went to bed, I had big plans for today. I was going to wake up early, sit down and really just go to town with writing. I should have known this morning at 8:40 when I woke up that all those plans were going to get blown to hell. I’m still working up to my routine. Yesterday, I felt that push of Resistance. I saw that long corridor of fear and that Sissiphysian push uphill with my rock, that I chose to see it as. Instead of seeing it as the freedom to do what I wanted to do. I wonder if this is what keeps stray dogs wandering around neighborhoods where they have been chained too long.

I forced my hand to make the words happen and it worked. It always feels good to write. Every chance I get to set down and snatch the words out of the aether and put them on the page feels good. What doesn’t feel good is sitting on my ass doing data entry. Listening to coworkers talk about ham or taffy for hours, or be regaled by the tales of recent surgeries or the medicines they are taking for something as stupid as being overweight.

This morning is a moment of resistance. The Newtonian law of an object at rest remaining at rest applies to the Creative mind as well. The unbalanced force is when we will ourselves to put our butts in the chair, pick up that artist’s pencil, start mixing paint, or turning off social media and turning on our minds.

But wait. There might just be that one friend on Facebook who says something witty, or maybe I can visit with someone to become motivated? Or maybe this book will write itself and I just don’t wannnnnaaaaa!!!!

These are all just ways to continually distract yourself. Binge-watching a series on Netflix, arguing with someone about politics/pandemics/Star Wars. I understand that I need to build a resume, that I need to build my website again–after losing a year’s worth of posts. I need to keep my options open for freelance work and have to check Indeed and LinkedIn and other sites for this. And I should set up a Fiverr account too to try to bring in more income.

But what I have had the opportunity to do for several weeks now, but haven’t because of distractions is work on the book. First it was the pandemic, then the layoff, then the breakup, then the…damn, I’ve run out of distractions…how do I create more? Why not work on the book? I can do that. I can do all the rest and still have time. Once you remove the time you piss away on social media and driving around to run errands, you free up a lot of time. Even the words I’m writing right now are a way to distract myself. So, why?

Because I’m afraid of that book. It’s one thing to write a paid blog post about why you should shop at a certain hardware store, or the dangers of toxic mold, but when that writing gets bought, you feel good. You get to put a little away in savings. You get to pay a bill. When they don’t sell, you shrug and just figure that was a small chunk of your time that didn’t pan out. When you spend YEARS writing a book, and people hate it, or worse yet, people buy it and never read it. Well, you wonder why you spent all that time writing it in the first place. You have made more money writing about rain gutters or dental implants.

There are worlds out there your mind is creating and it’s up to your butt (in that chair), your fingers (on those keys), and your caffeine tolerance (how much until my heart actually explodes?) to get those stories out.

You risk it all when you tell people your dreams.

But when those dreams don’t get to be born, they die inside of you. When they are on the page, they flirt with immortality.

Time to stop letting myself be distracted. Today, I get to do something about it.

Distractions and awareness

A lot of what I have been doing lately has been a distraction.

Not my trip.  God, no.  That was something that was long overdue and something I have desperately needed to do since I was in my early 20s.  I have no regrets about that.  My trip showed me what I can work for.  In a weird way I have been going through trip withdrawals.

It took me two weeks to clean my house.  I would just hit a point of the day, where I was tired and out of time and realized I still had packing cubes full of rolled up clothes.  All of which were clean, and some I had even take to my parents’ house last weekend, but none of them had any business being in my pack any longer.

At 9pm last night, I hung up the last of my clothes and sat down to finish three paid blogs on boat parts, ropes, and sailing which were due in a couple hours.  I finished them with 45 minutes to spare.

I should have written them four days ago, but I didn’t.

I should have put away my clothes and vacuumed the floor and cleaned the house, but I didn’t.

My life is starting to sound like a Mercer Meyer “Lil Critter” book.

I scrapped my trip to climb a 14er on Saturday because I needed to get things done around the house.  Saturday barely scratched the surface.  Turns out, there was a lot of snow on Quandary Peak I would have had to fight.  Still early in the season. So I’m not even mad about that.

What I did accomplish was writing 5 paid blogs on boats and boating equipment.  Then I cleaned my house.  Rearranged my bedroom.  I also had dinner and breakfast with friends. These were all necessary things.

But the rest of my time has just been filled with distractions.

Distractions are not what fill the empty pockets of my soul.  Distractions allow me to resist what needs to be done because I am filling my life up with “stuff” to do, because it’s easier to do that than experience any real growth.  If you are running and running and busy, you don’t have a chance to just be.  To listen to your own breath or heartbeat.  To just be Still.

On my London trip, I had a Meh day.  I was in a lot of physical pain from walking and some of my plans had to change because some things exceeded the expectations of my budget. There would be no day trip to Brussels.  There wouldn’t even be a bus ride to Stratford-Upon-Avon. This was before I ever suspected a freak snow storm would cancel my flight home and give me another day in the UK.

I had a lot of time to let my brain work at the things that bothered me.  The old demons and the ways the past has haunted me.

At the end of that day, I decided to not let it be a total wash.  I hopped on a double-decker bus because I hadn’t done that yet and I promised my son I would.  The bus took me on a Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride around Central London, and just at the edge of what I suspected my Oyster Card zone limit to be, I hopped off and made my way home on Tube and on foot at 11pm.

I walked past a statue of Sherlock Holmes on Baker Street.  Past the Music Conservatory.  Past an enormous hospital.  I found an open Tube station and worked my way from the Bakerloo line to Piccadilly again and walked from Green Park to Knightsbridge along Hyde Park at night.  Feet aching.  Legs shaking.

Sometimes that is hard.  I’m usually good at self-awareness, but lately, being distracted is so much easier.  I don’t have to be myself.  But I miss being myself.  I miss that man.  I really got to like him, and I haven’t been him for a while.  On my trip, I was him, because there were no distractions. You would think the opposite to be true, being in a strange place and having to figure things out, all the things to see, etc.  No, I had to be aware of where I was and what I was doing at all times.  I had to have direction and purpose. It was almost complete focus on goals and self-awareness. I didn’t have to be someone for somebody else.

The day I let myself be distracted from the importance of the moment was my tough day.  A day I let the regrets of my past bleed through.  It was a day in which I was tough on myself over things I had no power to change.

That is also a way to distract yourself.

It was a decent enough weekend to get re-synchronized, but I do realize a lot of what I have been doing has just been a distraction. Distractions don’t give me joy.  “Any work done without intention is an empty thing.” I need to live more like that. To not fill my time with empty things. Life is too short for that.

Now that I am no longer distracting myself, it’s time to get to work.