BeastWeek 1 of my sabbatical – it’s always the same, and yet I’m never prepared for that. Not sure what that says about me, except that maybe I’m a slow learner. Or maybe I’m just human.

Life is so full these days. I’d say it’s because we’re in start-up on Creating the Future, but who am I kidding – we’re all always in start-up on something, even if it’s just starting a new project, a new day, a new school for the kids. We’re all busy as hell, rushing from doing to doing, from “I have no time to think” to “I have no time to pee.”

Then, suddenly, it’s July 1. Time for my sabbatical. Time to let the book that has been occupying a huge amount of space in my head escape that tiny cavern and explode onto paper. Time to feel the freedom that comes from reclaiming that cavern for other things, even if it’s just being present to a whole TED talk without jotting down thoughts it is bringing up for the book.Monster and little girl

Unfortunately, this is what it really sounds like around my house for that first few days: “I can’t write! I can’t even think! Nothing is working! I can’t figure out what to do first!”  And what it looks like is me roaming from room to room, bouncing pinball-like between bumpers of “What am I doing?” and “This will never work!”

It happens every year, and this year has been no different. Last Monday, I was recording a video that took me 5 neurotic days to write and rewrite and rethink and start over. Then magically, on Tuesday, I was supposed to be in writing bliss.

Instead I spent Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday bouncing aimlessly, chastising at every turn, beating myself up, and then beating myself up for beating myself up. This is your time to write! You only have 2 months! Get to work. WHAT ARE YOU DOING?????

Crying giantThen Thursday night, I breathed in, and on the out breath, I laughed. I wrote the words, “Oh you silly girl” in my journal.

I then proclaimed, with the dog as my witness, “It is Thursday night. You are not allowed to write until next Friday. Not a word. Not an outline. Nothing.”

And so for the past few days, I’ve been getting ready. Putting things in order – the house, the piles of projects I would love to get to in the time when I am not writing. The sewing pile, broken down into “patch and repair” and “make a new outfit” – something I only make time for every few years or so. The “tackle Lizzie’s room” pile – a seemingly endless project to figure out what to do with the massive amount of stuff still left in the room Lizzie left when she graduated high school in 2004 (leaving all her worldly possessions in my care for what is now 8 years and counting). The garden pile – things to plant, things to weed, things to compost.

Lists of office chores that still, despite my best intentions, need to be done. Lists of things I want to write, prioritized (finally). Lists of people I want to see during this “time off.” Lists of movies I want to see. Lists of lists I want to create (We all have our quirks – I totally own this one).

And today, having prepared the physical space, I feel finally ready to prepare that tiny cavern inside my head – the space that is responsible for everything that will happen in the next two months.

I will sit in meditation 3 times today, 3 times tomorrow, 3 times until I have moved from the crazed doing machine to the writer who is ready to write. I will walk, weather permitting, breathing in the present moment, breathing out the wish that all beings know peace.

And this Friday, God willing and the creek don’t rise, I will take keyboard in hand, and I will begin to write.

Photos are all my shots: 1) Freemantle, Western Australia 2010 2) St. Louis, MO 2008 3) Kansas City, MO 2010

7 Responses to Decompressing

  1. Hildy, writing is not the easy, fun exercise that many folks think it is. When I worked on my book “Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing,” it was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done professionally. On the other hand, working on the book or, more accurately, avoiding working on the book allowed me to get done many other projects that I had been putting off. 🙂 It is definitely far more fun TO HAVE WRITTEN, than it is TO WRITE.

    I hope you have a fun and productive sabbatical. I wish you the best.

  2. Thanks for the encouragement, Michael! For me, writing is life – I don’t know how NOT to write. And once I get going, it will be immensely joyful. It is the transition that is the killer – the reminder of how frantic we allow life to get, and how hard it is to just flip a switch and shut that off. And yes, I love your noting that it allows other projects to get done. This week, suddenly even ironing seems like it would be FUN!

    I am blessed to be able to take the time to focus, something that helps me more than anything else. I’ve written some of my books as time permitted – a bit here, a bit there – and you’re right – that is really hard. For the Pollyanna Principles, though, I had the luxury of being completely sequestered when I brain-dumped that first draft. That was pure heaven.

    Hoping for that on this one as well, but we will just see now, won’t we?!

    Thanks again for the encouragement. And stay tuned – I may need more of that encouragement in a few weeks!

  3. Brilliant, Hildy! I had to laugh several times about those piles — I have the same ones. (Except my kid is only 10, so his piles are different.) The mending / ironing pile is massive!

    Two things I’m reminded of – one, “The War of Art,” which is a fab book for anyone creative, especially writers. You probably already know everything in it, but it’s nice to be reminded and his concepts are really good.

    Two – the poem, from Marie Howe, called “Prayer” (maybe you know it?). I’ll post it over in FaceTribe.

    Happy writing! You inspire me.

  4. Hildy, Tranquila. Thank you for sharing how hard it is to “cease working” – the meaning of sabbatical. As the other comment mentioned, writing is hard work. I have found that it requires an inordinate amounts of time in silence, quieting my “monkey brain” and nerves. When I am being called to be tranquila, I access a memory of an experience and a feeling from a retreat I took a few years ago. The memory includes me laying on a dock jutting out into small muddy pond in the middle of a pasture with deer resting in the high grass. As I glanced up looking at the sky a huge, and I mean huge, spider web was being carried by the wind above me. I only saw it because the sun shone on its thread making it momentarily visible. It was a moment of awe, a reminder of how transient time and existence is, and it made me laugh out loud like a child seeing something for the first time – and indeed it was. Ignore all the piles that call to us during a time like this and put your hands in the dirt or commune with nature in some other way – the words will be there when you need them to. Thank you for taking time to take care of your self so that what you put into the world comes from a place of grace and generous wisdom. Peace be with you, Raquel

  5. Julie – thank you so much for both those things. The poem made me smile deep down. Thanks for that.

    And Raquel, your spider web is now an image in MY brain – what a gift that is! Very very grateful.

  6. Oh I enjoyed that, thank you. I’m the same – a few days of panic and screaming in my head. I’m like the dog that has to circle five times on the spot before settling down… except it can go on forever! The first chapter is torture and then it starts to flow, or dribble… With the three school books I started recently I found taking a few days off from family life and going on retreat has helped immensely. Going somewhere quiet and beautiful, where I can focus on writing, bathing, eating and sleeping. With three kids aged 5, 3 and 2 I find it very difficult to keep switching hats. The retreat at least helps to find my place to start.

  7. May:
    Retreat is really important, especially with a house full of family. Having done all my major writing (the brain dump stage) in retreat, it took me a long time to figure out how to be on sabbatical at home. I couldn’t have done it when my daughter was living at home.

    As for the panic and screaming in your head, I think you’ll enjoy the next post in this series – that is here:

    The fun never stops.