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Writing Life

Wrestling with Resting

It is Friday and I am taking A Rest Day. They’re hard. I love them, and I need them, but settling into Rest Mode is like dealing with new sheets or a new pair of shoes. Every single damned time I have to fuss with things and poke at them until they feel comfortable.

I don’t do rest well. It was easier–emotionally–when I had a Full-time Traditional Job providing a framework for my daily life. Even when my hours commitment and shift times changed week to week, my days off were generally predictable. Work had a defined location and set hours. I was on, or I was off, and I earned PTO I had to use.

So when I was worn down from a Big Project, I felt good about taking extra recovery time. The downtime was distinct from worktime AND it felt earned.

Side note: I know predictable week-to-week schedules are unusual in retail, but even when Borders was being turned to the Dark Side by its vampiric Corporate Hedge Fund bloodsucking board, it was still an unusual retailer. Also, store-level staff dug in their heels and FOUGHT on the days-off point every time their Inefficiency Experts inflicted Traditional Retail Bullshit on management.

Such battles came at regular turns on the company’s spiral staircase trip down to bankruptcy hell. But until near the end, stores had leeway in how they met their ever-dwindling, “needs-based” algorithm-driven hours allotment. And good managers understood changing people’s days off led to more headaches than it solved.

And when the corporate office insisted on a company-wide shift to a gobsawful scheduling tool, my store staff informed our general manager we would quit on the spot if she used it to screw with people’s days off.

(That same manager also refused to post schedules until 1-2 days before they went live. We used to debate over whether that was retaliation losing the variable days off fight, general lack of empathy, bungling incompetence, or all three)

But I digress.

I’m coming up on the 11 year anniversary of Not Working For Borders and still haven’t mastered the Art Of Not Working. I haven’t worked full-time for an outside employer since then. The external demands on my time are more fluid and mainly unpaid. If it seems like that should make things easier, welp. It didn’t.

My boundaries between “work” and “not-work” washed away, and I never properly rebuilt them.

I do not miss having a 40-70 hour per week job. I do miss the clarity. Where once I had well-defined defense against Work Ethic Conditioning guilt, something like, “I have disengaged from Employment Mode, therefore Doing Nothing isn’t laziness,” now I have only my own resources to fall back on.

(In case you’re new to this blog, I am three hyperactive otters in a hoodie masquerading as a functional human. My own executive functioning resources are, um, limited.)

Once I was unemployed, I mainly I officially & voluntarily shouldered most of our home-related responsibilities. (not the doing, that part is an equitable split but the brain-sucking Managing part of it all.) Yes, there was job hunting, but there was also the satisfaction of finishing long-delayed personal and house projects, learning about the joy of EVENINGS AND WEEKENDS, and in general, having free time.

That part was amazing at first, but it also made me antsy. Busy brain likes to be busy. Once I got the hang of a new day-to-day routine, I had too much time on my hands.

I started on Controlled Descent six months into unemployment in large part because I was BORED, about the same time I took on two small regular outside responsibilities–volunteering at the Botanic Garden and working very part-time at the local library.

Through the completion of Flight Plan two and half years later, writing felt like my primary activity, and that was a great groove. But there was still time in my days, so I added in continuing education and upped my library hours. Post-publication, things started to snowball, with professional networking, indie-authoring business distractions like marketing, conventions, and sundry other things like being a caregiver, house-hunting, renovations…and so on.

Somewhere in there the difference between weekday and weekend blurred, I lost the knack of creative thinking first and everyday necessities second, and I lost the trick of taking time OFF.

That got exhausting & frustrating. I wasn’t enjoying writing. I was exhausted. Obviously something was wrong. There was too much going on.

Also, I have significantly less stamina than I had ten years ago. Wrapping my brain around that reality was the first clue. Energy and stamina are not the same. I still have brain energy. But channeling it is more difficult because things hurt more, and I get tired faster and so on. So I cut back on how many things I was trying to do, and I started defending the creative time in my schedule.

It didn’t work. For years I tried, but I felt like a kid at the beach with a bucket, scooping up waves in defense of a sand castle. More time didn’t translate into more writing or more life enjoyment.

I pondered, and I ponderd, and pandemic gave me some time to unearth the answer.

My problem wasn’t a lack of time, but a lack of quality time coupled with a lack of rest. See, some people create to shut out the clamor of the everyday, some people get energy from creating. That isn’t me.

I can only nurse a creative spark to life when the ashes of the everyday hubbub are swept away and my brain is still & quiet.

In last year I’ve dropped not only activities, but responsibilities, clawing my way back to having less worldly stimulus so I can be BORED. (Spoiler alert: it’s working!)

Part of the quieting process is consciously scheduling myself rest days whenever I notice I am vaguely unsettled. Lack of focus & fretfulness is my early-warning system that I’m taking on Too Much.

My current peeve is that every time I think, “Hmm. I should step back and reel in my Busy Brain before it drags my body into the Deep End of Ugh-Malaise,” I get ambushed by the Work Ethic Conditioning. And when I spend my “time off” fighting The Attack Of The Giant Guilts, it isn’t so much restful.

Intellectually I know no one cares if I do nothing but eat bonbons for days at a time. (Well. I’m sure someone out on the Internets is Judging Me right this minute, but the internets hate so many things about me, what’s one more?) But for real, no one’s keeping score. Those who die with the biggest bibliographies, still dead, and all that.

There are tricks for getting around the guilt, and I’m slowly filling a bagful. One is publicly admitting I I do A Lot Of Nothing on social media. I do that so the world knows I want to feel good about it. it’s kinda like confession but with more affirmation and less penance.

And on days when I can’t convince myself, I appeal to my Generous Patron Of The Arts, who unfailingly convinces me that rest is GOOD when I’m jittery and my brain is foggy. Does he make that argument in self-defense, because his life is better if I’m happier? Possibly. I can live with that.

I spent yesterday dealing with dentistry, multiple masked-up errands, service people in the house, and an evening of online face-to-face talking. Maybe it doesn’t seem like much (and it doesn’t, to me) but it was enough to be Too Much.

Today, reading, napping, eating, and writing a blog post was just right. And tomorrow will be better.

Have a cute Pips picture. Until later!

By K. M. Herkes

Author, gardener, and cat wrangler.

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