Month: July 2022

The Value of Respite

I’m now three weeks in on my new job as Director of Operations for Writers Cubed Inc. Those weeks have been full of admin tasks, relationship building, and organizational learning. Not surprisingly, my brain feels very mushy by the end of the week. My executive function simply runs out of gas and I fade to a halt. Mostly I’ve been able to keep moving and allow myself to collapse on Saturday and Sunday. The weekend collapse is a critical component of my work process for several years now. I try to keep work off of the weekends so that my life has built in breaks. The overwork of my executive function these past weeks has only reinforced the knowledge that we all need respite.

This week I wasn’t able to make it to Saturday. I ran out of steam early on Friday. One of the interesting discoveries of turning to mush yesterday was that, once I realized that I’d run out of focus for admin tasks and let myself drift, I found myself opening up some of my writing files and making small amounts of progress. Using my writer brain was like jumping in a pool on a hot day. I didn’t have much energy to do any vigorous swimming, but being in the water was hugely refreshing. And in fact I was able to finish out my list of “must do today” things later in the afternoon. I don’t remember previously experiencing writing as respite in quite this way before, though earlier this summer I definitely experienced diving into admin tasks as respite from writerly push.

All of this has me thinking about respite and how it is not the same as rest. Perhaps rest is a form of respite? I see rest as a lack of doing while respite is a shift toward activities that refill and re-energize, one of which could be resting. I just know that for me when I’ve been living by lists, I need a respite of ignoring all lists. If I’ve been playing things by ear and holding things in my brain, then lists enter my life as a relief. If I’ve been pushing on writing, sometimes the thing I need most is to stop writing for a while. If I’ve gone a while without writing, it is a joy to return to it.

I don’t know if other people rotate through their life activities in quite this same way. Often the list of Things to Do and Things Done doesn’t change, but my approach to accomplishing them does. I wonder if this life pattern is the result of my two decades of project-based freelancing work, or if I found a comfortable home in project-based freelancing work because this preference for work & respite was always there. Ultimately I suppose the chicken-egg question doesn’t matter. What matters is paying attention to my mind and heart, noticing when I’m over strained, and finding the right respite to re-energize myself.

Pacing Myself

I’ve been a bit absent from blogging because I’m in the midst of crunch time on multiple fronts. Here are the things I’ve got going on:

Gen Con is in just two weeks. The convention doesn’t start for two and a half weeks, but Howard and I will be road tripping to the convention, so we’re leaving early. This will be our first big event since the pandemic began. I am nervous about it on multiple fronts. Gen Con has strict masking and vaccination policies, which is the only reason we considered it. We’re quarantining before we go to make sure we don’t bring contagion with us. We’ll be careful while we’re there, but we might end up being sick afterward. Before I leave there is some training I need to do in order to make sure that routine house tasks get done by the young adults who will be managing the house while I’m gone. All of this is taking up a lot of space in my brain.

We’re in the midst of XDM2e shipping. I’ve got the last 50 non-sketched packages to put into the mail tomorrow. After that there are 330 orders with sketches. This means that the shipping will slow down for a bit, which is nice. But it also means that I’ll still be managing the shipping of books after I get back from Gen Con. It will be nice to finish out the remaining pieces of this project so that I have space in my schedule for new projects.

I’ve been doing some administrative work for the Writing Excuses Retreat. Mostly it is helping the ops team keep track of tasks and managing the customer support email. This month has had more customer support needed as people were making adjustments to their bookings and we had to get people signed up for their breakout sessions. August will also be busy as we get closer to the departure date.

The new big thing in my life is that I took a part time job for Writer Cubed Inc., where I’m the Director of Operations over Teen Author Boot Camp, Tween Author Boot Camp, the Teen Reader Choice Awards (and associated gala dinner), and TABC Classroom. I’ve spent the first half of this month just coming up to speed on all of these events and projects. Fortunately all of these programs are already staffed with people who are very good at their jobs. My job is to interface and help with high level organization, not to do all the things. I don’t expect a lull in tasks related to this job any time soon. Maybe in November? But the work is a good one, as all the efforts are aimed at teen and tween literacy programs.

And of course I still have all of the writing projects, house projects, and community building projects that I’ve assigned to myself. The list of things that I put in the project updates section of my monthly newsletter.

It’s a lot. And I can tell I’m at risk of burn out. So I’m paying attention and trying to establish a sustainable pace. In some ways it is easier on me to be busy. If have ten things to do and three hours to do them, I will tetris them all in. If I have one thing to do and all day to do it, the thing might not get done. Having so much to do is invigorating. But I need to make sure that I’m building recovery time into my daily and weekly schedule. I have to find a pace that works for the long haul and doesn’t sacrifice long term goals for short term productivity. I believe I can. It just means that some things (like blogging) will be laying idle while I find my sustainable pace.

The Moment of Lift and Accepting Pain

I have been re-reading The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates and I was struck by this passage:

Acceptance does not mean accepting the world as it is. It means accepting our pain as it is. If we refuse to accept our pain, then we’re just trying to make ourselves feel better–and when our hidden motive is to make ourselves feel better, there is no limit to the damage we can do in the name of justice.

The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates pg 259

That passage feels closely paired to this one:

Many successful social movements are driven by the same combination –strong activism and the ability to take pain without passing it on. Anyone who can combine those two finds a voice with moral force.

— The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates pg 256

When I come across a conflict, particularly on social media, most of the conflict arises out of two or more people reacting to their own pain and fear of being hurt further. These reactive discussions can occasionally be educational for those who had no idea that a particular thing might cause pain, but for the most part people end up re-injuring each other as they try to defend themselves or try to defend someone else that they are thinking about, but who isn’t even part of the conversation. I do feel a mandate to use my privilege to help and defend those who do not have those same advantages. There are times where I must speak up and confront someone to stop an active harm if it plays out in front of me. But confrontation is an aggressive tool, one that often triggers defensiveness in response. This is why I really like the idea of calling people in instead of calling them out. (This PDF from Harvard Diversity Inclusion & Belonging has a great summary of the difference.)

But that “call in” conversation will often go badly awry if we are functioning from a place of denied trauma or hurt. We have to own our pain first before we’re ready to take on the role of educator. It can be difficult to learn how to sit with pain and sadness, to accept them without trying to fix them. But there is huge power in mourning with those who mourn. In letting people feel whatever they feel without trying to fix or change those emotions. Those so-called negative emotions can be a huge driving force that causes people to change their lives and thus change the world.