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.