Roll Up Your Sleeves and…

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My writing colleague, Della Fredricksen, wrote a story entitled Soccer Boy. During the youngster’s league game, Soccer Boy was perhaps distracted, daydreaming, definitely feeling cold. So he pulled his arms out of his long sleeve shirt and went into hug position. When the game moved to his end of the field, he hopped around like mad and “wriggled like a worm” to get those arms back in the sleeves and ready for action. Parents and coach shouting, “Get your arms out. Be ready.” The image of that little boy wiggling around, with a look of panic on his young face was so real.

How many times have I pulled into myself in order to daydream, protect myself from disappointment, or retreat. It’s a cozy feeling to stay home and curl up with a good book by my fireplace, sit in my sister’s garden, or “nest” with my husband–lounging and watching favorite movies on TV. Yet he and I know that sooner or later we’ve got to get up and move. I get antsy sitting too long – must move. He gets bored or peckish and starts grazing for snacks. Too much nesting/lounging/retreating invites grouchiness. And since it’s just us nesting, we get grouchy with each other. We love each other but can’t be with each other all the time.

If I have two days of total lounging and not being in my office, that first sit-down at the desk can be overwhelming, folders staring up at me across the desk, post-its eyeballing me from the wallboard. I feel panicked until I chunk it down or remember I did post a priority list on my laptop. My inner coach has taught me if it’s not an office day, spend about forty-five minutes on emails and “touching base” actually scanning desk, folder setup, vertical files, and the to do list for the next day or week. Then you’re ready. Leave the office.

Reentry is difficult no matter where you are coming from–vacation, daydreaming, overworking, illness. One year while I was teaching, I got the flu–full force–fever, aches throughout my body, alternately thinking I needed food, then nausea. Hot, then chills. I missed school for the full workweek and lost the weekends on either side of the sick days. The first day back–I was nervous. Butterflies in my stomach, shaky feeling in hands, brain fuzzy. I had been away so long I had to think about social skills, driving in commuter traffic, and conflict resolution skills for first graders. Reentry was like a surprise dismount off a chair lift on the ski slope. You know it’s coming but all of a sudden, the end is straight ahead. Safety bar up, grab poles, scoot forward, get going!

At the other end of the spectrum is the overdoing it with “work.” If I misuse my writing time to avoid other activities, neither the writing nor the bills/carwash/phone calls get done. I can get over-involved with my writing; it’s a delight and thrill. I don’t want to leave the characters of the story I am editing. Or I “just have to finish this part.”

Somewhere I can cross that invisible line and the writing becomes a tedious responsibility. If I sit or slouch too long at it, my body lets me know. These days it’s a crick in my neck, my mouse hand cramps, my eyes get dry from staring at the screen. I either have an overkill of details, or am unhappy with every sentence and spend too much time–delete, delete, delete. Then moving back into the world jars me. Chairlift jolt.

Most days I keep a schedule, enforced by a commitment to meet my husband – at a restaurant, on the patio, or by the TV. Or a date with friends or myself–yoga, Toastmasters, hike, or yes, lounge. Peak creativity calls for times to figuratively pull my arms up out of my sleeves and wrap them around myself and retreat. Then balance it with an awareness of unwrapping myself when I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and get back to the delight of my writing.

How do you balance your “work”?


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