“I wrote to honor myself” ~ A conversation with memoirist Mary Montanye

MaryMontanye-w-credit-222x300

Mary Montanye is the author of the memoir Above Tree Line, which I had the joy of reading recently. To quote her website, it’s “the story of one woman’s spiral downward into physical and mental breakdown and her return to wholeness by courageously, and some would say recklessly, following her intuition.”

Mary and I got on the phone to talk about her experience of writing and publishing the memoir, and how she found support for the process of bringing it into the world. Mary is one of my fellow coaches in The Writer’s Circle, and she’s become one of my favorite people, too. I’m so pleased she took the time to talk with me, and my hope is that creators who are struggling to share their work with the world — or even to begin the process of creating — will gain courage and comfort from Mary’s writing journey.

You can learn more about Mary’s memoir (and read her terrific blog posts!) at her website, here.

Read highlights from our conversation below, or find the link to listen to our whole conversation at the bottom of the post (please note this more of a casual conversation, not a “formal” interview!).

* * *

Jill: I imagine some parts of this were much harder to write than others, emotionally.

Mary: Yeah, they were. And there were two things about that: Whenever I was getting close to writing something that I knew was gonna be really, really difficult, there were two things I did: One is, I reminded myself that all I had to do was write it. I didn’t have to share it; I didn’t have to publish it. There were many other reasons I was writing it. One is, I was learning how to write. Two, I was learning about me. I was honoring me.

That’s another thing, I think that many times writers have, somewhere in their childhood, been shut down. “Oh, we don’t want to hear about that,” or whatever. So, by me putting it down, I was honoring myself, and my voice, and my experiences, and my life.

So I told myself that, even if I choose not to publish this down the line somewhere, I still benefit. And when I did that, it made the writing of the hard stuff doable, and it also made it possible for me to be as honest as possible.

… And second of all, I told myself that even if I did choose to publish it somewhere down the line, I could remove anything that I didn’t want to have in there. If it was really too tough, if I was too afraid to have it out there, I would just remove it from the book.

And it ended up that I didn’t remove anything from the book. I mean, of course I tightened it … But it works to just let yourself do it, just write whatever. And then tighten, or delete.

Jill: So it sounds like there was a lot of permission to write it and not have to publish it, and then there was also permission to not have to put in those more difficult parts – that you could cut those out if you wanted to.

Mary: Yeah. I just had to constantly remind myself that, I have control over this. Just because I write it down doesn’t mean that I have to publish it. And it ended up that I did publish it, and actually, a lot of the fears that I had about that never came true: that other people would hate me, or judge me, or not want me in their life, or be hurt.

… I think you have to just bite off small pieces as you go along, and not think of it as some great big huge thing that’s gonna change the rest of your life, because that would be paralyzing. At least for me. But when I did it bits and pieces at a time, every piece that I did was beneficial.

And that even included the publishing. I mean, I’ve had people, especially younger women, that I never thought would even read it, say how much it has meant to them, and why. And that’s made it all worthwhile. This is why it was meant to be out there. And I can take fear.

Jill: So basically, then, it sounds like you were writing this for yourself. So would you say that if you had any audience in mind, it was just yourself? Kind of your own listening ear?

Mary: Yeah. Well, I also had a reader in that Mary [Allen, writer and writing teacher] was reading. She wasn’t changing things so much as she was just saying, “Tell me more about this. This is really interesting, could you write more here?”… So I had her as a reader, but she was a very loving, supportive, gentle reader. And in fact, having one person like that is really helpful in that she normalized some of this for me. Like, I was feeling so awful about myself, even this many years later, for doing some of the things that I did, and she would go, “Well, that’s really not all that bad.” And that sort of helped, too.

So I’m not saying never have a reader and just put it out there before you’ve ever had a reader, or never have a reader in mind. [But] have the perfect reader in mind: like, for a memoir, the most wonderfully accepting, gentle person that you could possibly imagine, who really wants to sit down and hear about your life, and not judge you for it. Because if you think about just a general “other” out there, like some big massive social media kind of other, it would be terrifying. I don’t know how anybody could write an honest memoir like that.

***

Jill: Another point that I wanted to bring up is self-care around this process of writing something that brings up so much stuff for us. That is bound to be emotionally taxing. And physically exhausting too, probably.

Mary: Yeah. Everything. Sometimes I’d just feel like all I wanted to do was go to bed. So I got to the point where I just let myself go to bed. You know, it’s okay. Or take time off, too. Take a week off. Or write something easier, write a little bit of history of the area, or something that isn’t like one trauma after another.

Jill: That makes a lot of sense. I think that as writers we can get into a mentally of, I’ve gotta sit there and I’ve gotta push through, especially maybe if we have some resistance coming up for us around a particular thing. And it sounds like you were very aware of your own exhaustion, and you must have had a lot of trust in your process in order to give yourself breaks when you needed it.

Mary: Well, I got it [trust]. I don’t think I had it right off the bat. But as time went on and I did it, I’d say, oh yeah, I’m noticing every time I write some really hard scene, that I don’t want to do anything but go to bed. Well, maybe it would be a good idea to just go to bed. It was through the process that I learned about me and what I needed, and what I could do and what I couldn’t. And that there was only a certain length of time I could write every day. About an hour, for this book, was it. When I got into editing, I could spend a lot more time, but the actual writing was not more than probably about an hour a day.

***

Jill: What would you say to people who have a story – or not even just a story but some piece of creative work, something they want to share with the world, but they’re feeling stuck or scared around that? Let’s say it’s a dream right now. It’s in sort of baby dream phase and nobody else knows about it, it’s just something they really feel strongly about but they haven’t taken any action to create it. What would be the first thing you would tell them?

Mary: Well, I would tell them first that, if they’re feeling this pull, this little dream, this tug, whatever you want to call it, that that’s your intuition saying that you need to do it. You don’t know why you need to do it, but there’s a tug there, there’s that intuition. I think we tend to ignore our intuition, and I’m somebody who doesn’t ignore her intuition most of the time.

And most of the time, or 99.9 percent of the time, I find out why it was important that I didn’t ignore it. It may not be what you think – it may not BE about publishing it in the world. It may be you’ll help one person. It may be that you will learn something about yourself that you need to learn. But whatever it is, the very first thing I would say is don’t ignore, don’t minimize the fact that we have that tug to do it. That would be my first.

And then my second would be to just begin. Don’t think very far in advance, and set aside some alone time where you won’t be bothered. And make it, like we say in the Writer’s Circle, make it sacred. And just begin. Simple. Twenty minutes, five minutes, ten minutes. And then just do something else the next day, and the next day. And just see where it goes. Because we can’t figure out in our head what the reason is. We can’t figure out the reason, we can’t figure out the end result. We can only figure that out by the actual doing of it.

So those would be my two main things. Don’t ignore, and then begin.

***

Check out the recording to hear more about Mary’s take on: being a writer who’s an introvert and a highly sensitive person; how Mary “discovered” she was writing a memoir; Mary’s process of sharing the draft of the book with people close to her; her publishing and marketing experience; and more!

 

Setting boundaries around your creative space: Part two

fence2

In Part One of this post, I wrote about how important it is to honor the transitions between our “creative space” and our time interacting with others. It’s recognizing those transitions (even if they happen very quickly) that allows us to set boundaries that support our creativity.

(And when I talk about creative space, I mean not only the period of time in which we are actually tangibly creating, but also our solitary reflecting/processing/being time — which is vital for so many of us.)

It can be difficult enough to honor our own commitment to show up for creating regularly, whether that’s journaling, painting, working on our business or writing a book. But what about when those around us don’t support us in our regular habit of creating?

This can be a truly frustrating place to be.

In Part One, I wrote about how when I was a child I had a deep need to go off by myself and write, draw, or simply daydream.

What I didn’t say in that post was that my family and friends were not always terribly thrilled with my doing this.

At a certain point, the people around me began encouraging me not to be so “introverted”, and before I knew it my life became a flurry of activity and achievement with hardly any solitary “being” time. In fact, it wasn’t until I was out of college that I actually — slowly — began to recognize my need for solitude and to — slowly — give it to myself.

And that took a certain amount of courage, in a culture that worships “busy” and “tangible goals.”

In fact, I remember frequenting a cafe when I was twenty-three and working at a bookstore. When I was done with work, I’d stop at the cafe, have a coffee, and do Natalie Goldberg‘s “writing practice” (I was a huge fan of Natalie’s books at the time and still am).

After I’d done this for a while, the owner of the cafe came up to me one day and said, “I see you here almost every day, writing. Are you writing a book?”

“No,” I said, “I’m doing something called ‘writing practice’.” I explained to him Natalie’s concept of writing as a daily practice, as a way of grounding and connecting with ourselves.

The cafe owner shook his head and let out a deep sigh. “This is no good,” he said. “You won’t get anywhere doing that.”

I could see the sincerity in his eyes and I honestly think he was trying to be helpful. But I never went back to that cafe. I felt stupid writing there after that.

And I didn’t even know the guy! When it’s our family or friends who don’t support our creative practice, that can really sting.

So what to do if those around us aren’t supportive, or even blatantly disrespect, our need for creative space?

This isn’t an easy one, but here are a few things that may help:

1) Reaffirm on a daily basis WHY it is important for you to have this time and space to yourself. When you’re regularly connected to why you’re doing it — at a deep level — it matters much less if others “get it” and support it.

2) In keeping with point #1, remember that others act as a mirror for our beliefs.

Part of the reason I was so bothered by the cafe owner’s statement all those years ago was because I had not yet owned the importance of my writing for ME. I wasn’t yet sure that I wasn’t doing something pointless by showing up to the cafe to write, so his words easily shook my not-yet-sound foundation.

Today, if someone were to say that to me, I’d probably be curious about his belief, but it wouldn’t throw me off balance (though I’d choose to be around more supportive energy). I’ve bitten down on the root of my need to write regularly so deeply that it doesn’t matter to me if a stranger questions what I’m doing.

3) Know that your commitment to your creative process may trigger those who want to do the same but just aren’t there yet. It may also shift your relationship with loved ones a little (or a lot). Remember you can always reassure them that this time is for you and that it will actually contribute to you having a better relationship with them. And let them know that it’s totally okay for them to establish their own creative practice, in their own way — you’ll support them in it, too.

4) Get clear on what kind of support you need. Sometimes our loved ones don’t know HOW to support us. It’s okay to tell them what feels supportive and what doesn’t.

5) Take note of the people in your life who DO support you in creating and seek out more of that support, whether that’s in person or online (preferably both as we can use true support in BOTH worlds!).

6) Be willing to let go of your need to be nice. I used to think I had to let go of certain relationships in order to feel more supported in my creative practice (and occasionally that’s been true). But I came to see that, more often, what I truly needed to let go of was my desire to be “nice” and constantly available for those relationships in ways that interfered with carving out my own creative space.

What do you have to add? How do you set boundaries around your creative practice when others aren’t supportive? I’d love to know.

Image is “Fence at Dusk” © Kurt | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Setting boundaries around your creative space: Part one

fence4

A conversation on one of our community calls for The Writer’s Circle (a wonderful group I’ve been involved with for a long time now, which supports me in my writing habit and process) got me thinking about how difficult it can be to truly own and set boundaries around our creative space.

What do I mean by creative space? I mean physical space, yes, but also mental, emotional and spiritual space. Psychological space. And that space means our own energy as well.

From the time I was a little girl, I liked to go off by myself with a big pad of paper and a pencil and write and draw. I also liked to sit by myself — sometimes on our front porch — and talk out loud, making up stories, creating characters and acting out all the roles. Although I often organized neighborhood kids into plays and skits and “pretend movies”, I had a deep need to spend much of my “creating time” in my own company, with no one else around.

This is still true for me. Being solely in my own company (and spending time with animals or in nature) is part and parcel to my writing process, just as my writing process is part and parcel to knowing and understanding myself, and knowing and understanding myself informs what I want to write and what I choose to do with my life.

Geesh, what a cycle! See how it’s all connected?

So, I can’t “just let go of” time alone — daydreamy, musing, reflective time spent in solitude — without letting go of a vital part of the organism that is my functioning life.

And along with that, I can’t “just let go of” my actual writing time, where I put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

But, as we discussed on our Writer’s Circle call, how challenging it can be to set boundaries around this sacred creative space on a daily basis!

Recently I had family visiting, and I noticed acutely (again) how I cannot “just shift” from socializing to writing, or socializing to reflecting time. I need to transition from one to the other.

This need for transitions, though, is a blessing. It is the transitioning that allows us to reinforce our boundaries around our creative space and creative energy.

For example, when I sat down to write this blog post, I did not “just sit down and start writing.” I first told my boyfriend, “Okay, I’m going to go work on a blog post now,” and I went into the next room to be away from his energy and more in my own. Then, I took a few deep breaths at my desk. And then I read a couple of blog posts by writers whose voices I love.

This all took only a few minutes, but within this transition space, I respected and protected my creative blog-writing space and energy.

Similarly, when I had family visiting last month, after spending most of the morning with my brother and his girlfriend, I didn’t “just” sit down and work on the presentation I had coming up. I told them I was going to the library for a while, gathered up my things, walked the two blocks to the library (walking is a great way to transition from one energetic space to another) and sat in a corner cubicle in the cool, quiet library environment. I took a few deep breaths, and starting in on writing notes for my presentation.

Taking note of how we will transition from “social space” to “creative space” is a great way to put solid boundaries around our solitary creating time, space, and energy.

Karla McLaren, in her wonderful book “The Art of Empathy,” calls this “thresholding.” She gives the example of actors who move from the state of being backstage, with others bustling around them, to actually being onstage, in the performance space. Anyone who’s performed on a stage of any kind knows there is quite a transition from being backstage to being onstage, and very quickly you go from one type of energy to another. It’s awareness and respect for the threshold that allows this transition.

Try this: Think about how you might create protective, supportive rituals and routines that act as boundaries around your creative energy and space. My walk for my morning coffee always puts me into “reflective, creative mode”, which is like tapping my writer self on the shoulder and whispering, “Hey — we’re going to be putting words on paper in a little bit.”

In Part Two of this post, we’ll talk about how we can own our right to our creative energy and space, especially when it’s challenged by others around us.

What about you? How do you set boundaries around your creative space, time, and energy?

Image is “Fenceline” © Digitalphotonut | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Where self-acceptance and creativity meet

sand heart

For me, self-acceptance — the deep kind that warms the very center of my chest — and creativity are kind of like buddies.

On Pinterest yesterday I came across this pin of a dog that trots down the road to meet up with its buddy, a cat, who jumps down from a roof so they can pal around and go on adventures together.

That’s self-acceptance and creativity, in my world. It’s hard for me to have one without the other.

I notice that when I am feeling “uncreative,” it’s very often because I am not feeling very self-accepting.

How does this play out?

Noticing “shoulds” is a good place to start.

And we often don’t notice them. But the presence of “I should” is (most of the time) a good indicator that I am out of self-acceptance.

I used to frequent a message board where somebody had this signature: “As soon as I say ‘I should,’ I am somebody else.” (I wish I knew who to attribute that to — I think it’s brilliant.)

So if I’m feeling uncreative, my first step is to do what I call a “scan for shoulds.”

One of my clients is a poet.* She writes these awesome short poems that vibrate right off the page.  I love them because they’re so fun and real and colorful.

But she wasn’t feeling very good about them, and when we did a scan for shoulds, this popped up: My poems aren’t “real writing.” I should be writing a novel.

I asked her why.

She said, “Because then I’ll be taken more seriously.”

I asked her, by whom?

She said, “By serious writers.”

We broke down “serious writers.” Her definition of “serious writers” consisted of exactly two people: a snooty professor she’d had twenty years ago, and a perfectionistic friend she’d also been out of touch with for years. Interestingly, she’d always felt really uncomfortable around both of them.

I asked her what she believed she would have if she could get this professor and this “friend” to take her seriously.

The answer was, “I could take myself seriously.”

At some point, we both started laughing because we’d had many conversations about how she actually wanted less “seriousness” in her life and more play, more joy. (And I so get this, by the way. Nothing thwarts creativity like the idea that we should be doing, as Julia Cameron puts it, “Art with a capital A.”)

Being in self-acceptance, for my client, meant she didn’t really want to write a novel, and that she wanted to write even more of her awesome poetry.

It also meant letting go of the idea that “serious writers” (a.k.a. these two people who actually had never supported her true self) could somehow accept her if she wrote what she didn’t want to write.

And embracing the fact that it wasn’t their acceptance she needed. It was her own.

Maybe this is why we often skip over the very idea of self-acceptance. Because if we make it important, it means that we’ll likely have some letting go to do.

The other place where self-acceptance comes in is in noticing our needs and allowing ourselves to have them — even if a part of us is convinced they can’t be met.

Years ago there was a writing workshop I wanted to go to, except that I was told there were no single rooms available and I’d need to share a cabin with two other people for the duration of the workshop. I had a strong hunch that wasn’t going to work for me, because after so much socializing during the day at the workshop, I’d definitely want to recharge in the evening by myself.

I almost decided against going, until it occurred to me that maybe there was some currently unseen way I could have a room to myself. Just maybe, somehow.

I talked to the coordinator and she said, “Well, it so happens that someone who had reserved a single room just dropped out of the workshop. Would you like that room?”

I grabbed it immediately. I felt really happy with myself because in the past, I would have either gone ahead and stayed in the cabin with other people, spread way too thin because of no way to recharge alone, OR I would have assumed I just couldn’t do the workshop at all.

But I’d been able to be self-accepting enough to realize that my need was important enough to voice — even if it was a need some people wouldn’t have at all — and doing so opened the way for, guess what? Creativity!

What do you notice about the relationship between self-acceptance and creativity, for you? I’d love to hear from you!

* Please note that when I share stories about my coaching clients, it is always with their full permission to do so.

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” ~ The amazing Maya Angelou. RIP.

Image © Mamz | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Saturday Gratitude #8

sparrow

Time for another Saturday Gratitude post! I haven’t even gotten into my list yet and I’m already thinking about how grateful I am for these posts themselves. They always help me get present and notice what’s already here, when it is so easy for me to get lost in wanting.

So here’s what I’m grateful for today:

1) On Sunday, I celebrated Easter with my boyfriend’s family.

My own family is spread out across the country and we haven’t celebrated Easter together in ages. And … well, getting me to socialize, especially around a holiday, is not always the easiest task. But I had this sense that I needed to get away for a while, and my boyfriend’s grandma had a vintage-looking tablecloth printed with rabbits, and rabbit napkins, and there were Easter eggs with our names on them! (All of this reminded me so much of my own grandmas, whom I miss dearly.)

And it was just fun. And sometimes, when I get into a really driven, must-get-things-done sort of place, the last thing that occurs to me is to stop and have some fun. (And the introvert in me sometimes forgets that being with others can be, um, fun, and exactly what I need to get out of my own tunnel vision.)

2) I remembered to ask for help.

And when I asked, I got what I needed. Which was wonderful. And it reminded me that, even if I ask and I do not get what I’m asking for (which certainly happens, sometimes more often than not), the act of asking in and of itself reconnects me with possibility, as well as my own power.

When I forget to ask for help (which I often do — I’m amazed at the number of times a friend has said to me, you needed help with that? Why didn’t you ask me?), I also forget that there is lots of support out there. And that, much of the time, people like to be asked. (The person I asked for help told me that it made her feel good to respond to my request.)

3) A quiet moment yesterday where I sat at my dining room table with my cat on my lap and just listened to the bird songs coming in through the slightly-open window. (Watching my cat chatter at birds that come dangerously close to the screens has been fun, too. I swear the birds, especially the sparrows, know they are teasing my cat.)

What about you — what are you grateful for this week? I’d love to hear from you.

Image is “Tramp Sparrow” © Olgalis | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Trusting the deep pull inward

rowboat

Looking back over the past twenty years of my life, I notice that times of a lot of external change were usually preceded by a deep pull inward: a period of maybe a week, or two, or more, where I needed to become very still, write in my journal more than usual, and detach from the external world.

I remember a period like this in my early twenties where I took lots of long walks in the evening after work for several weeks. And another period years later where instead of going out on the weekends like I usually did, I stayed in and wrote intensely in my journal. I didn’t have the money to actually quit work or take a long vacation in order to go within, but it was like some force compelled me to figure out a way, anyway; it was a taking stock of where I’d been and where I was so that I could move forward in a clear and powerful way.

Except I didn’t really know this at the time. I can only see it in retrospect.

I have a couple of clients right now who are feeling this pull to move inward. And, not surprisingly, they’re having a hard time listening to it.

We often resist this inner calling for a while before we finally surrender to it. I think there are a several reasons for this:

1) We have an increasing number of distractions at our fingertips (the other night I was watching American Horror Story on my laptop WHILE looking up trivia about it on imdb on my iPad — and not fully present for either activity). I believe that our ability to focus — or maybe simply our willingness to concentrate on one thing — is becoming seriously impaired, and we need to take charge of this, STAT. It’s killing our souls.

2) We’re afraid of what we might find if we do go inward and be really present with what’s there. What if we discover that we need to make big, painful changes in order to live the life we want? Sometimes we’d rather not know and live in a murky sort of limbo.

3) We’re afraid of the intimacy that comes from having a relationship with ourselves. Truly tuning in and heeding that inward pull means we actually get to know ourselves on a really deep level. (I’ve had clients tell me that they don’t want to do morning pages for this reason. They aren’t sure they want to know themselves that well. They aren’t sure they’ll like the person who shows up on those pages.) Just as becoming more and more intimate with another person is a risk, so is getting to know ourselves. What happens when we encounter pieces of us that we just don’t want to be with?

The good news is that, whether sooner or later, our intolerance for a disconnect with our essential self wins out, and we do go inward. (It’s just usually better for us when we listen to the call sooner rather than later.) Our souls won’t tolerate the numbness that comes from a life half-lived, and eventually we are forced to listen.

Here are some suggestions, though, for making it easier to trust that pull inward, when it comes:

1) Take a weekly break from the online world. A total break, for a few hours, or more, if it feels workable for you. During this break, pay attention to your body, go out for a walk; remind yourself that you are a physical being in a body with a connection to the earth, not a just fingers and a brain connected to a device.

2) Just as you are allowed to take your time in getting to know another person (in fact, true intimacy with another often develops slowly, over time — the quick kind tends to evaporate), you are also allowed to take time in getting to know yourself. If you have resistance to connecting with yourself, it may be because you’re trying to do too much too soon. You can connect with yourself in small doses, whether that’s through journaling or just being present with what you’re feeling for a couple of minutes at a time.

3) Promise yourself that you don’t have to take action on anything you discover about yourself. Recognizing that you really want to move to Europe does not mean you have to take action on that knowledge, now or ever. You may choose to act on it (and hopefully, if it’s truly right for you, you will!). But, as I so often say to my clients, it’s simply good to know. That’s the point of connecting with yourself — to know the truth about yourself. It is not about forcing yourself to completely overhaul your life. I’ve seen time and again that we are far more willing to know our truth, and own it, when we trust that we do NOT have to take immediate action on it.

Have you struggled to trust the pull to go within and connect with yourself? What made it a challenge for you, and what helped? I’d love to hear, in the comments.

Image is “One Sepia Rowboat” © Tatiana Sayig | Dreamstime Stock Photos

When your downtime doesn’t happen

emptybench

One of the most common issues that comes up for my clients, approximately 90% of whom identify as introverts (and most are also highly sensitive), is what I call Downtime Chasing.

It looks something like this: You were planning to stop working for the day at 5:30 p.m., eat some dinner, and have the evening to just hang out and experience some quiet and revamp your resources in preparation for tomorrow. Or, if you’re like me, maybe you wanted to get in a good solid hour of journaling before going to bed.

But: At 6 p.m., the phone rings. And even though you know you really need tonight’s downtime in order to reconnect with yourself and feel energized for tomorrow, it’s a family member and you wonder if something might be wrong. Or, it’s a work-related thing. Or, it’s a friend in a crisis and you want to be there for him.

So you pick up the phone, and before you know it, it’s time to go to bed and your much-needed downtime hasn’t happened.

Now you’re kind of irritated, maybe even angry, because you wanted downtime the night before, and last Thursday, and the same thing happened. And now you haven’t had any real time to yourself in over a week and you’re starting to feel like you’re running on empty.

Introverts need downtime alone to recharge. This is not optional; it is a necessity. We simply can’t renew our resources by being around other people the way extroverts can.

The tricky thing is, because introverts are usually very good at adapting to more “extroverted” ways, we may easily toss our need for downtime out the window. It might even be habitual for us.

If we’re highly sensitive as well, we’re often so attuned to what others need that it feels sometimes like their needs are just as pressing, if not moreso, than ours. So we jump into “helping” mode before we realize what we’re doing.

And then there’s this sneaky thought: “Well, so-and-so is an introvert, and she doesn’t seem to need the amount of downtime that I do. Maybe I need too much. Maybe I can go without it.”

I often see introverts going to two extremes with this issue:

The first is the introvert who gets angry and frustrated and locked into the “Desperately Seeking Downtime” cycle, which means that trying to get enough downtime becomes the main purpose in her life. Because she feels so deprived of time to herself, everything on her “to-do list” starts to feel like the enemy of downtime. This constant seeking doesn’t actually get her much downtime, but she thinks if she stays angry about not having it, somehow it will magically appear, someday.

The other extreme is the introvert who decides to just forget about downtime altogether and pretend she doesn’t need it. After all, she’s so good at adapting, maybe she doesn’t really need it! Maybe the problem is she’s trying to meet a need that simply can’t be met, and she’d be better off getting rid of that need, letting go of it.

Except … she actually does need downtime. It keeps her sane, keeps her connected to herself, keeps her energized and keeps her life in perspective.

Okay. So what’s the answer?

Well, I wish I could tell you the precise end-all-and-be-all solution to this issue for you. I can’t. Only you can do that. But here are some things I’ve found helpful for me, and my clients.

1) Know yourself.

How much downtime do you truly need to feel sane, to feel like you’re thriving and not just surviving? Be really honest here. 

The answer for me is: a significant amount. Definitely more than fifteen minutes grabbed here or there.

But, I often don’t need as much as I think I do.

When I deprive myself of downtime, I start to feel like I need it all the time. I don’t. Even though I’m pretty up there on the introversion scale, it’s not often that I actually need days of downtime. In fact, if I fully and freely give myself an entire day where my intention is mostly downtime, I usually find a couple of hours of true downtime will do just fine.

2) Notice where you’re getting into comparisons.

You need as much time to yourself as you need.

It doesn’t matter if Jane is also an introvert and doesn’t need as much downtime as you do. She’s not you; her constellation of needs, choices, and wiring is different.

When you can own how much downtime you actually need, without feeling like you “shouldn’t” need it, you are about a hundred times more likely to make that downtime happen.

We live in a world that believes “busy” is good. So we can feel pressure around owning our need to shift into “being mode,” whether we’re introverts or not. Sometimes, it takes real courage to own this need. Take that into account.

3) Notice where you are rigid around only getting your downtime in a certain way.

Be open to fluidity and flexibility around your downtime — without giving it up.

I once heard someone (I think it was Eckhart Tolle? — feel free to correct me!) use this analogy about money: We think money has to come in through the front door, when in fact it might also come in through the windows.

The same is true for downtime. It can come to us in myriad ways if we’re open to that idea.

If we think it must look like sitting in total quiet on the couch in our living room, we might miss out on the opportunity to have absolutely blissful, rejuvenating time to ourselves while walking home from our dentist appointment or cleaning up the kitchen (yes, it’s possible!).

4) There’s a discipline to downtime.

And I’m not a big fan of the word “discipline,” but, for introverts, it’s a commitment.

Notice the ways you’re too willing to break this commitment. Notice why you’re willing to give it up. Are there two tempting social opportunities this weekend, and deep down you know you can only handle one? What makes you want to schedule in both? What do you think you’ll be getting by doing the extra activity and cutting out your downtime?

It’s okay to drop the downtime to do something you want to do — as long as it’s a choice and you have a strategy for how you’re going to replenish yourself (it might mean you need next weekend totally to yourself, with absolutely nothing scheduled, so you can bounce back).

With the holidays right around the corner, it’s a great time to think about your needs for downtime. How do you make sure you get enough? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Image is “Empty Park Bench” © Theresa Martinez | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Can you wrap a system around that?

field

I used to think that I didn’t like systems. Every time I found myself dealing with any kind of system — which implies structureI would rebel.

Part of this probably stems from having a childhood that felt way, way overstructured to me. My heart wanted to lounge in open fields with cows, sheep, books, and my journal (not that I lived near any fields), but my days always felt completely scheduled with activities from morning to night — not just riding the bus (an ordeal in and of itself) to school and back, but with afterschool activities, and then homework.

This seems so nuts to me now, but it was considered normal, and, thirty years later, though I don’t have kids myself, my sense is that many kids are even more overscheduled than I was (plus today’s kids have so much more technology to manage).

I think another reason I’ve tended to rebel against systems and structure is that I’m a Myers-Briggs INFP, and we “P” types like to keep things open-ended. Too much structure can feel overly planned and rigid for a “P” and trigger our rebelliousness.

At the same time, I’ve had to admit over the past several years, especially since becoming a coach and attracting clients who also tend to rebel against structure, that the right amount of structure can be a true godsend for those of us who cling to open-endedness (which can sometimes result in saying things like “I’ll write when I’m feeling inspired” or leaving ourselves one hour to complete something that actually takes four — woops!).

Systems and structure do not have to be elaborate or complicated. There just needs to be enough of a system to get it done — whatever “it” is.

Here’s my (very simple) example:

I was having a huge issue with mowing the lawn. It only takes me about 30 minutes, but it was becoming this thing that I so didn’t want to do and eventually I’d have to force myself to do it, angrily, usually swearing. Even though, once I’m doing it, I don’t hate it (except for that one time I mowed over some dog poop). It actually feels kinda good, moving my body, the smell of grass and dirt around me, the heft of the mower.

About a month ago, I figured out the issue. My brother, who used to live here and used to mow the lawn, had told me I should do it “about every ten days.” And I tried this. But it felt increasingly stressful to me. Because “every ten days” could fall on any day of the week. It might be a Wednesday, and then next time a Saturday, and then next time a Tuesday.

It occurred to me that if I mow the lawn every two weeks, it really doesn’t look all that much worse than if I do it every ten days. So I’ve made every other Sunday afternoon my mowing-the-lawn-time. And I think about it so, so much less. On Saturday, or Wednesday, I’m not thinking, “should I do it today?” because I know Sunday is lawn day. Every other Sunday, “mow lawn” is on my to-do list, and I know I’ll do it, and that’s that.

That was all the system that was required. It was actually way more stressful to keep the “when” I’d mow the lawn up in the air than it was to assign a day to do it.

This applies to anything I want to do on a regular basis, whether that’s writing or yoga or doing the dishes: Keeping the “when” up in the air creates stress and vagueness, and vagueness does not produce specific results.

And I think that’s worth consideration for us “open-ended” types. Is keeping something unstructured and open-ended giving us a feeling of peace and freedom, or stress and confusion?

The way to know you’ve hit on the right amount of “system” for you is that you use the system without a huge desire to rebel. (If you have a very strong inner rebel, as I do, you may be a little bit edgy around any amount of system, but when it’s the right amount, you’ll find yourself using it anyway.)

Your body is an excellent guide for whether or not a certain amount of structure is too much or too little. When I am overstructured, I feel frazzled, frenetic, like I’m on a treadmill. There’s a need to catch my breath (literally). When I have too little structure, I can feel sluggish, unfocused and fatigued.

There’s no right or wrong here; each of us has a “sweet spot” where we have enough structure, but not too much. So when I’m struggling with something that just won’t seem to get done, I’ve started to ask myself, “Can I wrap a system around this?” And then I brainstorm a little about what might feel like enough.

How do you feel about systems and structure? Do you tend to rebel against them, or do you find them helpful, or both? I’d love to know, in the comments.

Image is “Poppy Field with Powerlines” © Peter Gustafson | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Embracing the everyday + the Sunshine Award!

childsshoes

Something that often comes up when I work with one of my lovely clients is the creative visionary’s resistance to accepting “the everyday”. Sometimes I call it “the mundane.” One of my clients calls it “real world crap.”

In my twenties, I ignored “real world crap” to the point that I became ill and had to be hospitalized. I was defining “real world crap” at the time as: paying bills, eating decent meals, getting good sleep, doing the dishes, doing the laundry.

The creative visionary part of me said: that stuff is boring and it won’t get me where I want to go. Focusing on that stuff is a drag.

Fast-forward fifteen years and I realize that the “everyday stuff” that I loathed so much back then is actually my friend.

Doing the dishes is an excellent way of being in the present moment and dealing with analysis paralysis.

Doing laundry is a great way of getting grounded, of coming back to earth, to the things of this rich material world, when my creativity has taken me far, far away from it.

Getting good sleep allows my physical body the rejuvenation it needs to move through another day with hope and resilience.

Paying bills is a way of acknowledging that money is part of the energy that supports me in living the life I love. (I didn’t want to accept this back then — money was boring, and “unspiritual.”)

And: because I, and many of my clients, are highly sensitive people, we tend to become easily overstimulated by the very creative work we love. There’s a point where, if we don’t stop when we’ve done enough, we are at risk of becoming ungrounded and burning out.

The “mundane” things of everyday life — walking to the mailbox to get the mail, mowing the lawn, saying hello to the neighbor — are actually vital ways of rooting us in the fabric of this earth, this world, the here and now.

So, if you feel like you’re spinning off away from yourself or swept up in a creative wave that feels a little scary, remember that “the mundane” can be your friend, dear highly sensitive creative visionary.

And, because you are who you are, I have no doubt that you will quickly discover the magic in the mundane, too.

And: The Sunshine Award!

The lovely Harula of wordsthatserve, who writes such amazingly true poetry, kindly nominated me for the Sunshine Award. Yay! I’m thrilled — thanks, Harula!

So, here’s me accepting, gratefully. 🙂

sunshineaward

Rules:

* Post a picture of the award on your blog
* Link back to the person who nominated you
* List ten random facts about yourself
* Nominate ten fellow bloggers who “positively and creatively inspire others in the blogosphere.” (I’m actually nominating six.)
* Comment on their blogs to notify them of their nomination

So here are ten random facts about me:

1) One of my earliest memories is getting sick on giant marshmallow chicks on Easter day. And of my mother warning me not to eat so many.

2) Last month, I achieved one of my lifelong dreams: seeing “Jaws” on the big screen — twice. Chills.

3) My favorite actress is Crystal the Monkey. Few human actors have this monkey’s range of expression — seriously.

4) My current favorite thing to watch on MeTV: “Rhoda.” The opening theme music is so whimsically weird.

5) I am happiest in weather between 30 and 70 degrees F. I love fall when it is brisk and slightly overcast.

6) My favorite book I’ve read recently is “It Chooses You” by Miranda July. So achingly real — and talk about embracing the everyday! This book proves that the extraordinary hides out in the ordinary.

7) Most of my favorite foods involve the potato in some form.

8) My shoe size is 7.5 M.

9) I’m kind of a chatty hermit. One of my gifts is connecting with others, but it needs to be balanced by lots of alone time.

10) I miss my grandparents more than I ever thought I would.

And my Sunshine Award nominees: every time I read one of their posts, I feel nourished and enlivened.

http://thesoulstoryjournal.wordpress.com

http://thisrosylife.com

http://alifeinbalance.com/blog

http://yourjoyfulheart.wordpress.com

http://kristinnador.wordpress.com

http://beautifullyzen.wordpress.com

Happy Saturday!

Top image is “Child’s Shoes” © Laukas | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Overwhelmed? Step back, then scale back.

bench&sky

So I spent the last three days trying to write a blog post. Now, I happen to truly enjoy writing blog posts. I look forward to writing them. They are fun and exciting for me, because I’m always discovering something about myself while I write them. Discovery! So much a “why” for me when it comes to writing.

And usually I can sit down and write a rough draft of a post in about an hour or so. The process doesn’t always work that way. But often, it does.

This week, however, it didn’t. I arrived at the computer determined to work on a blog post and I couldn’t manage to crank out more than a paragraph or two. And then I got frustrated. And then I got angry. And this happened three days in a row.

I said to my boyfriend,  “Maybe I’ve said all I want to say in my blog posts already. Maybe that’s it.”

“No way,” he said. “I don’t believe that.”

And I didn’t believe it either. But something was off, very off, and it made me panicky.

And I’ve been here before — maybe not recently in relation to blog posts, but in relation to other things. Like my novels. Like my relationships. Like cleaning the house, or taking that trip I’d planned. That place where I think that something is supposed to be happening and it shouldn’t be so hard, but it’s terribly, terribly hard. It’s a feeling of spinning my wheels in mud and just getting further entrenched. A feeling of doing and doing and nothing actually getting done.

I call it “the spin cycle.”

I found myself staring out the window instead of looking at the computer screen as I tried to write the blog post, and I realized my body, in its infinite wisdom, was pointing me to the fact that it was not time to write, it was time to be. Regardless of how “behind schedule” I was.

So, I went to the sofa and I lay down, staring at the ceiling for a while. And I began to relax. And I began to get it.

This time around in the spin cycle, here’s what I’ve learned:

1) When I feel this way, more often than not there is some type of resistance going on. Resistance to what is: a sure route to insanity. What have I been resisting this week? What’s the reality of this week?

Well, my parents came to visit one week ago and left today. And I had a freelance project I was working on in addition to my usual daily routine.

But I didn’t factor any of this in and kept right on with my “usual” schedule. I didn’t factor in the fact that I’m an introvert and I need alone time to recharge and I wasn’t getting much of it this week. I didn’t factor in the extra hours and toll on my energy the freelance project took.

The reality of my personal energy: I am a finite being with limited energy, much as I fantasize about being able to “do it all,” seamlessly.

The reality of time: There are 24 hours in a day.

2) When something that is usually enjoyable and do-able feels really hard, it is not a sign to step it up and push it harder. It is a sign to step back and ease up and ask what is going on.

But my mind will tell me I need to keep pushing and that easing up is a sign of weakness and a lack of discipline and commitment. This is what my mind does, and how it thwarts my need for self-care. But it is a lie.

How do I know it’s a lie? Because of the way it feels. If stepping it up and pushing harder were the truth in this case, it would feel challenging but expansive, like doing it was helping me grow. But that’s not how it felt. It felt like pushing myself to do it was diminishing me. (Interestingly, I kept getting an image of myself writing on a tiny notebook with a tiny flashlight inside of a tiny black tent, my legs bursting out of the flaps like Alice in Wonderland after she drank the potion that turned her into a giant.)

So, after I lay on the couch for half an hour or so, allowing myself to space out (and giving myself full permission NOT to write the blog post), I realized that writing just one paragraph of a blog post would actually feel good. And so what if I am “usually” able to write more than that? Different week, different guidelines. I went to the computer, wrote one paragraph, and then, as it turned out, I wrote the whole darned thing.

Which brings me to the third thing I learned, this time around in the spin cycle:

3) When I keep trying to get something done and it’s just not happening, it may be because I’ve lost my connection with why I’m doing it at all.

“Because it’s time to publish a blog post” was not enough motivation for me to write one when my creative well was empty and I was in spin. When I’m in that space, I’m like a ship without a rudder. Doing for the sake of doing is meaningless if I’m totally out of touch with why I’m doing it. My “why” is what propels me into inspired action.

As it turned out, giving myself what I really needed — a time-out — connected me back to my “why”.  And my “why” led me right back to writing the blog post that had felt so impossible to write only hours earlier.

What are your ways of dealing with “the spin cycle”? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Work With Me: Do you need some support in practicing better self-care? I’d love to help. See if we might be a good fit, here.

Image is “Outlook” © Guyerwood | Dreamstime Stock Photos