leaning into my ease (easier said than done)

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been trying out the online version of Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” program. Despite my slight addiction to social media, I prefer the offline versions of many things: my datebook, my reading material, and my morning pages. So I’ll be sticking with my dog-eared copies of Cameron’s books, pen, and paper, rather than continuing with  The Artist’s Way Toolkit , but I’m so glad I was given this nudge to honor my creative self. As a mother it is all too easy to put such things last.

I believe it was Alice Walker who said that we mothers talk about doing their writing in dribs and drabs, only after the laundry is done– and that perhaps we shouldn’t be so proud of that. (If anyone has that quote let me know!) I’m paraphrasing, unfortunately, but her point was that we could (and should) instead take pride in putting the housework last and what inspires us first. That’s easier said than done, especially when you’re in the crazy salt-mine years of three kids under five. But that changes. This morning I put my three kids on a bus to day camp, and had seven glorious hours laid out in front of me to work. But I spent the first two of those hours cleaning the kitchen and doing laundry and organizing all our messy bedrooms. Then I took a shower, then I checked my email. Suddenly it was noon. While I had certainly had a busy and productive morning, I hadn’t yet written a word.

The “work” that Julia Cameron asks artists to do is all about lack of productivity. You’re not supposed to be cleaning your house OR outlining your novel. You’re supposed to be browsing in antique shops, making lists of your secret desires, doing “something that simply delights you for no reason.” I find that last one nearly impossible. My kid-free time is Get Stuff Done time, whether it’s my screenplay or my kids’ soccer camp forms. I would never go out for a stroll or hit a midday matinee. I would never give myself that permission.  When Cameron says that’s my “assignment” as a “blocked creative,” I think: nice sentiment. not happening.

But now I’m wondering if–again– maybe I shouldn’t be so proud of that. Sometimes what feels like productivity is really just time wasted. Yes, I typed on my laptop– while visiting Facebook. Repeatedly. Yes, I folded my sons’ t-shirts– just so I can have the pleasure of folding them again next week. Meanwhile, I miss a beautiful summer day- and for what?

From Cameron’s book Walking in this World:

We try to make our creativity linear and goal-oriented. We want our “work” to lead somewhere. We forget that diversions do more than merely divert us…. Artists of all stripe tend to equate difficulty with virtue and ease with slumming. We do not lean into our ease and enjoy the ride of our gift.

I think this is even more true for mothers than it is for artists. We equate difficulty with virtue and ease with slumming. Oh my goodness, do we ever. We think we have to work hard at motherhood in order to be good at it. But just the opposite might be true.

I have ninety minutes until the kids get off the camp bus. I’m going to spend it sitting in the shade, internet turned off, writing Chapter One of something that may never get to Chapter Two. I have no idea if it’s going to be any good. But I’m going to enjoy the ride. When the kids get off the bus, I’ll put the laptop aside until tomorrow– and I hope that I will feel that I have been very productive indeed.

What do you allow yourself to do with your kid-free (job-free) time? Assuming you allow yourself to have any?

You can get a free trial month of My Artist’s Way Toolkit by entering code “BLOGHER” (all caps). You will still need to enter your credit card info (that’s the way the system is set up) but you will be charged zero and you won’t be opted in to anything. 

I was compensated for this BlogHer Book Club review but all opinions expressed are my own.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Courtney July 13, 2012 at 4:44 pm

I’ve been struggling with this lately – running from this to that, from checking facebook to work, from work to home, make dinner, play with kids, put kids to bed, do laundry, squeeze in a ten minute conversation with my husband, before I pass out for the night….get up at 5:30 a.m. and repeat. And repeat. And repeat.

I am tired. No, I am exhausted. I have an 8 month old and a 3 year old. I am in the thick of it (a term I love). Sometimes I forget that I had a baby 8 months ago and wonder where the bags under my eyes came from. Sometimes I wonder why people say I should give myself a break, and relax. But…but…who would DO all of this? Who would get this all done? My mom, my voice of reason, says Who Cares?! Let it GOOOOO. I just don’t know how to physicaly NOT do it all.

But. Something has to change. I am worn out. Inside and out, worn out. And I can’t go like this forever. I would be a miserable bitch of a wife and mother. So I am going to consciously give myself a break. Tomorrow is my birthday. I am going to go to a cafe and turn off my phone and read a book. Alone. I am going to get my hair done, and not talk to the stylist. I am going to close my eyes and think of NOTHING. Then I am going to go out for a fabulous dinner with my husband, family and friends. I am not going to do laundry in between, or pick up toys, or pay bills, or go on facebook, or go grocery shopping. I am simply going to ALLOW myself NOT to do these things. I wish myself luck! 🙂

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amywlsn July 13, 2012 at 5:24 pm

Courtney go for it! You really ARE in the thick of it, so you *need* this day. You will be a much better mother for it. Resist the urge to come home early! I remember having a “day off” like this for my birthday once and running out of things to do after a couple of hours. but that is the point. Go off the grid, sit in the grass, BE BORED, for Pete’s sake. You deserve it. Happy birthday!

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Courtney July 13, 2012 at 6:20 pm

Thanks Amy! I see this in a lot of my friends, and it’s easy for me to give them advice on how to de-stress, relax, etc. Somehow, in the process, I have forgotten how to give myself that same care!

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Liz Slater July 13, 2012 at 6:36 pm

I’ve recently started scheduling days off for myself on the weekends. With 3 young kids (8, 6 and 3). I need time to myself. Sometimes I go to the mall and shop for me. Sometimes, I go wander in a bookstore or thr library. Sometimes I just find a good spot to just sit and read. Whatever it is I feel much better after.

My son starts preschool in the fall and I am looking forward being able to start running again. I’m slowly getting back in shape while they’re all in camp this summer.

Whatever it is I agree, we all need a little time to ourselves, so make the time. It can be hard when you can’t be spontaneous about it, but block off time in your calendar and make it as much of a priority as your kids’ activities or a work appt.

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Karen July 14, 2012 at 1:28 pm

For a long time now, my husband and I have been proudly boasting the fact that we love to take naps and and generally do nothing as often as possible in this crazy world we live in.

I’d hear others say, “I can’t sit still; I need to be busy or I get bored. I need to be up and doing something. I’m not a sit-around-and-do-nothing kind of person.” First, I’d think, “I am. I’m totally a sit-around-and-do-nothing person. I love when I get that opportunity.” But I’d never voice the sentiment for fear of being perceived as lazy. I knew I wasn’t lazy, but…

And I REALLY hate it when I do something creative and show it to someone else and hear, “You have way too much time on your hands.” Goes right up my tuchus.

But more and more, it seems, people are starting to recognize that “Il bel far niente” is a beautiful and beneficial thing. I  just hope it’s sincere and it doesn’t turn into false relaxation or “planned” laziness.

Anyway, your article made me think of another I’d read via Facebook just the other day. Same subject; really well-done. (not that yours isn’t , haha; just a different presentation with some speculation as to why we behave like this as a society.)  It’s a piece from the Opinion pages in the NY Times, if you care to have a gander…

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/30/the-busy-trap/

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Maureen July 14, 2012 at 2:33 pm

Great article. I find this very ironic because today being Saturday I made the announcement that this morning I am walking the dog, by myself. Mommy needs some alone time (I’m a SAHM and the 15 hour days are beginning to get to me) and as soon as I get back we’ll go blueberry picking.  I’m not even 5 minutes into my walk when I recognize my minivan pulling up next to me and my husband is letting my daughter out to join me “because she was crying”.  Deep breath.  Maybe tomorrow morning I’ll get 20 minutes to myself.

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