Sunday, December 13, 2015

Time, Priorities and Goals (Stephanie Kuehnert)

Time is such a precious gift. I feel like I've never been more aware of that than I am now because, for the past three or four months, I haven't had enough of it. Especially writing time.

The most magical part of my 2015 was the two weeks in July that I spent at the Mineral School writing residency. I didn't have to cook. My phone didn't get reception and the Wi-Fi access was limited allowing me to disconnect from the outside world. My only responsibility during that time was to revise my memoir. It was glorious. I don't know if I've ever been so productive--not since grad school, for sure. I revised half of my book. I wrote 23,999 new words on it, plus a synopsis for another book--one I'd been trying to figure out for 7 years!!!--and I was eager to finish the rest of the revision and get started on the new novel.

My fall has been pretty much the exact opposite.

I haven't written at all since the beginning of September. Since September 8th to be specific. That is three months and five days. Yes, I'm counting, and I am sure my fellow writers know why. To go without words for that long, it's painful. The stress of all of my overcommitments and the lack of writing time have put me into a serious depression. I haven't really spoken about it or shown it (I haven't had the time!) to anyone aside from my very closest friends, but these past three months have been the worst I've had in a long time.

What happened? Well, everything at once. At the beginning of September, I found myself rushing to finish that revision by my deadline (it got so much harder once I left my residency and had to go back to work), prepping to teach a college course, and... we had to find a new place to live. Oh, and did I mention that I work a full-time job. I work a full-time job.

Over Labor Day weekend, we managed to find a place and I managed to finish my book, but then without even a moment to breathe, I had to throw myself into teaching mode and packing up our place. My class started on September 24th and we moved on October 16th. I told myself that October was going to be a wash, but maybe in November, I would find writing time again.

I didn't.

Some of what happened this fall was just purely bad luck/circumstances (the need to move--though my new house is beautiful and I am very grateful for it as I showed and told you last month), but largely it happened because I have been an overachiever since childhood and now I am (officially, I feel, ever since my mother passed her copy of this book onto me a few years ago) A Woman Who Does Too Much.

I love to write. I love to teach. I've refused to give these things up even though they do not pay my bills. For the past two years, I've managed to continue with both on top of my full-time job. But this fall, partially because of the move, partially because teaching at a university takes a TON more time than the community organization where I have been teaching (like we're talking 16 hours a week compared to 4), I was overwhelmed. Add to that a much longer commute due to my move, and lunch breaks given up at my job so that I could leave early to teach twice a week, and there was no time to read, no time to write, no time to see friends or even call my mother most weeks.

It was too much. I don't say that to whine or complain. I say that because I need to acknowledge it. I need to recognize my own limitations, so I don't do this to myself again.

By the time this posts (because I am writing it in advance, in chunks, during scraps of spare moments), I should be almost done with my grading. On Tuesday, the Very Hard Work will officially be over. I will have to catch up on some other things, but then I can regroup.

I don't regret teaching the class. I never regret teaching because I love interacting with writers so much. I love the stories I had the pleasure of reading and I hope to see several of those books on the shelf next year. Beyond all that, I feel it is important, my way of contributing to the world, to the writing community, to giving back because I am where I am because I had wonderful, generous teachers.

But since I prioritized teaching, now it is time to prioritize other things.

I create a list of goals for each year. I'm shaping the 2016 list now and mostly it is filled with goals related to writing, the stuff that inspires writing (ie. reading and creating little masters courses for myself in certain topics), and self-care. I remind myself repeatedly to work on work/life balance and not feel bad about saying no. "Be fucking strategic about the extra work you take on. This year you must prioritize writing time and sanity over money," is one of the items/reminders on my list.

Right now, I only plan to teach one class next year. That may change, but only if it feels right. It's hard to fit in everything I love all at once. It's got be a give and take. I'm trying to learn to be okay with that--to enjoy it even. I used to just wish for more time, but if I accept the time I have and spread out the tasks and goals, I think I'll enjoy life more fully. It's something to work for anyway.

We've still got a couple of weeks of 2015 left though and I am going to use that time to reset myself. Though 2015 had some highlights, it was pretty cruddy overall--for me personally, for my friends, and globally. I want to shake off that bad energy. I think I am going to start by unplugging as much as possible. Stepping away from social media these last couple of weeks especially because I found myself becoming increasingly unfocused during stressful periods. I'd just open up an app and scroll and feel worse. Time to stop that.

At the very end of the year and through the first couple days of the new year, my partner and I are escaping into nature, to the Olympic Peninsula. I really look forward to that reboot. I will start fresh and use my time wisely.

How are you planning to use your time next year?

If you are a writer and those two weeks I described at the beginning of this post sounded glorious to you, Mineral School has just opened applications for Summer 2016. I highly encourage you to apply!




3 comments:

  1. It's an ongoing struggle, this search for balance!

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  2. LOVE your "strategic" goal. It's right-on.

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  3. I do this to myself too--take on other things--like teaching, and then find that writing gets pushed down further on the list. I think it comes down to putting more value on what I'm doing for others vs stuff I do for me. Ongoing struggle is right!

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