What drains you

I have been working seven days a week for years. Decades, I mean. I’ve also had four burnouts. Think they may be related? Yes, but not necessarily the way you’d think.

It’s not the work that drains you. I write seven days a week. Some days less than others. But every day I have to write something. That’s because I’m a writer and, as per Steven Pressfield (see his The War of Art or Do the Work), in order to be a writer I have to act like one, which means writing every day. No excuses. Excuses are for losers get back to it right this second.

What makes me unduly tired isn’t the writing. It’s the feeling that no matter how hard I work it’ll never be enough. This feeling stems from the Impostor Syndrome, which is not so much a syndrome as a really bad mental habit.

I have suffered from this mental habit for as long as I can remember. I had it as a kid. I have reasons, or excuses, for it. But like I said, excuses are for losers. Ultimately that one’s on me.

About a year ago I decided to tackle it in earnest. I began regularly telling myself that I was working hard enough, that I was really doing my best, and that I was as good as anyone else. That my work was worth something. And so was my sanity.

My progress is slow. Painfully so. But it’s there. Now I find myself not working evenings - unless I’m finishing a big project or have an urgent deadline. In my line of work, schedules aren’t always predictable. But as much as possible, around 6 pm, I stop working to enjoy a pleasant dinner with my partner followed by quiet reading or a bit of Netflix before early bed. Sometimes as early as 8:30 pm. Because sleep is more than necessary. It’s crucial, and you deserve to get as much of it as you need.

I’m up early every day (5 or 5:30 am; around 6 or 6:30 on weekends). I train first thing in the morning for an hour or so. Then coffee, a bit of breakfast, and I start my day’s work around 8 am. By the time 6 pm rolls around, I down tools and relax.

And by “relax”, I mean: sit there watching a movie not feeling guilty that I’m not working some more. Because I could be, you know. Working some more, I mean. To avoid feeling like I’m a fraud.

I don’t think I’m a fraud anymore when I stop working after 10ish hours to enjoy a movie or a book. I used to, and it was draining me like crazy (see “four burnouts,” above).

That one small mental shift is making all the difference in the world.

Ce qu'il y a de pire dans la vie...

C’est de ne pas être à la hauteur de ses talents. C’est le pire de tout. 

Nous sommes tous nés avec des talents particuliers. Des aptitudes naturelles. Parfois c’est difficile à voir et à quantifier. Comment mettre une valeur sur une capacité d’écoute exceptionnelle, par exemple? Ça ne se monnaie pas facilement.

Mais qu’on soit en mesure d’identifier nos forces et talents ou non, ils sont là, en nous, prêts à être utilisés.

Il faut rester à l’écoute des autres, et se garder ouverts aux possibilités qui se présentent naturellement.

Lors des deux grandes guerres, soit 1914–1918 et 1939–1945, grand nombre de jeunes gens se sont empressés de joindre les forces armées afin de faire leur part. Quand on lit les mémoires de ces soldats, on quand on a la chance de leur parler de vive voix, et qu’on leur demande pourquoi ils se sont engagés alors que leurs vies ne les auraient jamais entraînés vers les forces armées autrement, ils répondent, comme un seul homme, qu’il y avait un travail à faire et qu’ils se devaient d’y contribuer. C’est tout.

Plusieurs de ces jeunes gens se sont distingués lors de ces conflits. Des actes de bravoure incroyables furent récompensés. Est-ce que ces gens se savaient capables de tels actes? Non. Ils se sont engagés parce que c’était ce qu’ils croyaient devoir faire, et ils ont tout simplement fait de leur mieux. Leurs talents naturels se sont révélés d’eux-mêmes.

N’essayons pas de tout contrôler. Ça ne donne rien, sauf du stress. Laissons la vie nous offrir des occasions de mettre en œuvre nos talents et aptitudes, et faisons de notre mieux chaque jour. 

How I learned to dare greatly

 Be weird if you like, but be you

Be weird if you like, but be you

A while back, after reading my piece about seeking the spotlight my best friend commented (or was that a question) about exposing myself so much and becoming weaker. He said something about hoping I would remain strong even though I was exposing my vulnerable soft bits.

What’s interesting about this is that exposing my soft bits is, I believe, making me stronger not weaker. The week after publishing that essay I did something I had never done before: I told two separate people that I could do the work they wanted me to do but I would have to bill them for it. One of them agreed, the other declined and his problem ceased to be mine. Neither project was very big, and I could simply have decided to just get them done without asking for anything. That’s what I would normally do. Because part of me is always too chickenshit to ask for what my work is worth, and being reasonably comfortable financially means I don't always need to ask for payment. Doing work for free was, paradoxically, the lazy way out.

Not anymore. My work has value and I should be properly compensated for it. I feel good doing that. And if potential clients refuse to pay, or think I'm asking too much, then maybe they're not clients so much as moochers. And who needs that. 

I’ve been writing a lot all summer. Much of it is deeply personal, because I think this stuff needs to come out before I can start writing about something else. I’ve also been doing a lot of thinking - about who I am, and what I am worth as a writer and as a person. I am more comfortable in my skin than I’ve ever been in my life. In a weird way I feel like I’m finally starting to grow up, but in a profoundly proper way. As in: growing into the person I was always meant to be. And enjoying being who I am.

Including physically. I went to the beach with my kids once this summer, wearing a two piece bathing suit. Loose belly skin and all. I had never worn that in public - not in at least 20 years. And I felt beautiful doing it. Sure my body isn’t what it used to be. Not as tight or firm everywhere. But it’s a lot stronger than it’s ever been thanks to all the training I do. What I’ve lost in youthful elasticity I’ve more than gained in poise and muscle tone. My body has also given life to three gorgeous girls. I'm proud of what it can do.  

Far from making me weaker, all that sharing and exposing myself and letting myself be seen for who I really am (ugly gut, warts and all) is making me stronger than I’ve ever been.

I, artist

Trust me to get to new movie releases after the buzz has passed. I'd heard plenty of good things about I, Tonya back when it was a thing but failed to let it register in my mind. It went by me like so many action-hero flicks do, sort of a vague whoosh easily gone and forgotten. 

It came back one day as I was fiddling with the public library app on my phone. There it was featured at the top, having recently been the subject of a commentary by another library patron. And I thought hey, why not. I mean, it's free. 

I watched it last night. I was intrigued by the techniques used to tell her story; a cross between a mockumentary and a secret ode to Woody Allen. So many asides, so many wise cracks, such as when the mother complains that her story is at risk of disappearing from the narrative. 

It was like watching the proverbial train wreck in slow motion. Everyone knows how the story goes, what challenges she faced, what domestic horrors she lived through. Stereotypes exist for a reason; the level of dysfunction in Tonya Harding's private life is depressing and not because it's so rare. Quite the contrary. Lives like hers are as common as rain in April. 

Tonya was no angel. She contributed to her own misery in many ways. But there was one thing she did well, and it was skating. 

It was her life, her everything. After her trial she got banished from it. The scene where she reacts to her sentence despite her lawyer trying to shush her is by far the most poignant of all. Whereas the guys involved in the sordid affair that resulted in Nancy Kerrigan's knee being bashed in got shortish prison sentences, she got a life-long punishment she considered worse than being temporarily deprived of her freedom. She implored the judge to send her to jail instead but it was too late and maybe nobody cared anyway. 

I do. Here is a woman whose punishment for a crime she did not herself commit was to deprive her of the one and only thing she ever wanted to do with her life. They took the meaning of Tonya out of her, leaving only a shell where her essence once lived, however imperfectly. 

She was an artist. She worked with ice, very sharp blades, blue nail polish and slightly vulgar flair. She made it work for her. She found meaning in what she was doing, until it was taken away from her. 

It was a troubling reminder for me. We should never waver in doing our thing, because we can't count on anyone making it easy for us to live our art - not even ourselves.