Tag Archives: slow down

“as alive as any animal”

Yesterday, the poem asked: What do I do with my body if it’s not a secret? Today, the poem says:

This soup is alive as any animal,
and the yeast and cream and rye
will sing inside you after eating
for a long time.

– from “Bread Soup: An Old Icelandic Recipe” by Bill Holm

Today, I am anxious to get off the computer. I want to be in the garden. I want to read about sourdough starter, about cool vs. warm rises, I want to bring my second attempt at san francisco sourdough bread back up to temperature (it rose in the fridge overnight) so that I can put it in the oven and get breakfast going. I want to learn about soil textures and compositions, learn how to tell what nutrients the soil’s abundant in based on what weeds are growing there. I want to learn about soil amendments and natural fertilizers. I want to figure out the best way to grow watermelons here in Oakland so that a certain young man isn’t disappointed again this growing season. I want to go to the local organic nursery and pick out native plants and organic varietals that will thrive during this coming thirsty summer. Then I want to go to an urban recycling center to find a big bucket to catch shower water (while the water’s heating up, say) to help water the garden. And a bird feeder. And a top for the bird bath.

There’s a lot I want to do these days that doesn’t involve sitting in front of the computer — or even a notebook. The work I want right now is a different sort of bodily work. It’s whole body work. Kneading, digging, bending, planting, pulling work. It’s listening to longer rhythms than the immediate insistence of twitter of facebook will ever allow. It’s thinking ahead: ok, if I want this bread for dinner, tomorrow, then I have to start it now. Or : Ok, if I want to plant this weekend, then I better spend these weekday afternoons weeding and preparing the beds– and that means spending time outside working in the sun rather than hunched here over this little computer.

That is to say, the thinking these days looks less like, What do I need to do to grow my business?, and more like, What can I do today to grow a life?

This is a fairly significant shift in my thinking, needless to say.

There’s a book I love that I discovered while I was a Hedgebrook a couple of years ago — World Enough and Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down, by Christian McEwen. (Sneak a peek up there at Amazon, and then buy a copy directly from the publisher here.) I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately (I’d flip through it again, but my copy has walked away from the Writing Ourselves Whole library — that happens sometimes) — McEwen describes how necessary it is for creative folks to slow down, feel our rhythms, be all the way in our lives. Through personal anecdotes and examples from hundreds of creative folks, McEwen makes the case for a slower — rather than fast and multitasky — creative life: she describes the artist’s need to wander (literally and figuratively), to have space for silence and dreams, to do one thing at a time, to have space for deep connection with others and room in our lives for alone time Not everyone will resonate with her arguments. I myself bought a copy of her book as soon as I returned from Hedgebrook and dipped into its pages whenever I needed to counter the voices in my head (not to mention all those business-coach types out there on the interwebs) clamoring at me to do more and go faster and do it all now now now now now.

So I am listening to that part of me that wants to do other work: the building a life work. And what I notice–as I give my attention to the people I love and the garden and tend to a puppy’s hurt foot and dig up oxalis out of the raised beds and make lists of plants I absolutely must get into the ground this year (so many more than will fit in this small yard, mind you)–is that I don’t have to force myself to write when I sit down to the notebook or this little computer: the words begin to percolate around the edges. They are fermenting in the deep and bready parts of me. They are finding their own slow rise back to into my fingers. They come again to be as alive as all these other animal parts of me. I feed the words in this slowing down, even as it looks, on the surface, like I am turning away from them. This is a good kind of creative parenting. This is making a life I can live in.

Radical self care as upheaval (part 4) – slow walk with paradox

keep going(In this series of posts about radical self care and/through major life change, I am finally taking some time to find the words for what I’ve been dealing with over the last month, since the birth of my nephew. I am thinking about how and why we choose to survive and how much effort is involved, how and why we choose to take care of ourselves, and how to allow ourselves to walk with all that life throws at us with even a modicum of grace and celebration.)

I remember they said it would be hard. I scramble
by luck into a little pocket out of
the wind and begin to beat on the stones
with my scratched numb hands, rocking back and forth
in silent laughter there in the dark—
“Made it again!” Oh how I love this climb!

This is what’s true: You can’t force a rhythm. When things are out of sync, you have to let them find their own way back into togetherness. Today I am going slow. I am listening to the birds outside, the spring birds, the ones just waking now, the birds hiding in the slowly-flowering apple tree, the ones that sit in the narrow pine at the back fence. I am listening to the candle flame flicker in its glass enclosure. I am listening to the puppy shudder in her morning dreams. I am listening for what wants to happen next.

This writing was supposed to come on Monday, but it didn’t. After a very full weekend, the writing went quiet, and so I didn’t force it. I wrote in the notebook, things not meant for public display, and I found poems for this space. Today I’m going slow — I’ll write, work in the garden, bake sourdough bread, and, while the sourdough is working its rise, I’ll work on a copyediting gig I’m in the midst of.

Sourdough is a thing that needs time to do its work, even more so than conventional yeast-raised breads. Sourdough bread is old bread, original bread. It’s a fermented product, just like pickles and sauerkraut and yogurt and  kombucha — there are probiotics in these foods that our bodies need for digestion and better health. I’m going to use sprouted wheat flour for the bread, which is supposed to be even better for you.

(I’ve started to look at un-fermented breads the same way I look at candy: I go into the cafe and look at all the candy lined up on those pastry shelves. That’s exactly how my body reacts when I eat a conventional croissant or bagel, something made with processed, bleached, enriched white flour—it’s just like I’ve eaten a half-a-bagful of jellybeans.)

I have started listening differently to my body — again. After the terrible depression I struggled with last month, I am listening again. For about a week now, I’ve been taking a new set of supplements, and have cut back on my sugar and dairy and gluten; while I will be going to talk to some different practitioners about how I can best manage my hormones and take care of my body, I got started with the information on this webpage. Please note: I’m not initiating all of these supplements and herbs at the same time! I started with things I’ve done before — multivitamin, fish oil, nettle and dandelion tea — and added the vitex, evening primrose, probiotics, and b-12. I’m starting with low dosages, letting my body acclimate. This is the time of the month when I’d usually be deep into my difficult mood, the big depression, the hard pull down. I can feel it inside me: the spikes of anger are there, I can certainly feel the flares that say, oooh, girl, you’re premenstural. But I don’t wake up deep in despair. I am paying attention.

Have you seen a Möbius strip? It’s one of those things kids get shown when adults want to demonstrate the concept of infinity, and paradox. They take a long strip of construction paper between two hands, twist it once, and then tape the ends of the paper together so that you have a loop with a twist in it. Then they say, Now look: if you drop your pen at any point and start making a line along the length of the paper, you’ll end up drawing on both sides of the strip without lifting your pen — how is that possible?

I remember being delighted by Möbius strips when I first discovered them, and made bunches of them, amazed every time that the strip of recycled paper from my dad’s old dot matrix printer had a line that traversed the whole surface of the paper; I never had to pick up the pen to get to the other side — this two sided piece of paper had turned into a loop that appeared to only have one side. How was that possible?

Sometimes our new topologies just don’t make logical sense to our old eyes, our old ways of thinking. We have to meet the paradox with curiosity — at least, that’s what I’m trying to do right now. Wonder and delight aren’t always easy when the boundaries appear to have moved indefinitely and I’m walking and walking on this new path with no end in sight, and those footprints next to me on the sand look an awful lot like my own. How can I slow down when I’ve got so much to do? Haven’t I been here before, in this place of major transition? When will the ground get stable under my feet again? When will everything make sense?

My intention right now is to go more slowly — on all fronts. Less multitasking, more hands in dirt and dough and changing diapers and holding the pen. What if this got to be a good life? How do we go slowly enough to be able to listen to what the birds were trying to tell us, or to discover that the path that we think keeps changing is actually the same one we’ve been traveling all along?

taking breaks and being selfish

Good morning this beautiful morning — how is the sun singing to you this morning? How are you letting yourself into the sky’s day?

I am back to this blog writing after a bit of a vacation — I’m sorry for the long absence. I went back east for about a week, and got to nestle and swim in the New England summer. During vacation I read a lot, swam in the Pacific, visited with friends and family, sunbathed, walked in the rain — I wrote, too, though not on the computer.

I don’t like to spend much time on the computer while I’m on vacation; I take myself offline, and though I keep my phone close at hand so I can take pictures, I avoid email and my social networking apps. Being away from the (perceived) demands of social media allows me to take a real break, to slow down, to pay a different kind of attention. I feel less scattered when I’m offline — though it can take a day or so for the quality of my awareness to recalibrate from easily distractable and multi-task-oriented toward something more focused and yet with a wider peripheral vision. I begin to walk more slowly. I turn away from the screens, letting my eyes open back to the real world that surrounds me.

I tend to feel guilty for taking these sorts of media-input breaks, like I’m in avoidance mode. This is an old feeling, and comes from the years in college when I would, in fact, avoid the phone and email so that I could tell my stepfather that I honestly hadn’t been aware of his many and varied attempts to contact me. I would turn the phone’s ringer off and turn down the volume on the answering machine. This was before voice mail, though — I wasn’t able to avoid hearing the cassette tape whir into motion once the recorded greeting started to play, and I couldn’t turn down the tape as it recorded his message to me, sometimes sweet and wheedling, sometimes threatening and angry. So I’d leave the apartment, wandering the streets of my small college town for hours, holing up in cafes where I wrote and wrote and wrote, always aware of what I was doing: avoiding the phone, not being where my abuser wanted me to be.

In her book World Enough and Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down, Christian McEwen writes: “The practicing artist is, by definition, someone who is able to build a life around his or her own creative work. Inevitably, such a person will have considered his or her attitude to time. What matters is not how much they actually have, but how best to inhabit it and make it spacious: how to allow room in which attention can take root.”

By necessity, during those years, I learned the power of making time for my generative, creative life — even all these years later, though, the powerful and useful practice of taking space from communicative devices can be, for me, tinged with guilt and shame: I internalized the sense that I’m running away from something or someone, that when I make space for my creative self, I am taking something from someone else.

You don’t have to have an abuser telling you that you’re selfish for not being at their beck and call to have this particular lesson take hold: we get this message from our work, our families, our communities — that we are selfish if we say we need time for our art, particularly when the time we need looks to someone outside our own head like time being wasted on a walk in the woods or reading poetry or daydreaming or otherwise creating the sort of open, woolgathering headspace and heartspace necessary for generating creative work.

How do we unlearn this message, that time not spent doing work that benefits someone else is time wasted? Or that time spent in our creative process is time spent selfishly? Or that being selfish with our time is always a bad thing?

How do you challenge that idea?

After all these years, I still have to breathe deep into the anxiety that when I get done with my writing time, I’m going to have to deal with someone’s fury. I don’t — if someone is going to be angry with me for taking the time I need to write, I gently encourage them not to be in my life anymore. Sometimes I succumb to the fear of selfishness: I stop taking the time I need to write, in favor of spending time with other people. After several days of this, I hit overload. Every. Single. Time. I become cranky, achy, short-tempered, and less able to concentrate on anything or anyone. I end up needing lots of time to myself in order to come back into balance.

It’s kind of like the way I still sometimes binge, when I’m feeling really bad about myself, which then reminds me that my body doesn’t respond well to that kind of overstuffing — that that coping mechanism doesn’t serve me anymore, and I deserve to take care of my body in other ways.

I have to learn and relearn these lessons: when I allow myself the practices that I need in order to be in balance — which includes both “free” time (which is the playtime that my psyche needs in order to keep the words flowing) and writing time — then I am better able to engage in my relationships.  Not everyone works this way, but I do.

What do you need in order to fully inhabit your creative self? Can you write about those conditions and desires for ten minutes or so today? Notice how your body feels when you write about what helps our writing to flow… and follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Thank you for going as slow as you need to go. Thank you for your words, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

give yourself some slow

Good morning – it’s slow here where I am, slow in my belly and bones, slow in the opening eyes, slow in the water boiling, slow in the release of night to sun. It’s Friday, when things should be moving toward break and weekend, but not for the self-employed. Where do you find breaktime? How does Friday slow itself to greet you? Are you rushing headlong into this day, just ready to just get it over with?

This week I am thinking a lot about workaholism and stress, I am thinking about the cultural messages I get as an American to work harder work harder — if you’re tired or anxious or there’s too much to do: work harder. Don’t stop. Push through the tired. Yes, you’re overwhelmed — just keep working. You can get through it. I am thinking about how I have internalized these messages: just keep going, Jen. You can do this. Don’t stop. You just gotta power through.

And how, when I’m overwhelmed, those sorts of messages just drive me right into shutdown. Everything in me slows down, whether I want it to or not. It’s as though my body knows something it doesn’t want to tell me. Or, no, wait: my body  is telling me all the time: more and more and faster and faster isn’t better. Working harder isn’t the way to get more done. Working slower is.

Continue reading