Is work/life balance actually a thing?

I read something that scared me last week. I was sitting at my daughter’s softball game, which I rarely do, because I’m usually working, too tired from working, or working on a writing project. Plus, her dad is amazing sports dad, dinner dad, driving dad, every good dad thing, soooo I’m off the hook if I want to be. But I was at this game because I was lonely and feeling isolated and her amazing dad insisted that I join them.

And I sneaked a peek at my e-mail and found a Brené Brown blog celebrating her 23rd year of recovery, and that is where I saw the scary thing: “Over the past two decades, food and work have emerged as my real drugs of choice.” OMG, people. ME TOO.

In my twenty-five years in bakeries, I’ve probably only gotten out of work on time a handful of times. I work holidays. I arrive at family functions with a bag of clothes, so that I can change out of my work uniform. I have caused countless small arguments by being late. Or not showing up at all.

I work about an hour overtime every shift, at the expense of my body, my family, and my creative life.

And the food thing? I’m a sugar addict. I don’t have a weight problem. My blood sugar is fine. My cholesterol is fine. All my numbers are fine. Just got them checked yesterday. But I eat cake when my mood dips. I eat cookies when I start to get frustrated, which is every day at about 3:30 pm when I have to reprioritize my bakery list (and my co-workers lists) because there’s no way we are going to get everything done. (Mind you, the list is always impossible, and yet, every day, I think I can do it. Every day, I stay late trying to do it all. Every day, I feel like I’ve failed. Every day, I know that is ridiculous…and yet…I keep doing it. Does this sound familiar to anyone?)

At every opportunity, I counsel my colleagues, from my years of experience, that they need to maintain work/life balance NOW, while they are young. They need to leave on time because it’s impossible to do everything, and we might value our jobs GREATLY, but it’s a grocery store, and tomorrow is another day. Our bodies/families/lives are more important than cake, cookies, pies, and tarts. And then I kind of maybe sometimes stay late finishing their lists.

So.

Work and food are my drugs of choice, and I am well aware of the ravages they make in my life. I’m exhausted by a double shot of too much work and too much sugar. And the worst part? It’s alllll me. I have a colleague who suffers from a similar problem. She thinks leaving bakery is the solution. I disagree. I tell her that her problems will take a new shape in a new job, that she will be bored with less chaos, that *I* will help her manage her work/life balance, which means I send her home on time and stay late, because I am a work addict, too.

I have the day off today, and my to-do list spans TWO DAYS in my planner. I LOVE my projects. I DO. But every so often, because I seem to learn the same lessons in this life over and over, I need to remember that I am my project, too.

And, yes, I said basically the same thing in my last blog on May 13th. LOL. Same lessons. Over and over. 🙂

Writer-in-Recovery

I am brave enough to continue.

This is my mantra. Because I commune with the daring trinity of Brené Brown, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Cheryl Strayed, I know vulnerability looks like courage in others and weakness in myself (Brown), expecting my art to support me was a bad idea all along (Gilbert), and the only option is to keep walking (Strayed.)

But this book I’m writing is straight-up kicking my ass. I’m worried not a single reader will remember my name by the time I publish it. I’m afraid that after all the effort I’ve put into it, it will suck. It’s been a lot of effort, thus the sucking will be worse because I tried harder. I’m overwhelmed by the process and expense of self-publishing. But really it all boils down to one thing: this is hard. And since I always end up deleting my first thought because it takes me two to get to the point:

I’m afraid of failure.

Yeah, who isn’t? I know. I jeer at myself, too, which makes it take longer to pull up my all-cotton Hanes bikini panties and get to the real work. I’m not just a writer anymore. I’m a writer-in-recovery which means I’ve rejected all the previous standards by which I judged my career. Most romance writers hold themselves to a daily word count and try to publish several books a year. It’s a good plan. I did it for five years. This is what happened.

I was single-minded and always on deadline. No one expected me at family events. I was perpetually exhausted, scrambling, and buried in work. And guess what? I didn’t make enough money or garner enough praise to justify the sacrifices. It is familiar and easy for me to focus on one thing to the exclusion of all others while claiming I want to live a balanced life. When the words are flowing, I skip yoga, don’t make dinner, don’t clean the house, and my business life is a mess. And when the words aren’t flowing, I do the same thing because if I just put my BUTT IN THE CHAIR for long enough, the words will pour from me in a bloody rush of THIS WAS WORTH MY LIFE.

I can’t speak for all writers in this. Some of them are perfectly well-adjusted, don’t seek approval like it’s vodka, and write like Niagara Falls.

I admire them. Of course, I also hate them. They are happy. They believe in themselves. They don’t doubt every word. They don’t second-guess every thought. They do not tie their self-worth to what they DO. Some of them aren’t faking it, either. (I don’t really hate them. I want to be them.)

High school BFF, the finder of good things, sent me The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life by Ann Patchett. After reading it, it got easier for me to spend a few hours on writing and then work on the other things that give my life meaning. Right now that’s mothering, cleaning, cooking, shopping, and remembering to call my mom. I lent it to my writer pal, Jessica Topper, and she read it and sighed, “Forgiveness.” If you are an introspective writer-sort trying to survive in the tumultuous publishing world right now, you might like it.

Balance isn’t always comfortable. Yesterday, I cleaned up the morning school mess and called my mother. I wrote for two hours, went to yoga, stopped by Wegmans for a health screening (free lunch and uniform shirt – bonus!), shopped for glasses, cleaned ten years of cobwebs out of the kitchen windows, deleted a month’s worth of e-mails, and took my kid to pick up her new glasses. I was tired, but I felt like I hadn’t really accomplished anything. I was tempted to go back to work on the WIP. Against every instinct, I booted up the pilot episode of The Good Wife. While I admired Julianna Margulies’s stupendous eyebrows, all of my children showered. In other words, the heavens opened up and rained clean children, a sign I had chosen wisely.

I didn’t finish the book yesterday. Hell, I don’t even know how many words I wrote, but I kissed everyone goodnight. I exercised, ran errands, and battled inbox entropy. My kitchen windows look as good as fifty-three year-old windows can look. I put some time in on writing AND living. I feel spectacular.

Just kidding. Did I fool you? I feel like shit, which is why my husband – deeply suspicious of me watching television, of all things – kept giving me the fish-eye and saying, “Are you okay?”

Fuck no.

I want to finish this book, and it is taking so much longer than I think it should.

But I think this is what recovery feels like, so I’m going to keep doing it. 🙂

Happy Friday, everyone! If you struggle with writing, you should read The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life! All comments left on this blog, Mid-life Margaritas, and A Visit to the Ripped Bodice will enter you to win a book from the most romantic bookstore in Culver City, CA!

Looking For Joy

Hi folks! I am ever in that quest for balance. Joy. Human being versus human DOING. Life, not work. This is one of my favorite pictures from life.

ellaflr-1

 Reach for the flowers!

I loved her soft baby rolls. I remember exactly what they felt like beneath my palms when I lifted her up. My HANDS remember. They tingle when I think about it. The dip of her eyelid is so sweet. The focus, the fingertip. I had probably told her to be careful. Oh, the tender back of her neck, the dip in her skull, my mouth waters. She is still that sweet.

RWA 2013 Bar Highlights

Non-bar highlight: Barbara O'Neal hugged me!
Non-bar highlight: Barbara O’Neal hugged me!

I feel like I should write a Romance Writers of America national conference 2013 wrap up post, but I’ve read so many “how to get the most of your conference” and “Wisdom from RWA 2013” that I’m scared. The number one tip seems to be “Don’t spend all your time in the bar.” Guilty! On any given night you could find me sitting in a group of fun folks with a beer in one hand and a glass of water in the other. I didn’t get drunk once, but I successfully fought the urge to go hide in my room. No one ever believes I’m shy, but drop me down into a room full of strangers, and I want to read my book. I might do a quick pass through the bar, simultaneously hoping someone will flag me down while trying to look like I have somewhere super-important to be. Does this sound familiar to anyone? If so, find me in the bar at the next conference. We can be strangers together.

Tiffany Reisz and Eden bradley burning up the bar!
Tiffany Reisz and Eden Bradley burning up the bar!

Bar highlights: Eden Bradley, Jessica Topper, and I hashed out an RT workshop proposal and sent it off – from the bar! People introduced me to people, and I got to fangirl. Yes, it’s a verb. For example, I found Robin Covington hanging in the bar. She introduced me to Avery Flynn. Kimberly Kincaid is already my pal, and it was sweet to hang out drinking IPAs with those three musketeers of smex and awesome. I love their books! Tiffany Reisz met me in the bar.  I could probably stop here. I adore that woman. As much as I love her books! A LOT! Of course, we could have arranged to meet somewhere else, but we landed in the bar, so it counts as bar #win. I became comfortable enough in the bar that I made NEW friends, and they found me on FB and Twitter so we can continue being friends. I reconnected with old friends I look forward to seeing every year. I guess they know they can find me in the bar…

Tough Love Yoga
Jessica Topper and I played hooky from the conference and went to Tough Love Yoga. Balance! Read her post here.

While I was standing in the bar, two women from the Microsoft convention (also at our hotel) came over to talk to us. They were avid romance fans and had a lot of questions. One of them even had an app on her phone that tracked her favorite authors release dates! Yes, we swagged her up one side and down the other, but she was begging for it. And then we just talked about our favorite authors and books. Now, are you ready for this? Kristan Higgins and her McIrish came into the bar Friday night. Yes, yes I did. And anyone who heard her speech and didn’t get to tell her it was amazing will understand why. I totally shook her hand or hugged her, I don’t even know which, because my heart flew into my throat at memory of the grace and humor and strength and brilliance she displayed during her speech. I thanked her for sharing it with us. And I thanked her adorable husband for supplying her with all that good sex. I also asked her to fill in the last blank here because I was sobbing too hard during the speech. Balance = joy = heart =…books. You all KNOW how I feel about balance.

Balance is my Holy Grail.

Let’s look for it in the bar next year in RWA14  in Texas!

On Happy Birthdays, Lovely Hobbits, Rabbit Holes, Recriminations, Validation, Balance, and Bullshit

I love my birthday with the intensity of a Russian tortoise on a romaine rampage.
I love my birthday with the intensity of a Russian tortoise on a romaine rampage.

I told myself I would never write a book while teaching my intermediate pastry arts course at night ever again. The last time I did that this happened. It wasn’t pretty.

However…when I didn’t hit my wordcount for my WIP, I decided I would finish it during the ten-day spring break I’d have in the middle of my course. Because that’s what normal people do, right? Decide to write a book in ten days? Life never gets in the way.

Riiiiiiiight! But I still wanted to finish and polish the book by May 1st, so I had no choice but to keep writing while I was teaching – but that’s not the silly part.

Truth: Arthur Dimmesdale has nothing on me. I am harder on myself than anyone else would dare to be. I’ve been beating myself up for most of April because I didn’t get that book done fast enough. Clearly, I lack discipline.

I call bullshit.

Welcome to Willowdale, North Carolina, a small town where the folks are friendly, the romances are as sweet as the tea, and the biddies at the diner gobble up gossip like it’s peach cobbler. This may be their biggest scoop ever. When sexy Hollywood bad-boy Teague “T-Rex” Reynolds comes to this quiet Southern town, he needs a fake girlfriend to hide the secret that brought him there. School nurse Kate Riley takes the job, but she won’t fall for a movie star, no ma’am. That’s fine with Teague. He hung a closed sign on his heart years ago. Convincing the press they’re in love is one thing. Fooling each other they’re not is getting harder each day. Despite scandal, heartache, and misunderstandings galore, they might just find the sweet thrill of true love. Book one of The Willowdale Romances.
When sexy Hollywood bad-boy Teague “T-Rex” Reynolds comes to this quiet Southern town, he needs a fake girlfriend to hide the secret that brought him there. School nurse Kate Riley takes the job, but she won’t fall for a movie star, no ma’am. That’s fine with Teague. He hung a closed sign on his heart years ago.
Convincing the press they’re in love is one thing. Fooling each other they’re not is getting harder each day…

At my Western New York Romance Writers meeting last Saturday, Lisa Scott inspired the heck out of us by sharing her writing journey and offering great tips for weathering the tough road. She was awesome – witty, smart, approachable, savvy, gorgeous – and I am going to buy all of her books. In fact, I’m going to buy No Foolin’ TODAY because it is the Kindle Daily Deal, and it sounds like a fun read. However, one of the tips she suggested to increase productivity was this: write down everything you do during each 15 minute increment of one day to see how much time is wasted on Internet/telephone/navel gazing. Something deep inside me screamed HELL NO! AND I’M NOT GOING TO WRITE DOWN EVERYTHING I EAT, EITHER. (Hey, click the red box just below to read more!) Continue reading “On Happy Birthdays, Lovely Hobbits, Rabbit Holes, Recriminations, Validation, Balance, and Bullshit”