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. 🙂

So Much Gratitude

So, so grateful for pie! Carbs in any form, really...
So, so grateful for pie! Carbs in any form, really…

Thanksgiving Day seems like a good time to thank the people who are supporting me through my writing recovery. A comment appeared on this post from June, reminding me of how much has changed since my last book release (IMPULSE CONTROL, two years ago in January). I’m not exhausted anymore. I’m finally self-publishing. That book that was kicking my ass? Still not done, but I’m enjoying the work. That. Is. Epic. I go to yoga even when I’m busy. The house has new furniture. Sometimes I cook at home, not just at work.

The life-balance is better. It’s a practice!

I didn’t write any acknowledgements pages for the Come Again series (releasing on 11/29!) because it wasn’t part of the process at Samhain Publishing, where the books were first published. I probably could have written acknowledgements, but my editor didn’t ask me for them, and everything was new to me then. I was still learning the ropes, so I wasn’t going to suggest a new way to tie a book together.

Instead of acknowledgements, Samhain did dedications, and mine are a little out of date. Life changes, you know? But I left them as is. Once you give a book to someone, it’s theirs, too, even if it gets a new life in writer-WITSEC. 🙂

I always read the acknowledgement page at the back of a book because it’s a peek behind the curtain into another writer’s life. How do they keep their shit together? Who helps them? Usually a village, I’ve learned. I’m certainly grateful for MY village!

In no particular order (and probably edited after posting because I’ll forget someone), I’d like to thank Samhain Publishing for being the first publishing company to offer me a contract. I loved working with the company, and I’m sad to see it close its doors. Thank you for  everything, Samhain!

comeagain-cover-ebook-1667x2500-bottomsup-final
Putting your BGF on the cover of a book: priceless!

Much admiration to Amy Gamet, Jennifer Kacey, Natasha Moore, and Molly O’Keefe for successfully self-publishing and making me think I could do it too. And for answering ALL the questions. Amy literally answered a question every day last week. Newbie questions. Basic stuff. And she never gave me the eyeroll emoji! Plus Jennifer let me use her for the cover of BOTTOMS UP. She doesn’t have the heroine’s dreadlocks, but Jenn does have a ton of long, dark, hair. Close enough for me, and I LOVE having her on the cover!

Many muffins and coffees to my writer friends, particularly Jess, Alison, and Barb, who listened to all the same shit for two years and rarely yelled at me, were always encouraging, kept the faith, shot straight when necessary, sat in silence, and chatter, and wrote words with me. Writing books takes faith and hard work…and good company or you start to think you’re nuts. We can’t all be nuts AT THE SAME TIME, right? Meh. We’re nice nuts.

All the REST of the coffee to my work friends at Wegmans. Non-writing work is good, and you guys are the best.

Always thanks to my husband, Ben, because he’s gonna love me no matter what. He really is.

Thank you, my readers, blog commenters, FB friends. Thank you for reaching out. For being there. For sharing your lives. I see you. I see your posts, and when you are struggling, I dedicate my yoga practice to your healing. Which might sound odd, but it’s my purest form of spiritual positivity, and I send it winging to you through the universe we share, roughly twice a week. 🙂

Blessing upon your houses. My gratitude abounds, today and every day.

So…my American friends, what is your contribution to the feast today?! My brother and sister in-law are hosting, and I made pumpkin pie, pecan pie, sweet potato rolls, and a loaf of sourdough bread. Ben is making potato skins for an appetizer. What’s your favorite can’t-live-without Thanksgiving dish?

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!