Thursday Writing: Limited stamina

Sometimes, rest is the highest spiritual practice.

Tom Yeomans

This seems to be a prime week for learning how to work around obstacles. First, my artist date didn’t pan out as I’d planned; then, I had an anxious, jittery, hard-to-focus craft day. My writing has presented interesting challenges this week as well. A week ago, I said I needed to spend more time with my writing projects, so I experimented with an 8-hour workday. When I found out I can’t handle such a schedule, you wise readers reminded me that (a) I don’t have to, and (b) there’s no shame in taking breaks. So this week, I tried the full workday again, but modified my goals based on what happened last time. Instead of trying for 8 hours, I planned to do 5, and I also incorporated an hourlong lunch break and time for afternoon tea. Guess what? It worked!

That is to say, by “worked” I mean I didn’t end the day in total exhaustion, and I got a fair amount done. But 5 hours of concentrated work is taxing, no matter what. The breaks — and not killing myself with high expectations — made all the difference. My long lunch break helped me get out of work mode, and in the mid-afternoon when my energy flagged dramatically, I retired to my reading chair with Sunset magazine and a purring Tisha. As far as relaxation goes, I have no higher recommendation than feline company and a cozy chair in a sunbeam…

After my Tisha-time I made myself a cup of tea and a yogurt parfait, and I felt beautifully rested and recharged. But don’t they say that each time you recharge a battery, it loses a bit of its juice? That was how the afternoon went for me, and by 6 PM I was absolutely ready to call it a day.

A very little writing uses up my capacity for writing.

Virginia Woolf

Mornings are my most productive times, for sure; afternoons are difficult. Usually I like to schedule appointments and yoga and dance classes for the morning, but I’m starting to think I should save this time for work. I should just recognize that I don’t have the stamina to work all through the day, and I shouldn’t keep letting myself think this means I’m not good at what I do.

My limited stamina comes from two sources. One, my tendinitis-prone wrists. There is only physically so much typing or painting or cutting I can do in a day, and once I’ve done it, that’s it. Two, my writing capacity burns out quickly. The first session (1-2 hours) is great. The second session (less than 1 hour) is serviceable for things like drafting or plotting, but by its end my brain is already fried. If I try for a third session (maybe Β½ hour), everything just comes out jumbled. (Sometimes a jumble is still better than nothing, especially if there’s some thought I need to get down, but it needs lots of revision later!) On Tuesday I spent my first session on the family history, my second on an artist statement for a residency application, and my third on revising a memoirish-essayish piece. I think I’m glad I touched on all those things in one day, but it definitely got dicey at the end, and this is good to know when I plan out future workdays.

I think what I’m finding is that working mindfully is no different from planning artist dates — both things are all about asking myself what I want, and really listening. For the artist dates, it means respecting “I want to be next to the water” instead of pushing for something more “productive.” For my longer workdays, it means trusting my feelings of tiredness, rather than accusing myself of just being lazy. I have such a bad habit of thinking that I need to match up to some imaginary standard of hard work and productivity… but if I’m to make anything of myself it will have to be on my own terms, and that means learning to listen to and trust myself when I want to work hard, take breaks, take risks, or play. I’m very grateful to all you readers and commenters for helping me to keep perspective! Working from home can really isolate me with my own neuroses, and having you all as a sounding board helps keep me sane. πŸ™‚ Or just the right kind of crazy. πŸ˜‰

Tomorrow’s Open Mic will feature a bit more of my Saraya story that I shared last week!