The Out-of-Body Experience, A.K.A. FRIENDS

(I was tempted to steal blatantly from Douglas Adams and call this Post 4 of 3, but opted for another approach, but it does generally tie to the overarching health and wellness theme.)

Okay, writing is cerebral. Got that. Writing is esoteric. Yup. The body matters. Alright, alright, working on it…big check mark there. So, I tell myself I’m doing just fine.

Until I called my best friend—the one in the sling. She lives ninety miles away, and traffic in the Greater Metropolitan Area of Washington, D.C., is beyond horrible. We both have elementary-school age kids, and the resultant insane schedules of school, sports practices, games, special events, etc. I just started a new job and am trying to get published. She’s a freelancer and her husband just started a new job, and their schedule is new and shifting daily. We both have aging parents to deal with … … Okay, this paragraph could never end, but the outcome of all these perfectly legitimate excuses is: We haven’t seen each other in more than a year.

I was driving an hour back home from a trip to drop my daughter off with her best friend for a slumber party (that family just move nearly two hours away, so we met in the middle for a kid exchange). Since we hadn’t talked for any decent length of time in eons, it seemed like a great opportunity to check in via Bluetooth with my BFF. We talked about why I was on the road, and she said it was a great mom-thing to do. Loved the praise, but I said it wasn’t that bad, besides—the other mom and I had both thought it was important that the girls not lose touch. The conversation continued about how the two of us desperately missed each other, and were both totally frustrated that plans to get together never worked out, I was in the middle of saying, “Yes, but just happens. It’s not your fault, it’s not my fault, it’s just the way it is—we’re both swamped, and…”

…I’m swamped because I just carved out the time to drive two hours on two different days to ensure my daughter’s important childhood friendship stayed intact, but wasn’t carving the time out to make sure MY childhood friendship stayed intact.

Well, damn, I hate it when the Universe uses a two-by-four to make a point.

Later than evening, I took a quick survey:

  • Haven’t seen my best friend in more than a year.
  • Missed my first writers group meeting of the season because babysitting plans went awry.
  • Skipped a recent planned lunch with my critique partner because I was still dealing with damage at my mother’s house after the big summer storm.
  • My other good writing buddy has basically gone off the grid the last couple of months trying to finish her next book—emails have fallen to a ‘still alive, right?’ level.
  • Because of the job change, didn’t get out west to see another good writing buddy I’ve met up with every winter for five years.
  • Was just making friends with the mom of my daughter’s best friend when they moved.

Now, don’t get me wrong. These were all absolutely valid explanations for why stuff didn’t happen. Books have to get written. Fallen trees have to get moved. Stuff happens, and you have to roll with it. The problem starts forming when the path of least resistance keeps getting used.

Social is a four-letter word to the majority of writers. We’re introverts. We’re shy. We’re perfectly happy at home alone with our books. Unfortunately, that makes it really, really easy to fall into the trap of isolation. Writers need friends. Real, flesh-and-blood people, not just-updated-cartoon-avatars for the latest social media site. Time outside the home/writers cave. Adult time away from the kids.

Time for ourselves.

Julia Cameron talks in her book The Artist’s Way about writer’s dates—the importance of “recharging the well” to ensure you actually have something creative to draw on for your writing by taking time (at least an afternoon a week) to go somewhere, meet up with someone, do something away from the house and your project. It’s not rocket science—I know I feel better after I come home from one of my writer group meetings; from meeting up with a friend for lunch or dinner; or even just from an afternoon at the church’s international fall festival…

It is sooooo easy to forget, yet it is sooo important. Make the time—for yourself, for your friends, for your health.

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Writing Is More than Just Words, Part 3 of 3

The majority of writers I know battle weight issues. There is nothing athletic or aerobic about researching, brainstorming, writing, editing, or marketing. It’s what we want to be doing; what we need to be doing to get that pesky but necessary income—not to mention get those annoying voices out of our heads. Most of us are balancing a ‘day job’ on top of the family on top of the writing career. When we do manage to carve out an extra hour, racing for the treadmill or bicycle rarely happens to be at the top of the to-do list. Yet, it is important.

There’s a trend going on—I’m seeing more posts from more friends about getting more creative about the exercise process. Teaming up with friends to train for a 5K run; specifically giving a character a sport to play that involves learning it herself to write about it correctly; and the newly popular exercise desks, where a treadmill or stationary bike is built into a workstation or even just a simple board across the rails of a treadmill for a laptop to sit on. Some folks at work are arranging desks so they can work standing up. Looking forward to seeing posts of what is working and what isn’t.

A yoga teacher mentioned the importance of any kind of movement in keeping the body functioning properly—helping the digestive system work right, keeping the lungs pumping, etc. The theory on exercise desks seems to be that, even if one isn’t writing while on the treadmill, one can research, update Facebook, check email, or whatever and save the seated computer time for actual writing—and slow, constant motion is better than none at all.

I now begin the logistical Fall hell that is school sports. I’m pulling out the pillow to sit on in the icy-cold metal bleachers, and charging the netbook nightly so I can work in the stands during practice and games rather than losing writing time two to four times a week. I knowingly did this to myself, urging my kids to find outlets like the volleyball, basketball, baseball, and swim teams because it’s important to stay active.

Is there a Muse for Irony? A Patron Saint?

As much as we wish it were otherwise, writing isn’t just words. It’s not just imagination and grammar skills. Not just brain and fingers. The whole body is involved, and the whole process goes better when everything is working correctly together. Healthy habits, whether ergonomic writing space or a daily walk or making sure your eyes are rested, benefit more than your body, they benefit your mind, your imagination, and your story.

See Part 2 of 3

See Part 1 of 3

Writing Is More than Just Words, Part 2 of 3

Screen usage, frankly, is insane for me these days—if I’m not on the computer (word processing, Skype, Facebook, email, website updates, graphic design…), it’s the e-reader or the smartphone. My preferred method of relaxing? Reading or computer games. It took me way too long to realize that it was relaxing for my brain, not so much for my eyes. I find myself grabbing reading glasses for the backs of cans when I cook. I’ve been threatening to replace my smartphone with a tablet because I can’t read anything on the darn screen. My eyes are dry and tired, and I realized the other day I didn’t want to watch a DVD because it just seemed too hard.

And yet, I keep putting off going to the eye doctor. Why? Time. Energy. Annoyance factor of admitting I’m old enough to need reading and computer glasses? The budgetary issues of knowing insurance covers one pair of glasses, but I need either two or three. I’d rather not lose the writing time? Hey, I could blog excuses here all week. What I need to do is make the damn appointment. I’m sure there’s lots of adaptive equipment out there for the blind, but I’d rather not actually need something like that.

My eyes are critical to my work and I need to start being kind to them. Check light-levels when I’m on the computer. Take more frequent breaks from the computer (all of them). Make that appointment, get the glasses, and use them.

See part 1

Writing Is More Than Just Words, Part 1 of 3

Writers live in our heads. Not always a bad place to be, however, we have bodies, too. Sometimes that’s hard to remember. And those bodies are just as important as our imaginations. Let’s be honest—bodies have nasty little ways of getting back at us when we ignore them.

With the advent of tablet technology, netbooks, smart phones, etc., sitting at a desk from nine to five is a thing of the past. At first glance, a great thing. At second glance…what changed is not that we’re no longer on the computer all that time. It’s where are we working. My best friend is currently in a sling because she was doing graphic design curled up in her comfy chair with her laptop. Hello, carpel tunnel. Friends from my writers’ group often show up at meetings in splints, bandages, or support sleeves for their wrists, elbows, and shoulders. The fact this no longer surprises me should have been a red flag.

My own elbow and forearm are twinging some days, and it slowly sank in that, between being swamped at work and trying to squeeze in the sequel to my first manuscript, I am at a keyboard/mouse for ten hours a day. I’m often using someone else’s desk for collaborative efforts (no keyboard drawer), or the dining room table with my netbook because the kids are using the larger desktop system for homework (wrong keyboard height and totally wrong chair); or I’m working on a multi-display format set up across my day-job office desk (twisting to see one screen while typing on a keyboard at a 45-degree angle from it). Suddenly, recent complaints from back, neck, and stomach don’t seem so ‘inexplicable’.

The other night, I set up a desk for my young son in his room, and patiently explained the importance of ergonomics, correct seating, proper work position, adequate lighting, and taking breaks when doing homework or even playing on the computer. Then the irony of that lecture hit me. *wince* Pain does not make the writing process easier. Time to set another example, and try to follow some of those rules myself again.