Tag Archives: self-imposed vacation

In Honor Of Mothers, Daughters, and Writers: A Poem

My post last week about the birth control pill performed double-duty as a Mother’s Day tribute. I hadn’t intended it to do so, that’s just how things worked out given the 50th anniversary of the pill and all of the hullabaloo around that.

The Mother’s Day post that I intended to put up is the one I’m going to post today – a few day’s late, to be sure – but I’m going to blame my move (and the British government…or lack thereof.*)

From time to time I post poetry on this blog. Usually it’s not my own (except my recent ode to a mews house.) Instead, I look to the more inspired words of others to express what I wish I was eloquent enough to say on my own. I did it on my father’s birthday last year, I did it when some friends were going through some rocky times, and today, I’m going to do it again, with a poem that celebrates mothers, daughters and writers.

It was actually my mother who sent me this poem. She did it back in November when I took a self-imposed vacation in order to spend some time sending my novel out to agents.

My mother is a writer. She’s written plays, children’s stories and – most recently – a terrific family history. She’s also become a tireless commenter on this blog, for which I am most grateful.  Most of what I know about writing I learned from her.

As writers (and daughters), we all need support like that. So today’s poem goes out to mothers, daughters and writers everywhere in equal measure.

The Writer

by Richard Wilbur


In her room at the prow of the house

Where light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden,

My daughter is writing a story.

I pause in the stairwell, hearing

From her shut door a commotion of typewriter keys

Like a chain hauled over a gunwale.

Young as she is, the stuff

Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy.

I wish her a lucky passage.

But now it is she who pauses,

As if to reject my thought and its easy figure.

A stillness greatens, in which

The whole house seems to be thinking,

And then she is at it again with a bunched clamor

Of strokes, and again is silent.

I remember the dazed starling

Which was trapped in that very room, two years ago;

How we stole in, lifted a sash

And retreated, not to affright it;

And how for a helpless hour, through the crack of the door,

We watched the sleek, wild, dark

And iridescent creature

Batter against the brilliance, drop like a glove

To the hard floor, or the desk top,

And wait then, humped and bloody,

For the wits to try it again, and how our spirits

Rose when, suddenly sure,

It lifted off from a chair-back,

Beating a smooth course for the right window

And clearing the sill of the world.

It is always a matter, my darling,

Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish

What I wished you before, but harder.

Happy Mother’s Day.

*For those of you who haven’t – by some miracle of modern science – been following the British elections, I’ve had my hands full with that roller coaster of events over the past few days. You can read some of my thoughts here (written the day after election day), here (written when it looked like the Lib Dems and the Tories would form an alliance) and here (when it looked like the Lib Dems might ally with Labour.) By the time you read this, we’ll probably be on Plan C…stay tuned.

Image: Red-winged Starling by Ifijay via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Celebrating the Sabbath: Making Saturdays *Me* Time

I have an announcement to make:  I’m going to start celebrating the Sabbath.

No, I’m not getting in touch with my inner Jew. (For the moment, I think I’ll continue to remain Jew-ish rather than Jewish.)

I’m afraid it’s a much less lofty goal than that. I’ve decided not to work on Saturdays anymore (read: no blogging, no email, no Facebook, no Twitter) so that I can focus more on myself. Or – to put it more accurately – I’d like to designate Saturdays as a day for doing things outside of work that also make me happy.

Yes, I know it’s a radical concept. But as Colleen of Communicatrix fame points out with characteristic wit and insight, it’s really hard to find time for the things we wish to prioritize in our lives unless we make room for them. She’s turning all of January into December so that she can take stock, clear the decks and plunge in with some new projects. Back in November, I took a self-imposed vacation so that I could send out my novel to agents.

The break I have in mind for Saturdays is somewhat different. The above projects are all about carving out space to move forward on the work front. What I have in mind is moving forward on the life front. For as I sat in a Viennese coffee house over the holidays and reflected on my life, I realized that in my never-ending quest to get on top of my to-do list, two things that  bring me true happiness had both fallen by the wayside:   doing yoga and reading The New Yorker.

You see, this is how my mind works. If something gets deemed a necessity in my life, it gets done. If it’s deemed a luxury, it may or may not get done. But if it does get done, that likely only happens around 11:59 p.m. on a Thursday evening with half an eyelid open and the corresponding amount of energy. And because I had begun labeling both yoga and The New Yorker “luxuries,” they just weren’t happening anymore, at least with the regularity that’d like.

So I’m making a change. For the next month – and I’m telling you this because one way you signal a commitment is to give yourself a time-line and say it out loud – I’m going to experiment with assigning myself only two jobs on Saturday – going to yoga and reading The New Yorker. My hope is that if I can do just those two things (with anything else a bonus), I’ll not only be happier, I’ll actually be more productive when I do return to the computer. If this strategy goes well and proves realistic, I’ll commit for the year.

Of course, I’m hoping that this new routine will incur other benefits as well. To wit:

*more face-to-face parenting, rather than shouting commands over my shoulder as I hurtle through my RSS feed

*making a dinner that does not involve something out of a jar from Tesco

*quality time with my husband so that we can watch more DVD commentaries and listen to Garrison Keillor together

*actually playing all those board games that I bought for Hanukkah (BTW: Settlers of Catan? Totally worth it…)

And who knows? Maybe we’ll even make it to synagogue one of these days…

*****

On a much more somber note, here’s a piece I did for PoliticsDaily.com about the ongoing drama surrounding the theft of a sign from Auschwitz.


Image: The New Yorker Fugitive by Rakka via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Tips For Adulthood: How To Make Time Off Productive

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Last week I took a self-imposed vacation from this blog in order to focus on marketing my novel. It was an unusual thing for me to do, but I’m so glad that I decided to do it. As the self-development guru Colleen Wainwright – a.k.a. Communicatrix – put it so well in a comment on that post:

“Hardest thing in the world, carving out time for the Not Immediately Necessary. But how else does the big stuff get done?”

How else, indeed?

So in this week’s tip list, I thought I’d share what I learned from that experience and, specifically, how to make “time off” (as in time off to carry out a specific project, as opposed to a vacation) productive:

1. Tell Other People What You Are Doing. Several people – including myself – noted that I wrote a blog post to announce that I wouldn’t be blogging for a week. Why not just…stop blogging for a week? But I did that for a reason. I knew that if I told readers what I was doing and gave myself a time-line, I’d be more inspired to hit my goal. And I did.

2. Cut Distractions. This is obvious, but it bears repeating. Much of the joy that comes from being a blogger doesn’t just come from writing posts, but from reading other people’s blogs, commenting on those blogs, sharing an interesting article on Twitter, etc. Doing all that is a big part of how I come up with my ideas. And while I didn’t stop reading my RSS feed last week (perish the thought!), I did dramatically reduce the amount of time I normally spend in the blogosphere.

3. Stay Focused. Another obvious suggestion, but which also bears repeating. Midway through the week, I realized that I could easily have devoted the entire week just to clearing out my inbox. And by “clearing out my inbox” I don’t mean deleting announcements about “What’s on at The National Theatre” or the latest cure for cancer in homeopathy.  I mean attending to really useful articles and websites I’ve flagged for myself about blogging, writing, publishing, etc. that I *really must read.* But then I reminded myself: Nope, that’s not what I’m doing this week. I”m working on the novel. But that insight did motivate me to take another, future SIV (that’s “self imposed vacation” as opposed to SUV, FYI..BTW..IMHO…ha!) that will just be about blogging best practices.

4. Recognize That You’ll Never Totally Clear Your Inbox. I think I had this fantasy that once I took this large, annoying monkey off my back (e.g. sending out the novel to agents), the sky would magically part and I’d be relaxed and in control of my to-do list. But taking time off also made me realize that, much as I’d like to, I’ll never completely reduce my “to do” list to zero. Because as soon as I take one thing off the list – like “send out novel to agents” – something else immediately moves in to take its place, like “blog promotion.” Sure, there’s all this stuff floating around out there about inbox zero and the Four Hour work week. What-ever. I think for most of us, it’s about reducing our to-do lists to a manageable level and then taking it one step at a time, accepting that whatever we prioritize comes at the expense of other things we’d also – genuinely – like to be doing. That’s just…life.

5. Remember that Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder. One of the best ways to appreciate something in your life is to take a break from it. Your feelings while your away will tell you how much you either totally love it or could actually live without it. Back when I was an academic, I took a year off to work for the United States Treasury Department, precisely in order to see whether I’d miss my life as a professor. I didn’t miss it at all and mailed in my resignation half way through the year. In a similar vein, last week while “not blogging” I realized how much I love this blog and missed both writing it and being part of this community.

And that was the best lesson of all.

*****

If you’re interested, here’s my piece in yesterday’s PoliticsDaily.com about the pro-Israel lobby in the U.K.


Image: Monkey On My Back by Mshai via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

Managing Your Workload: Take a Self-Imposed Vacation

I’m taking a vacation this week.

Well, actually I’ll be right here in my home. But I’m going to pretend that I’m on vacation…with respect to this blog, at least.

You see, among the many different slashes I wear in my current life as a freelance writer, one of them is novelist. OK, that’s not quite right. Why don’t we say “aspiring novelist”? (I’ll feel better.)

You see, I have the novel written. I just that haven’t sold it. And in order to do that, I need to clear a couple of days in my schedule to send out the draft to the appropriate people. I know who those people are (some call them agents), and I know which ones I want to send it to. I even have all the materials ready. So I just need to sit down, go through the list, figure out who needs what, and then do some photocopying and stapling and standing in line at the post office. (If it isn’t on strike…).

In short: I need to put the rubber to the road and just do it, in the immortal words of Nike.

Which takes…time. And that’s something I don’t have a lot of because I’m, well, blogging. (She said, fully aware that she was blogging about not blogging. What can I say? Old habits die hard…)

It’s really hard for me to take time off from this blog, mostly because I love it, and partly because – as someone with a super-ego that even Freud would find daunting – I feel that I *should* be blogging (unless I’m on vacation).

So I decided to tell myself that I am on vacation. One of the many things I’ve learned from my beloved life coach is that in order to change your behavior, you need to change your expectations. She always gives me the example of the “sick day.” When you’re sick, you don’t expect yourself to get as much done. You go easy on yourself. Similarly, when you’re on vacation, you don’t bring work along with you (hopefully). You understand that the point of the holiday is precisely to stop working for awhile.

So I’m going to put myself on a self-imposed vacation, during which time I am going to do my very best to send my novel out to ten more agents. Because we all know that the secret of being a writer is persistence. Sometimes, that’s about forcing yourself to sit down at the computer and bang out those 1000 words. Sometimes, it’s just about sitting down, period. That’s not my problem right now. My problem is committing myself to selling the book that I wrote. And making the time to let that happen.

So good-bye. And wish me well. Feel free to imagine me wherever you’d like…Tahiti? Iceland? The Galapagos?

See you next week.


Image: My Feet in a Paradisiac Beach by Princess Cy via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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