Sort of Summer Break

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I hit the submit button and the electronic gradebook registers the final grades. There is a great sense of relief. I still have to print and sign hard copies of my reports, but I have met my deadline and my students can move on with their academic careers. Tomorrow, I will wake up early and go to the beach.

I still have a lot to do over the next three weeks. I need to revise my academic article, do research for my tutor conference presentation, prepare for fall classes, and participate in an online course through the Editorial Freelancers Association. It won’t be all work though, my daughter and I have scheduled four days in Orlando, and we can’t wait to go on an adventure.

I also look forward to catching up on some reading within the blogosphere. I haven’t really been able to write much this week, much less read what everyone else has been up to. That makes me sad. I love being immersed in the world of writing, especially inspirational or personal journal writing. Over the next three weeks, I will wake up, read, and write while enjoying my morning coffee. Perhaps, I will even unwind in the evening with a glass of wine and more reading and writing. Time will go by too fast, I know, but I hope to spend some quality time with some nonacademic words for a change. Basically, the next three weeks will be my opportunity to recharge and regroup before heading into the busy fall semester.

I pull out my Rituals for Living Dreambook and add a couple goals to my long-term plans: book agent and $40,000 a year with Crafting the Message. This evening, I will start breaking those goals down into small, reasonable action steps. I light some incense and let the smoke waft up past my vision board.  Each time I walk in the room, the smell will remind me to stay focused and to stay relaxed. That’s the key.

When I studied Tai Chi in college, I fell in love with the concentric circles and the energy flow. The idea behind Tai Chi is to use your opponent’s energy to neutralize the attack. It’s the physical embodiment of the ying/yang concept. Each gentle movement guides energy into a new direction. Pursuing your dreams is a lot like that. Life is a constant onslaught of incoming challenges. The most efficient way to achieve your dreams is to use that energy; neutralize the obstacles by redirecting the force to your advantage.

I never stop. Even when I am relaxing or going on a “sort of” summer break. That doesn’t mean I am pushing myself, or exhausting myself. I am just redirecting energy.

Even in Sleep, My Priorities are Straight

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I don’t remember the whole dream, but I remember the vacant house. It was a little bigger than I have been looking for, but that didn’t seem to bother me in my dream. It was an open floor plan with a lot of light. I walked through the house, evaluating the space: “This room would be perfect for an office! I could even fit a few book shelves.” Then I walked into an adjoining room. “oh my god! This would be perfect for a library, passing through the door on the other side I entered the large kitchen dining area. A large ceiling light fixture indicated a space for the table next to a large window.

That’s all I remember of the house. An office. A library. And a kitchen. That sounds about right: writing, books, and food. I don’t remember looking at any bedrooms, but sleep is over rated anyway. Even when I’m sleeping, my brain has my priorities straight. It’s nice to know my subconscious mind has got my back like that. I don’t have to worry about sabotaging myself if my conscious and subconscious mind are on the same page.

It’s been a struggle to get here. When it came to work, I used to chase the money instead of my vision. In the end, those jobs never worked out well, as I felt frustrated or stifled. Keeping my mission statement clear in my mind helps.

I’ve also learned not to jump at the first opportunity if that opportunity is not going to get me closer to my goal. I currently rent a room instead of an apartment, so I can save money for a down payment on a condo. I can save up a lot faster paying $500 a month instead $1500. (Yes, folks. Those are the prices in Miami.) I will wait until I can buy, resulting in lower monthly housing costs and the building of equity.

Right now, my life is the perfect combination of career goals and financial goals. Sometimes I still get a little impatient. I want things to move faster. I wanted to have more time to work to work on academic articles, more time to market my own business, I want to take on more paid work so I can build my cash reserves faster, but I know I have to pace myself.

How about you? Do you feel like your actions are aligned with your goals or do you still have some work to do? Do you have a mission to keep you focused? Are you willing to make the sacrifices now that will get you were you want to be in the future? I’d love to hear about it.

Writing 1000 Words a Day

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The clean scents of lime and kiwi shampoo and cucumber and agave body wash strip away the salty musk of the gym. I stood in this same spot 14 hours ago as I struggled to start my day. This time the water is cool, counteracting a day of heat and humidity.

In a clean set of pajamas, I sit at my keyboard, and wait for the tablet to boot up. I pop piece of diced watermelon into my mouth and the pop and crunch of each bite releases cold juice as it is reduced to a grainy pulp.

This is my second post of the day. I have been posting twice a day for a week now. I try to keep them short, around 500 words, but that means I am writing about 1000 words a day. Has it been worth it? Well, I am a writer, writing 1000 words a day. For a while, I struggled to write: my book, academic articles. Sometimes my perfectionist brain gets in the way. There is a big difference between 1000 words and 1000 publishable words.

As a composition instructor and a writing coach, I always tell students that perfection doesn’t matter with the first draft, just get something down on paper. Funny how we can give advice better than we can take it.

My blog is different. I don’t worry about structure or audience, rhetorical devices or literary themes. I’m just having an ongoing conversation with the universe. I play with words and thoughts the way one might arrange wild flowers in an empty bottle. Should I feel guilty for such self-indulgent “selfies.” I don’t think so.

Writing 1000 words a day, whether they are part of a novel, article, or blog is still an accomplishment. It takes dedication to sit your butt down each day and just write, no matter what. The consistent crafting of words also refines your skills, no matter what you are writing about. Am I taking time away from “more important” projects? I don’t think so. I usually don’t do structured writing first thing in the morning or at the end of the day, when my mind is lazy or unruly.  This is my time to just let words flow.

Most importantly, writing 1000 words a day proves I can do it to the only person I need to convince . . .  me. Now, I believe I can do it, and I can do it easily. My fingers fly across the keyboard catching my thoughts as fast as they come, no stopping and over thinking, stacking ideas and images like a child balancing building blocks. “Look at what I can do!” I say to myself with innocent pride. Perhaps the balance is a little off here and there, perhaps my little castle will collapse with the next sentence, but that’s ok. Tomorrow morning, I will start again. It’s not about the product, it’s about the play.

Popcorn, Netflix, and Zillow.com

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I wipe the artificial butter off my fingers before I lay down with my tablet. I use my tongue to absently poke at popcorn kernels stuck between my teeth. The modern detective series Elementary, streams through my Fire Stick via Netflix. I’ve made it through another day.

I take a minute to consider what I accomplished. The morning class went well. My students did a great job workshopping the latest writing assignment. I had a number of productive consultations at the writing center, and graded some research assignments. I also made healthy food choices and stayed below my calorie count. I even went swimming for 30 minutes.

Reviewing the days accomplishments is one way that I keep myself on track when long term goals seem to be creeping along. I like speed, getting things done fast, immediate results, but life doesn’t always accommodate. Somethings are slow, like healthy weight loss.

I open a google tab and type Zillow.com into the URL bar. I’ll browse condos for sale in my zip code and surrounding areas. I’m not in the market today, but this is another one of my motivation tricks. I’m trying to save up a down payment and browsing real estate listings keeps the goal fresh in my mind.

Sound like an exciting evening? I know. Please, contain your jealousy. It’s 9:15 pm, and I’m amazed I’m even awake. After all, I woke up at 4:30 am.

This is the dull life of a medicated Bipolar. Somedays, I do miss the manic ups, the endless energy that enabled my dancing until dawn before a full day of work. Fortunately, I also avoid the debilitating lows.

Relationships are like that, too. Stable relationships don’t measure love with fevered mania. They recount accomplishments and focus on dreams. Strong relationships give up the volatile ups and downs of manufactured drama for the slow comfort of a night in with popcorn, Netflix, and Zillow.com.

Independence: An on Going Personal Mission

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I’m still a little light headed as I leave the gym. Drained and covered and sweat, I push my way through the Miami sun and humidity and collect my backpack from the trunk of my car. After 20 minutes of cardio, I spent another 25 minutes with my personal trainer. He pushes me just a little bit harder each time. Some days, when I am feeling particularly cranky, I can’t believe I am paying someone to torture me like that. I know it’s good for me, though, so I keep going back.

After grabbing my back pack, I head to the Starbucks across the parking lot for an ice-cold refresher. I have some work to do, and I want to write at least one post today. Writing keeps me grounded and connected to my purpose. As I open a word document and type “Independence” at the top, I begin to wonder what that means to me.

Financial independence is that first thing that comes to mind. I have a deep desire to maintain financial solvency. Even when I was married. I needed to have a separate bank account, not only to pay for the things I needed, but for the things I wanted without petitioning a third party for the funds.

I also need a sense of independence with my work. That is why my current employment, and self-employment, works so well for me. As an adjunct English instructor at Miami Dade College, my Department Chair presents me with available classes that I can choose to accept or not. When I accept classes, they ever lasts more than 16 weeks, so I never feel trapped. I never feel bored. As a graduate writing consultant at the Center for Excellence in Writing at Florida International University, I am able to create a work schedule that best suites my needs at the beginning of each semester. Finally, as an independent writing coach and editor, I am able to choose my clients and my projects.

Even though these two things are very important to me, I think what is most important is having the independence to decide what is important to me, to be able to build a life based on the values I feel are important. Sometimes I forget that. I am empowered to choose, to define, and to implement.  Sometimes I have to push myself a little bit harder, just like I do with my personal trainer, to manifest the reality I have envisioned for myself. Sometimes I get cranky because it feels like torture, but I know it’s good for me.

To keep myself on track, I have a mission statement. I periodically go back to it, read it, reflect on it. Independence means I am free to create the best me I possibly can:

My Personal Mission Statement

As I manifest my destiny, I weigh each decision against these guiding principles:

  • As an artist, it is my duty to be fearless in my self-expression and to discover the ancient path of the feminine narrative.
  • As a spiritual being, I take comfort in connecting with the universal whole.
  • As an individual, it is my obligation to seek new opportunities to challenge my intellect and honor my body as a sanctified temple.
  • As a mother, it is my sacred duty to cherish my daughter while facilitating her own self-discovery.
  • As a member of society, it is my task to model the benefits of cooperative coexistence.

May you enjoy the celebration of your independence.

RIP Sunday Journal?

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It sits of the bookcase wilted and lifeless, like a neglected house plant. It’s my Sunday Journal, a fancy three-ring binder full of page protectors and vinyl page dividers. Colorful title pages mark the purpose of each section: Weekly Planner (Short-Term Goals), Monthly Planner (Mid-Term Goals), Annual Planner (Long-term Goals), Self-Care, and Creative Projects.

I started my Sunday Journal with the best of intentions, to implement the principles I learned from Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People . . . again. It wasn’t the first time. It won’t be the last. I have experienced, first-hand, the improved focus and productivity that comes with a proactive approach to time management. The core value of Covey’s book serves as my quality of life mantra: Schedule your priorities, don’t prioritize your schedule.

Maintaining consistent effort is difficult for someone with a neurodivergence like mine. With bipolar disorder, I have weeks full of energy and optimism, and weeks of exhaustion and just getting by. Although the intention is to spend just a few hours every Sunday reviewing the past week and planning for the week ahead, sometimes Sunday afternoon is my only time to just relax, and for me, creating structure has always felt like work. Enter narrative therapy . . .

If I want to revive this dusty planner, I need to rewrite the story I am telling myself. I need to make planning . . . fun? Yeah. It sounds unlikely, even to me, but that’s the old narrative steering my emotional reaction. So, (I pull off my royal blue hoodie and sit up a little straighter) how am I going to change the story I am telling myself? Let’s begin.

Old paradigm: I am too busy doing to spend time planning. New paradigm: There is a saying among carpenters—measure twice cut once. The same is true of time management. If you spend time planning you will spend less time doing. Without a plan, life is an endless game of catch up.

Old paradigm: Planning is boring. New paradigm: Well perhaps the way I have been doing it—with an Excel spreadsheet and an eye on efficiency (a dreary hold over from my days in corporate management). Instead, I need to make my planning process more creative, with doodles, colors, and images. I need to keep my eye on balance and overall happiness.

Old paradigm: Planning is restrictive and suffocating. New paradigm: Oooo this is a tough one for me . . . thinking . . . thinking . . . a plan is not a box that will trap me but a scaffolding I can climb. Hmm, that sounds like a good metaphor, but I still have to work on that one a bit. I’m not quite buying it, yet. Perhaps I need to draw a few images of a stick figure climbing up the side of my weekly schedule.

With a deep breath, I take out all the old planning pages from last October and November and get ready to begin again. Fall seven times, get up eight. A friend of mine says that all the time. I’m sure he won’t mind me borrowing his favorite phrase today. Time to get my colored pencils.