Hold Steady

Good Gravy. Nothing like a little pandemic to make every life choice seem both vitally important and totally inconsequential. I think everyone’s theme word for the year simultaneously shifted to Survive. Rightfully so. It’s hard to focus on “enlightened” needs right now. I mean, when your house is burning, who cares if the bed is made?

None of us are in control right now, if we ever even were.

It’s a lot for me, and for you and for everyone in the whole world.

So what is an everyday person to do? Those of us who don’t work in a vital service industry or on the heroic front lines of health care probably find ourselves at a loss right now. We do the right thing by following public health policies, supporting local businesses, tipping extra…and then what? Speaking for myself, when I get to the part of my brain that controls my “what about me?” response, I don’t have a lot of answers right now.

But “what about me?” is a valid question. We function as a society and work for its good, but we matter as individuals, too. It matters if my business fails or if your company furloughs you. It matters that your kids can’t play with their best friends for who knows how long, or if you don’t get to hug your loved one when they’re ill. It matters! And it’s all happening at once!

The best I can come up with is to share some practical advice from a boss I really liked at a job I really hated.

This workplace was super toxic and extremely full of itself, and every day was an exercise in back room dealings, corporate caste systems and general treachery. It brought out the worst in everyone. But in the middle of all that was my team, which I liked and a boss, who I respected. When I’d go to her office to talk about the latest lie, injustice or general nonsense we had been subjected to and ask how to respond, she’d say “We are going to come to work every day, do our jobs and do our best. We will do exactly what we have been doing.” It was hard to hear sometimes, because it is human to want to react, to fight back or defend ourselves. But since then, I think of that advice when things get so chaotic that my judgement is clouded.

So right now, that’s what I am doing. There is too much to think about, and it is so hard to make decisions when the global landscape changes so quickly, not to mention the simple matter of all the extra steps we have to take to stay healthy and alive.

When things began to shut down, I panicked. My business was just starting to take off, and suddenly, not only could I literally not do it, I also had to try and stay top of mind with my (relatively new) connections without having anything real to offer. No travel meant no meaningful updates for my social channels, etc. I have been a freelance writer for years, but had decided to cut back to grow the business. Scramble time all around. I feel like I’ve pivoted so much I’m back at the beginning! And technically, we (in Texas) are still in month one!

But I am trying to follow the good advice that my former boss shared. Every day, I wake up and I go to work. I stay the course. I am trying new initiatives and projects but nothing drastically different than I was doing six weeks ago, and I’m not knocking myself out to put out new stuff all the time. I’ve temporarily resumed more freelance writing work, because its a known entity, and my other work doesn’t take up 40 hours right now. I’m trying really hard to stay in my lane and succeeding, mostly.

I’m creating art, of course, and writing creatively as well. But right now, those things seem like luxuries. Beneficial and important luxuries, but luxuries all the same. So, I’ll get back to that later, in a different post. I don’t want to be mistaken for being someone who thinks all of this a “blessing,” or a call to “slow down” or to “take time to dance.” If we are dancing, it is because there are hot coals under our feet.

Make room for pleasure, definitely and relax when you can. If you are a spiritual person, lean on your faith. But self care, and even spiritual faith can also look like showing up for your professional, family or personal responsibilities; doing what you need to do, and doing your best.

Take it day by day.

Establish

“Slumgullion (The Venerate Outpost)” Philbrook Museum, Tulsa, OK.

Late last year, I posted about taking a sabbatical year” to focus on my personal and professional creative work. Whether you call it Murphy’s Law or the universe saying “hold my beer,” my good intentions left the rails almost immediately.

In January alone the cat died, James’ aunt died, James spent a week in Las Vegas with his work and I lost what felt like an entire day in a suburban Chico’s while my mom tried on various “perfect black pants” that all looked exactly the same. We went to East Texas and drove to the beach for a day with my parents. I worked, kept up the house, saw friends when I could, read a bit, watched some TV and then it was February and time to plan my first art tour. And so on, and so on. I felt like I inhaled at the end of December and exhaled sometime in the last week or so.

Great sabbatical mindset, right?

But some things have gone well. I use social media and my mobile devices less and less, which feels better and better. I still don’t pick up my phone or iPad until after I have had coffee and read a bit. That has been nice, and as a bonus, helps navigate and give perspective to the wild news cycles.

I also had time to think about a word for the year, or for the next ten months rather, since it was almost March by the time I got around to it. “Establish.”

Last year’s word was “Forward.” At the start of 2019 I was sitting with a lot of uncertainty over things that weren’t moving as they should, proverbial centers that I knew simply would not hold. So in the trend of picking a theme word for the year, “Forward” was a good touchstone, an idea to make decisions around, and a reminder to take risks and just make the decisions I needed to be somewhere other than I was, and get back to liking my life.

In my last corporate job, I was responsible for building IT processes and setting global business priorities. This involved taking a great deal of data and qualitative input from our markets around the world, accounting for risks and uncertainties, and organizing that information into policies that our entire global ecosystem would agree to participate in and abide by for tasks like bug resolution, feature implementation and new initiatives requests. It was extremely difficult, and I say this as someone who also had to manage a complex, high stakes, multi-vendor, multi-time zone code update around the devaluation of the Belarusian ruble. (Understand why I work in art now? Haha.)

I loved discovering, analyzing and organizing all the information, but some of the other details…not so much.

But I am a framework person, and frameworks help my creative and personal life just as much as they helped my big, messy corporate life. They keep information from overwhelming me and also build in things to look forward to. I can’t predict what positive results will be, but I truly believe that by following healthy habits, positive results will come. And that is exciting.

2019 was so “Forward” that it blew past the finish line and into 2020, I guess. But after a well-earned few weeks to rest and reset, better late than never, I am ready to “Establish.”

Where does this fit into the idea of a sabbatical year? Establishing a solid foundation directly supports the creative, personal and professional goals that I have for 2020. Establishing gives me a concrete, manageable idea to focus on, and a consistent, larger goal when individual priorities compete or become confusing. It is also a logical next step from “Forward.” While I wouldn’t want to pick 2021’s word so early, I am hoping that I’m preparing myself for years to come in which I can launch.

Sabbatical Year

When the word sabbatical started to creep into my thoughts, I didn’t realize it was related to the number seven, and also to the sabbath, but it makes perfect sense now. It’s right there in the name.

The number seven isn’t significant to me at this time, but the idea of a sabbatical, a rest, is calling me. But, like many other people, I can’t take a real sabbatical. I am self-employed, so I need to work (plus, I enjoy my work and would miss it!) and I have other obligations that I must consider as well.

I have a friend who is a big proponent of “think trips,” the idea of taking some time to oneself, usually annually, to reflect, rest and plan. I have done a few “think weekends,” adapted to my own schedule, budget and other priorities, and have found them quite helpful.

With that in mind, I wondered if a “sabbatical lite” might not be helpful as well? Just for a year, 2020-2021, and nothing too restrictive or intense. What would it look like? How might I integrate it into my day-to-day responsibilities, prioritized in a way that is effective and lasting?

It would look different for everyone, but for me, it means identifying three non-negotiable pieces to keep (growing professionally, being a good partner to my husband and generally, being a good friend, family member and citizen.) I also chose three goals to focus on (creative work, entrepreneurship and mental health.)

How to balance those responsibilities and goals? What does success look like? What are the best steps to take? I don’t have those answers right now. I suppose that’s where the sabbatical comes in!

So, we will see!

I do feel that for me, personally the answers will be come clearer and my stress points will get stronger through creative exploration, reading and travel/new experiences. Saying “no, thank you” more often and setting firmer boundaries on my time and other external expectations.

You may notice that my newsletter sign-up has disappeared, along with my newsletter itself. That is part of this journey. I needed to look at where my time was going, and eliminate things that felt redundant. So, I may bring back the newsletter at some point, but here’s where I’ll be writing and posting art for the foreseeable future.

I’m also closing up my personal Etsy shop for the year, with the possible exception of some temporary “drops.” (You can “Favorite” my shop on Etsy to keep informed.) I’ll also take on the occasional custom request. I feel pulled in new and different directions of making art, and this sabbatical is, in part, time to explore that.

A few months ago, when I was researching for the next iteration of my business, a peer said to me “I felt I had a blank slate.” Their circumstances are different from mine, but we are both women in our forties who had to leave corporate America for a bit and had trouble getting back in. She now has a fun, successful and interesting professional life that she would never have predicted. I realized then, that I also have a blank slate and that maybe it’s a gift.

So, I’ll be processing a lot through writing, here. Weekly, semi-monthly, I’m not sure yet what it looks like. But I suspect a lot of people, particularly people like me who really can’t pack it all in and move to Iceland for a year on a “real” sabbatical would be helped by, and interested in the journey. Maybe you also have a blank slate or at least an opportunity to evolve, an maybe it can be fun.

“And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

Rainer Maria Rilke