I’ve been in a bad mood lately, the kind of bad mood that makes me want to do nothing more than lay on the couch and watch T.V.
I could blame my bad mood on the weekend blizzard that dumped more than a foot of snow on my city just when we thought it was time to stop putting gas in the snowblower. I could blame it on that giant pile of snow outside my front door that is so high I can hide behind it while standing up. That pile is usually gone by this point in April. And another one to three inches of snow is expected today.
I could blame my grumpy inertia on my news addiction. Every day brings another stupid, rude, insensitive action by our country’s own president, along with increased risk of global conflagration. I can’t tell if my body’s gotten used to the idea of the looming end of the world or if my blood pressure is elevated for good. Today, Barbara Bush’s death was the big topic. My condolences to the Bush family on the loss of their matriarch.
Or I could blame my lack of motivation on needing a break from what I do, but I just had one so that feels completely invalid.
For a writer, this kind of inertia has to be worked through. I have to figure out how to shift my own perspective, get back to work.
First step is to get outside. Like a lot of writers, my office is in my house. That’s often a beautiful thing. I can commute from my bedroom all the way across the hall to my office without starting my car. I can have whatever works for me in my office – orange walls, a collection of Buddha figures, a snow globe with an elephant inside, pictures of family and friends, sticky notes covering the edge of my computer screen with notes for an assortment of odd things. No boss or corporate policy dictates what my space can include. But, without an outside commute, I have to find other ways to transition between work and not-work. In the winter, everything gets blended together with no clear shut-off.
Just going for a walk with my dog isn’t enough. I have to get outside just for me, to be present and observant in the world. My friend, poet Constance Brewer, had a blog post recently that asked what it is that we do without paying attention. My morning dog walk has become one of those things; my mind bounces around and I am busy thinking about what I have to do, asking my partner Mick what he has to do, and making sure we are exercising as we walk. It might be more beneficial to let the walk just be a walk, and it might be a nice idea to get outside and take another walk without the dog, one that really puts me into an engage-with-my-surroundings frame of mind.
Second step is to read more things for fun. As a lit mag editor, I read hundreds of submissions during our reading periods. I’ve learned that trying to do my own work after reading a bunch of poems for which I have to make publication decisions is a tough transition. I have to put something else between the two tasks, and that something has to be unrelated to my editorial work. Trashy novels come to mind. Humor. Art magazines. Good time to return to my creative nonfiction roots.
Third step is to spend time with other people. Writing is indeed more solitary than not. Even though my work involves a lot of time online interacting with others, that isn’t the same as being in the same room with other people. I was reminded of this last week when I gave a poetry presentation to high school students. The class was very small, with students who had some learning challenges. I went in a little uncertain whether I possessed the skills to connect with these students, but it was a great morning. They fidgeted, as expected, and they also asked questions. They heard me. I heard them. They liked the poems I shared with them. I even memorized a poem to recite to them because they are going to have to do that task themselves. So, not only did I spend time with others, I stretched my own skills a bit. Those kids made my week.
And it’s not just working with other people face-to-face once in a while that injects new energy into this writing life. It’s also remembering that, in other jobs, people get daily breaks. They gather around the water cooler or the coffee pot or some other spot. I’ve learned that scheduling a coffee date or two every week is a habit that keeps me connected to my friends, gets me out of my house, and reminds me that in-person conversation skills need to be practiced often.
The last step I’m going to suggest today is to limit news exposure and bring home flowers. As I wrote the draft for this post by hand this morning, I still had the morning new on the T.V. I’ve shut it off. I’ve taken some time to enjoy the flowers I brought home yesterday when I realized just how much I needed a dose of spring – bright yellow, purple, and white mums in a cobalt blue vase. That pile of snow by the front door pales in comparison.
snow versus flower power