My former thesis mentor and now regular part-time mentor met for coffee. I think I looked less tired than I did during my thesis (I am hoping to always look less tired than I did during my thesis). He advised me, as he did during my last meeting as his official master's candidate, to read more, to spend time breathing and doing what made my soul feel rested. Unlike the last time I got this advice, I've been trying to take it. Instead of writing everything, all the time, forever, I'm working on one project every month. If I want to do the same one for two months, I can, but at the moment I have the freedom to work on one project at a time, rather than keeping twenty thousand (okay, maybe five) spinning plates in the air. And I have to fundamentally change the way I look at productivity.
Last year, I read about 20% fewer books than usual, and wrote about 100% more than usual (this is an incredibly conservative estimate, but hey, not every year is a big year). This year (read: the first three weeks of this month) hasn't seen me suddenly jumping on the productivity bandwagon, but it has seen reading, and a lot of it. The problem is that life isn't governed by statistics, and by improvement rates. The stats are a nice way to explain the experience to someone distant from it, but they don't even begin to cover what it's like to live those days. I'm trying to live as though I am an important part of my life, a thing that needs to be taken care of and loved, just like the things I do and the other human beings I know. I am not the sum of my accomplishments or the sum of my failures.
It's not a surprise that nothing comes from nothing, and somehow in my writing life, I managed to lose sight of just how much text has to go into a decent piece of writing. Dozens, sometimes hundreds, of pages of reading has to happen to make sense of a single bit of text appear on the page. There's no point in writing if you don't love reading. Writing is the act of making a gift for other readers, a tribute and reference to everything you've ever read and watched and experienced, in different ways and to different degrees. I was running out of things to say because I was running out of things I'd listened to, and read, and experienced, and grown empathetic toward. Instead of reading things that make me feel smart, I'm pulling down what sounds intriguing. Sometimes those things are smart. Sometimes they are bestsellers. Sometimes its a re-read. What matters is that I let myself love the waters I find myself in.
I was also doing too much, and also too little. Too much of what felt required by outside circumstances and not enough of what I knew I needed. Too many yes's, and not enough moments alone to ask myself whether I was actually doing what I wanted fundamentally, or just passing the time. Thankfully, a new work schedule has temporarily solved this. I don't know what that will look like next, but so far I am savoring the taste of responsibility instead of desperation mixed with people pleasing. "No" is a phrase I'm learning to embrace. There's a limit, and by the grace of God, mine is well-defined and sudden. While there are days I wish I could safely work more than 10 days in a row, I'm grateful that I will burn out almost instantly, and recharge fairly quickly. This is another one of those areas I need to learn to listen.
This week, I didn't find the energy to write a proper blog post, one with good references and bullet points and numbers. But I did want to write a bit about something personal that also isn't deeply emotional, like re-tying the ropes on my little sailboat, working toward getting to where I am already trying to go. The difference, of course, is whether I am paddling against the wind or using my sails to catch it.