Thursday, September 8, 2016

How I wasted a day OR redefining wasted time

I feel like a terrible person.

Wanna know why? I blew a day. A whole day. I did no [real] work today. I woke, made breakfast, and then I sat down and binge-watched How I Met Your Mother. Netflix has the entire series. And I am a Netflix fan. My main sources of entertainment are real life, books and the Internet. I try to Netflix with moderation. But sometimes I end up doing things like binge-watching an entire series in the time that I should have been doing ... you know ... productive stuff.

Like writing. I'm a big believer in the am-writing hashtag world on Twitter, et al. I draw real encouragement from those 140 or less characters detailing other people's struggles and successes with the writing process all across the Twittersphere. I join in the write-at-whatever-hour groups when I can. I join the late-night writers and try to use my after-work hours to polish my future bestsellers. I try to give my writing as much time as I give to my nine-to-five, because I read somewhere that it's ridiculous to give so much time, effort and discipline to another person's dream, and then pretend indiscipline when it comes to your own. I agree with that sentiment. If I can be great at working to build another man's empire, I should be AWESOME at building my own. And I shouldn't need a slavemaster to motivate me to put in the work required to build my own dream.

So I try. I defy sleep sometimes. (Other times, sleep defies me). I forego preparing a proper meal and just settle for quick cereal (I love cereal though). I read. I delve into the worlds of other writers and find out how they're doing, what they're working on, etc. I occasionally go out to get some semblance of a proper meal and socialisation.

But. There are still days like today when no matter how many times I pick up the writing project and say, I'm going to do this .... I end the day thinking, well, I blew it ... again. I didn't do the things I set out to do at all. I had an awesome day of unparallelled productivity planned, and all I ended up doing was sleep ... watch something in between sleep ... some mild housecleaning ... wash clothes, cook something ... sleep some more. That was all the awesomeness my tired brain could manage today.

Failure days?
I hate these kinds of days! They feel like failure days. I hate days when the tired is so much, and the will is so weak ... I just let Netflix take over the thinking for me. Or whatever. It makes me feel guilty. And weak. And miserable inside. And I feel worse for being able to write about how I'm feeling in a blog post, but not do the important writing for the important  projects. *Sigh*. I posted this tweet tonight:
State of mind: SOON. for REDEMPTION. but TRYING. . Somehow, in my head, it's already.
This truly is my state of mind.
1. I need a change soon. If not, monotony will be the death of me.
2. I AM writing! It's my constant in life. No matter what is going on around me, my ability to write coherently has never left me. And my writing usually somehow goes directly to/from my heart. I value that and see it as a redemptive quality.
3. I'm tired, but I'm trying. These days, this should be my motto. It's not just that I've been fighting flu and sinus issues for the last month ... there's a weariness these days that is so overwhelming ... I ward it off most days, but sometimes, like today, it just hits me full force and it's all I can do to raise my head and look over the edge of the bed. I am realising that burnout is real, because I'm now walking through serious physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. I was on fire for the first seven months of this year, and now? Oh gosh man! I feel like tiredness has set into my bones. I need to rest ... or something, but ... there is so much to do, and so little time to do it in! You don't make an impact by playing it safe. You don't get to do great things by working just a regular job with regular hours. Achievers push. I believe that you don't grow if you don't push yourself past your own limits, so I try to push myself forward, because how else do you expand your horizons? It takes a toll sometimes, but most years, I can look back and honestly say going out of my comfort zone and taking on new responsibility was worth it. If I don't drown under this new workload, 2016 will be one of my best years yet. I'm working for it.
4. I'm not superstitious. I don't believe in any of the spooky stuff either. But I have this great feeling about November. I don't know why, and I can't sensibly explain it, but it's going to be an exceptional month. And in my head, I keep thinking I'm in November already. My brain just keeps skipping past September. Dunno why. Go figure.

Nothing is wasted
Part two of this rant is that I may have to redefine what I call wasted time. Is the time really wasted if I spent it getting some well-needed R&R? At what point did I accept the notion that any time spent doing anything outside of my (perhaps foolishly narrow) definition of productivity is wasted? And why do I feel guilty for giving myself a break for a day? Funny; if I had spent the day reading a novel, I wouldn't feel as terrible. Because it's somehow more sophisticated to say I spent the day reading a literal, physical book, than it is to surf the net (even if most of it is reading long-form opinion in the Guardian and NY Times), or binge-watch anything on Netflix or YouTube. Isn't that just pretentious? Where did I pick up that notion? And is it correct?

And on another level, is anything ever truly 'wasted'? There's a song by Elevation Worship that says 'nothing is wasted'. I'm starting to think maybe they're right, and I should learn to relax and just let life be.

If I did that, today would not be seen as a wasted day. And I wouldn't feel worthless for it. I would realise that after a month of fighting off the flu and not taking any real rest, and on the tail-end of juggling four major side projects in addition to my mainstay job, maybe a day like today is my brain and body's way of reminding me that I am not a robot, and I must occasionally pause and relax.

I want to reach a place where I master the pace of life ... where I'm always building and making progress, but doing it in such a healthy way, my brain and body don't feel the need to just shut down on me. I'm working towards that, too. Maybe I'll get it by November. Or maybe I'll figure that out by the time I'm 60.

Either way, what I'm clear on is that I'm making progress in some sort of way. And even though right now, I still have days like this - where I feel less accomplished than I'd like, in the end, when I look back on the big picture, there's something happening. And that something is good, beneficial, and very, very promising.

Friday, September 2, 2016

I woke this morning with a clear head ... and Nora Ephron came to mind

I woke this morning with a clear head. After walking around for the last three days trying to balance what felt like a swollen, oversized, inflamed bowling ball on my neck and shoulders. The pain has waned, the mucus has subsided, and I woke this morning with a clear, normal-sized head.

Nora Ephron (1941-2012)
Author, journalist, essayist, playwright,
screenwriter, novelist, director, producer,
blogger ... and one of my biggest
inspirations :)
I was going to read my Bible. I took up the laptop to find Matthew 5 and ended up on Pinterest reading Nora Ephron quotes – a turn of events for which I'm sure she would have had several witty remarks. She would probably have worked it into a plot for a famous romantic comedy,  adorning it with brilliant lines that would have made the movie a quotable hit.

Ah, Nora! How she lived! I think of her, and the word fabulous comes to mind. I enjoy her books, movies and essays. So delightfully humorous, and relatable. I loved 'You've Got Mail', 'Sleepless In Seattle' and 'When Harry Met Sally' long before I knew who had written them. In fact, I loved Nora precisely because she wrote these movies. Then I read 'I Remember Nothing' and 'I Feel Bad About My Neck', and I just loved her wit and blunt honesty. It's always refreshing to hear truth without the side serving of bitterness or hate. Some people tell you the truth, but it is so tainted by sadness, it just sounds and looks ugly. Then others tell you the same truths, and there is such a beautiful acceptance - a coming to terms with it - that makes the impartation gentler, more meaningful and ... wholesome.

Nora Ephron had that vibe. She said things that were true, but cushioned them in humour, or with a simple grace that made them more like gentle advisories than rude slaps. And she laughed a lot - at herself and others. Everybody who knew her said so. She mastered the art of taking life just seriously enough to get the lessons without allowing them to permanently harden you. I think I would have liked her if I'd gotten to meet her in the flesh. But I am happy that I got to meet her, to some degree, through her work, and her words.

There's a fundamental presumptuousness which accompanies writing about people we've never met as if we knew them. But there is also something wonderful about getting to meet a person through their work and words. It gives you insight you probably would have missed if you knew them in the flesh, because writing often reveals the depths of a woman/man.

That's why I love the literary arts. It introduces you – intimately – to perfect strangers, and seduces you into connections with people and places unknown. Through their words, you get glimpses of their minds ... and sometimes, what you see is so wonderful – so powerful and dynamic and brilliant – that you fall irrevocably in love. I honestly don't know how anyone goes through life without succumbing to the charm and magic of reading ... and writing.

I like the way Nora Ephron puts it:
“Reading is everything. Reading makes me feel like I've accomplished something, learned something, become a better person. Reading makes me smarter. Reading gives me something to talk about later on. Reading is the unbelievably healthy way my attention deficit disorder medicates itself. Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it's a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it's a way of making contact with someone else's imagination after a day that's all too real. Reading is grist. Reading is bliss.”
How true! How very, very true.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Life is not a straight line

One of my friends has decided to come out. As a writer, that is. She's made some bold steps in her life recently: quit the nine-to-five, (stable) job; set up her own website; started her own literary movement online; decided to earn a living on an entirely freelance basis ... . She has decided to waste no more time building another man's empire, and is now concentrating her efforts on building her own legacy. I admire the courage it takes to walk away from the traditional model of security that we were brainwashed into, and pursue a heartfelt - though as yet unrealised - passion. I haven't as yet surrendered to the need I frequently feel for a similarly great disruption in my life.

Earlier this year, a young man with whom I am acquainted just got up and left his nine-to-five, and flew to New York to basically camp out in a studio to produce the album that was burning a hole into his heart - and head. He came back to Jamaica remarkably thinner - and yet somehow infused with a freshness of purpose and depth of character that left me feeling a need to re-meet him on these new terms. The energy he exuded was so altered - so transformed by his experience of tuning in to and pursuing the thing he felt he was born to accomplish - that I realised I would have to discard some of my previous beliefs about him and learn him all over again.

I ran into him on the street after his return, and we just stood there talking about how his brief experience with less-than-ideal circumstances had shifted his perspective, cemented his conviction and determination, and birthed a solidness in his personality that I had not previously perceived. I marveled at it, and wondered if it was because action - small though it may seem - had replaced what was once just a whole lot of raw desire, angst and ennui. I mused that when people start to take actions based on their personal convictions, and from an attempt to be as true to their authentic selves as possible, instead of just following the dictates of tradition, they tend to have a certain je ne sais quoi - a certain something - a resolute stolidness - about them that is often missing from those who never make the bold move or strike out on the road less traveled.

Widened experience widens horizons and perspectives. It grows people up and teaches them patience, discipline, maturity and persistence. I keep meeting it in friends from high school and college. The ones who were full of longing and have done something in the direction of those dreams are now full of a certain wiseness ... the best ones exude a calm understanding of placement, timing, persistence, and the unpredictability of life. You talk to them, and beneath the sentences runs a current of sagacity. Life has taught them something, and they have been gracious in accepting the lessons.

Then there are the ones who are clearly disappointed and disoriented. And have allowed it to hollow out their hearts (and faces), and chisel their cheekbones into hardened bitterness. Their eyes are shifty. They laugh and self-deprecate. While they are talking, they glance at you to see how you are responding, and if you are reading the emptiness or uncertainty behind their words - you can sense their fear that you will detect the facade and call them out on it. Or worse, call someone else's attention to it.

I'm not judging. I think on any given day, I can be a mix of the two. There are days when the courage and the calm comes and floods my soul with an ethereal peace. Then there are days when my eyes would rather remain transfixed to the pavement, instead of telling old friends harsh truths. On those days, escape, abandonment and bridge-burning seem desirable. It can be so easy to flee ...

... which makes me wonder at the courage it sometimes takes to stay. It must take strength, I think, to remain in a place that reeks stagnation, depression and death. For whatever reason, there are persons who will never take any radical step in any direction. They will never launch out into the deep. They will learn to tiptoe through life, live with their discomfort - sometimes a sacrifice for others - and  train themselves to draw on a reserve of ... something ... to get through redundantly unfulfilling days.

I think it shows courage in a different way. Doesn't it probably take more out of a person to remain discomfitted? It takes a certain gigantic cowardice, yes, but that actually requires enormous amounts of energy, time, and life.

What I've realised is, most of us never listen to our guts beyond hunger pangs. We tend to hold back, stay in the stream of conventional normalcy, and float with everybody else to that place of mediocre malcontent that most nine-to-fivers hit by the time they greet the big 4-0. And then they grieve the life they did not live because they never worked up the courage to kick the habit of mundane comforts. The gargantuan price we pay for sameness only seems deceptively small.

That's why these friends who have decided to step away from the path mapped out for them by society have earned my admiration, and given me much to ponder. They have decided to live driven lives. Is that much different from my somewhat spur-of-the-moment trip to Mexico earlier this year? What was I looking for in Mexico that I couldn't find in Jamaica? What did I acquire in Mexico that has left me feeling like my days in Jamaica are fast approaching an expiry date? Food for personal thought.

The point I wanted to make though, was that this friend who has decided to hone and offer to the world her writing voice, did a blog post in which she said she was, once again, starting over. I shook my head at that. Because life is NOT a straight line. And the impression I got was that she kept starting over with hopes of somehow one day achieving a straight-line history. She wants to look back and see a perfect trajectory from one direction. I used to think like that too. I used to announce every blog post after prolonged absences with a new determination to 'begin again' and 'get it right this time'. Then one day I realised I never got it wrong. Who defines what my blogging experience ought to be? Where did I - did we - pick up the notion that we had to live our lives in a straight line - in this perfect trajectory from Point A to Point B to Point C? What sold us that lie? And why did we buy it so easily? Why are we only now just realising the need to challenge this? These questions sometimes rob me of sleep.

Life is a crooked line. Pun intended. It's not even a line sometimes. There are gaps, and stops and so many curves. My friend keeps starting over, instead of building on what she did before ... because she thinks that not carrying through what she had started in a particular way somehow invalidates the effort. I grieve for that belief, and for the societal institutions that popularise and propagandise it. I realise that by not starting a new blog everytime I had a hiccup in my writing frequency, I established a body of writings that bear testament to my continuous efforts to get my thoughts out in some coherent verbal form. It gives me eight years of work to look back over. And to build on. It proves that my hiccups were conquered, and gives me a base to work from ... a history that is not a cute black point extended in one direction over large stretches of time. It's a mess of writings and words that tell a very human, mixed up story that gives glimpses into the growth of a mind.

I salute my friends for taking their leaps of faith. But I want to tell them to forget the straight-line approach. It never worked for Bell. That's why he stuck with the curve. I want to tell them to do him one better and go for squiggles and mushes and messes. I want to tell them to celebrate the crookedness of their paths, and I want them to realise that all of that mess of scrawling and bawling behind them led them here - to the moment when they stepped into their very own with new-found self-respect, self-reliance and self-determination.

And I want them to tell others who they meet along the way to not torture themselves for the absence of a straight line behind them ... and to make their path forward as uniquely artistic and authentic as possible - hiccups, ennui, angst and all.


Thursday, July 28, 2016

I won something ...

On Tuesday, July 26, I attended the awards ceremony for the Jamaica Creative Writing Competition, hosted by the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC). I was expecting to get one medal for one poem. I walked away with three medals and the award for best overall writer.

It was a very pleasant surprise, and while I did not tarry long to revel in the moment, when I got home after a very long night spent elsewhere, I had to step back, look at my loot ... and laugh.

The win represented a moment of classic irony. Of all the competitions I had entered this year, the JCDC writing competition was one of the ones I had the least expectations of. I had invested much higher hopes into other things - all of which proved disappointing.

Added to that, I honestly had not expected my poems to do so well. I had expected the short story to medal (it didn't), but I hadn't given much thought to my poems doing particularly well ... . So I stood there laughing and shaking my head at my obvious miscalculations. I stood there looking at and learning from the blessing of the unexpected.

It felt like a reminder from life to just cast your bread and sow your seed ... and leave them there, because you really don't know which one is going to prosper, or if they will all do equally well.

Ecclesiastes 11:1-6, The Bible
Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.
Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth.
If the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves upon the earth: and if the tree fall toward the south, or toward the north, in the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be.
He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap.
As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all.
In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good.
True words. Very true words. My prayer that night was one of simple gratitude. I gave thanks for encouragement at the best of times, from the most unexpected places.


Sunday, June 12, 2016

The heat is on!

When I was in Mexico experiencing teeth-chattering cold, I made a vow never to complain about the heat in Jamaica again.

Know what? This heat deserves a complaint. It's so hot in the nights! Hot days don't bother me. The sun  comes out and does its thing in the days. That's expected. What I do not expect is for the nights to be so humid and miserable.

It's not cool at all. Pun intended. I'm downing glasses of water like a camel in the Sahara. I might soon be sleeping on a bed of ice. And these headaches. This pounding in the side of my head .... a result of the heat, I'm told. Not cool either.

One day, I'll be so well-monied and travelled that I will spend my summers in cooler climates and winters in warm places. This heat is motivation to work toward that dream with renewed urgency. I am NOT about this hellish nightmarish heat.

I always tell people I prefer to be too cold than too hot. In cold, you can always add another layer to get warm, but when it's unbearably hot, the only thing left to take off is your skin! It's truly miserable.

Anyway, I'm not complaining. Not really. Just a candid observation of sorts. :)

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Some Tuesday motivation

#GoGetIt #LiveYourDeam #NeverGiveUp #LiveUp #LookUp
This is the thing I remind myself (well, one of many things I try to remind myself) when life gets a little rough. There are days when I forget. There are days when I forget to be positive and think positive and act positive. Sometimes I forget that this moment is really just a moment and that it does not and will not define all the other moments to come ... . So here's a reminder for those of us who forget: treat a moment like nothing more and nothing less than a moment. And if you forget ... ah well, tomorrow, we try again ... :)

Saturday, April 23, 2016

I miss #Mexico ...

Hello, Jamaica. Hasta luego, Mexico!

It's been two weeks since I've been back, and I'll tell you what: the magic hasn't worn off yet. I think of Mexico and smile. It's a happy smile, but it's a secret smile. It's a secret smile full of special things only people who went to my Mexico, and met my Mexico people, and did Mexico things with my Mexico people would understand. It's an inside joke only the ones who shared this experience with me would know. You had to be there to get that it was fun, and different, and special, and definitely worth smiling about.

It's an accomplished smile, too. It's a 'yes! I did it!' smile. It's a smile that reminds me of the friends I made, the people I met, the experiences I had, the ways I changed ... . It feels good to be home, but it feels good precisely because I was away. Going away makes coming home better in some ways; worse in others; different in every way. I can't wait to go away again! :)

Ah, Mexico. Mexico made 'foreign' feel like home. My experiences there make me feel 'foreign' now, at home! I'm still regaining my bearings. I still feel a little jetlagged - but in soul, not in body.

I have internal jetlag. Physically, I'm fine. But in my mind? In my emotions? In the depths of me? I'm still travelling. It's weird. But it's true. I don't even know if this is the kind of thing I want to be blogging about yet, because I'm still figuring out exactly what it means and how I feel about it. But maybe this writing exercise will help.

I've always heard people say that travel does things to you: widens your horizons, broadens your perspective, facilitates self-knowledge, self-reliance, strength, etc., etc. Know what? It's true. Travel does all of the above. And it's awesome.

But somebody should have warned me that once you've been to the mountaintop, anything less will forever seem ... pedestrian. Once you've lived even a little of your dream in a truly fullsome way, that taste - that way of being - becomes addictive. Nothing else compares. Nothing else matters. So, forget the cold, the food woes, the bumpy bus-rides. My mind has graced them with amnesia. Now, all I remember is being at the airport, boarding the plane, going ... being gone. Being there. Meeting that person. Living in that place. Trying that new dish ... the feeling of being in a foreign place ... that feeling of living in the beauty of the moment ... and completely loving it.

It's ALL I remember. That feeling. That way of being. And I'm grateful, and hopeful, a little sad, a lot lost, but mostly ... grateful. Hasta luego, Mexico. I'll see you again. Hopefully soon.