Writing Timeout

There is just so much going on in my life this week. So. Very. Much. And with that, I have had to put the writing aside. I have had to consciously tell myself to not feel guilt for what I have not been able to do because what I am doing is so very important. What I am doing is showing up in my kids’ classrooms, helping a family member with a large, meaningful task and working on some neighborhood business. All wonderful things. All fulfilling things. All taking up the time I normally reserve for writing. I know next week will be better. I know flexibility is key. I know it’s fear that fuels the guilt.

The fact of the matter is it so easy to not do the things that are hard. Even when that hard is good and rewarding. It’s easy to fall into old habits. It’s easy to find your safety blanket and refuse to let it go.

What reassures me this week is that it’s not been as easy to not do the hard things as it has been in the past. I’m in a place with my work in progress that is hard for me. I work well in snippets, which is why this blog can be so exciting for me, but I get a little panicky about sustaining a book-length manuscript. Part of me wants to avoid writing to stave off this impending wall. But I’m finding a larger part of me wants to pick up a chisel and a hammer and start taking that wall apart brick by brick so that I can see what’s on the other side. It’s exciting and scary and frustrating when I see my time this week ebbing away, keeping me from the larger task at hand in my work.

Yet, I know what my writing needs most is a break. A break to get my tools ready, to prepare myself, to be at my most focused self so that I don’t sit down with the pressure of the task ahead and feel a failure because I only had 15 minutes before carpool and the work deserves so much more than that.

So I’m in a timeout this week, working on nurturing the seed of the story inside and trying not to rush it. I’m taking the time to give my full attention to the tasks and people around me right now who need it much more than the characters on the page. They will still be there next week. They aren’t going anywhere. And if they do, well then, they probably weren’t worth being there in the first place.

As workers, mothers, wives, daughters, friends, we sometimes need to take a break and, maybe more importantly, give ourselves a break. Sacrifice comes with the territory. We need to embrace it in those moments then pick back up where we left off. As women, we don’t need to make excuses for why we did one thing over another. We need to simply make our choices and then move on to the next choice.

So this week, I choose family over writing. I choose timeout. Next week, I choose to be selfish about my writing time. The week after? Who knows? What I won’t choose is guilt.

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Football and Females

Football.

I love football.

I was a rare breed of Patriots fan growing up in tobacco road basketball country. It didn’t matter. My support was sincere. It was in my Yankee-born veins. I remember feeling absolutely sick in 1986 when the Chicago Bears shuffled their way all over my poor Patriots. I saw my son feel that same pain when we let him stay up in 2012 to watch the Patriots lose to the Giants and he looked at me with tears in his little blue-green eyes and said, “But I wanted the Patriots to win the Super Bowl, mommy.” As if his 6 year old desire was enough to put some extra time on the clock and change the outcome. I said a little prayer of thanks that the Sox had overcome the Curse of the Bambino by the time this little guy came along. I don’t think he could have handled that kind of pain.

But lately, I’m a bit disgusted with football. It’s been a rough week for the NFL. Domestic abuse, child abuse. Not great. And their response? The NFL created a VP of social responsibility position and put a woman in it. And look, look, we appointed some other women, too! Great. Bandaids are helpful first aid tools, too, but not for broken bones.

I understand that professional athletes are paid to perform a task. I understand that because of our American culture of success we thrust role model-dom upon these athletes whether they want it or are worthy of it. I understand that the almighty dollar will influence what the NFL does much more than what I say here. I also understand that many fans can more easily separate their dedication to their favorite teams from the news that’s circulating about certain individuals than I can. I understand that despite the current outcry, the impact on the actual game will be negligible.

But what I don’t understand is how the NFL can be so totally tone deaf to such a large group of their fans.

Women make up more than 45 percent of the NFL’s fan base. And they need more than women appointed to positions simply to smooth over a PR nightmare. They need more than a few too-tight pink t-shirts with team logos on them. They need respect. Real respect. Not appeasement. I was a fan when being a girl football fan didn’t feel as common. I didn’t look up to the players as role models, personally — I had no shot of being a professional football player (despite the fact that my high school football coaching uncle taught me how to properly tackle as a means of self-defense the summer I was 13) and had my own bookshelves full of role models. But I respected players. I appreciated their work ethic. I lauded their dramatic accomplishments on the field. I had favorites based on their performances on and off the field (I’m a sucker for a big football player helping the community).

If the NFL wants to fix this for women, they need to fix this for everyone – men and women. Understand that domestic violence isn’t a women’s issue. Understand that creating merchandise for women doesn’t mean you smack an NFL logo on a high heel and call it a day. Understand that the types of men they “hire” to play their sport must, like any other profession, show a certain level of character.

Show me concrete policies and behavior expectations for your athletes. Show me consistent implementation. Show me training in how to recognize abuse – domestic, child or otherwise. Show me counseling provided to players. Show me support offered to athletes’ families. Show me, show me, show me. Stop telling me. Stop pandering. Stop messaging. Stop strategizing. Stop flip flopping. Stop putting the quality of the pay day above the quality of the player.

As the mom of boys who play sports and the mom of boys who watch sports, show me you are an organization worthy of my boys’ attention. Because right now? I’m not sure the NFL is. It is my job to raise boys who grow into men who respect women. Men who value hard work in themselves and others. Men who set about earning what they receive. Men who give back. Men who are generous with their time and love. Men who understand hitting anyone – man, woman or child – is not how to communicate. Men who can distinguish right from wrong.

What does it say about their mother if I continue to support an organization that clearly doesn’t support her?

Nothing I’d like for them to hear, that’s for sure.

I know that it’s a few bad apples. That the actions of a few do not imply the actions of the many. But when these kinds of voices are the ones we are hearing, when I see action taken only when sponsors threaten boycott, when I have to turn off ESPN so my children don’t see the image of a man cold-cocking a woman in an elevator, then there is something wrong. Something that needs to be fixed.

So, show me I’m wrong NFL. Show me something more than you have the last two weeks. Show me something real and honest and sincere and compassionate. Show me you’re thinking about more than your own face.

I feel we are at a tipping point in society with women and their role in it right now. The NFL’s domestic abuse issues are simply a drop in that bucket already filling up with the blocked equal pay for equal work bill, the shaming of women who are the victims of sexual assaults on college campuses, corporations that get to determine what kind of health care their female employees deserve.

We are at a tipping point, all right. The sad thing, is I’m not sure which way the scales are going to tip. And that scares me.

Getting on Track

T has been back at school since the first week in August. B finally started his last year of preschool two weeks ago. I was so excited. I was truly giddy with anticipation about the hours I would finally have to myself to focus again on writing. I prepared myself by finding two early September submission deadlines – one for a short story, the other a personal essay – so that I would have concrete tasks to accomplish. I recognized that jumping into the empty pages of the novel-idea-in-progress deep end would be too much pressure. Plus, I needed some time to shake off the summer sloth and build up my writing chops again.

B’s first day of school arrived and we were eagerly out the door. He jumped out of the car with nary a second glance (if it’s this easy for him to leave me at 4, I am shuddering at the thought of when he’s 18!). I pulled away from the smiling teacher’s faces at the curb and drove home smiling myself, eager to start my new writing adventure.

I went to my desk. I pulled up the file for the first submission. I stared at it. Nothing. I eased my way in by editing a bit of the front end and tried to pound out the next few lines, attempting to find some sort of purchase in the words to continue the writing journey forward. About 45 minutes in, I was ready to find the want ads and go back to work. 

Seriously. After 45 minutes. I was ready to throw in the towel. Box up that dream of mine again and shelve it for a braver time. Self-doubt began whispering in my ear “see, you can’t do this.” “It’s too hard.” “You have nothing to say.” “You suck.” My self-doubt isn’t very nice to me sometimes. 

I ended up watching something on the DVR and counting down the minutes until I could pick up the little guy and have a justifiable excuse for why I wasn’t writing. 

Luckily, a pep talk from the hubby that evening, some perspective and perseverance allowed me to find a rhythm. In the last 10 days, I’ve submitted both items and feel pretty darn good about the work I produced. Is it perfect? Nope. Was it great practice? For sure. Has it opened up a creative well where ideas, motivation and inspiration are suddenly bubbling to the surface? Thankfully, yes. 

I still have to work hard at drowning out self-doubt’s voice, and imagine that will be something I battle forever. Don’t we all, in some respects, continuously have to remind ourselves that we aren’t 13 anymore with bad skin and frizzy hair and no clue about life? Well, if you don’t, send me your secrets. The good news is that work begets work. The more I do, the more I have to do. The more I want to do. The more I end up doing. It might be circular logic, but it works for me. 

This week, I’m easing into adding a few additional commitments to my morning time (aka, time both kids are in school) when I usually write. I’ll be volunteering at the elementary school library on the days my preschooler stays after school for a sports class (allowing me the same amount of regular writing time plus the time to volunteer). And I’m sneaking in a yoga class one day before afternoon preschool pick-up. I hope that I’m not sabotaging my writing time with these additions, but I tried to find tasks that will also fulfill my creative self – what better why to fill my tank than by centering myself and surrounding myself with books? 

As I bask in the glow of my most recent submission, I challenge you to go out on a limb today. Call a new friend, volunteer for that big assignment at work, start a new habit, end an old habit, whatever. Yeah, life is scary a lot of the time. But it feels really good when you check under the bed and realize the only thing to fear under it was the dust collected on a forgotten pair of heels. 

See what I did there? 🙂