I get cranky when I’m not working.
And yet, I’ve learned that I can’t work non-stop.
And yet, taking a break feels like this immensely privileged problem: UGH I can’t stand all this FREE TIME I have!
I’m starting to accept that I love my work. I can be grateful for that without apologising. It’s okay that I struggle with breaks. I always have. I hated Recess.
I’ve learned that rest is mandatory. If I don’t accept rest on my own terms, my body will shut down, unannounced. Actually, it does announce. It does warn me. I just don’t listen.
I’d like to start listening.
As a teenager I was so distracted with busy-ness that I didn’t have time to notice my own depression. I had time for two things: work, and being burnt out. Blacked out on academic addiction. At university I’d had enough. I refused to carry on like this, so I did a radical thing each week: I took a day off.
I escaped to the mountains with the climbing club, or took the coach to London to fill up on theatre, galleries, and Camden Market. I left my work behind, physically, so I had no choice. I couldn’t work. On the sleepy ride home I’d feel more energised than ever, ready to face writing the next day.
I know that it’s necessary to take a break, but I still struggle to do it.
I used to leave the city for the day, leave the books behind. But now we live in a home that I wish to reconcile with work. We have one room that serves as my study, our dining room, kitchen, and living room. I’m learning how to enjoy it as home, not just an office that I happen to live in.
Besides, I know that not working is good for my work. If all I do is write, I’ll just keep writing about writing.
On Saturday, I had a plan. I gave myself the morning for work, and the afternoon for ‘not work’.
I packed up my office, and entered the afternoon. At first I felt lost, like reaching the last page of a new favourite novel, wondering, Well now what do I do with myself?
‘The floor is nice,’ said Steve, who was lying on the rug with the dog. ‘Come join us on the floor.’ So I did. We just lay there, and in letting my body sink into the ground, I realised how tired I felt. Just lie on the rug. The puppy does this a lot, and seems to get a lot out of it.
Okay what next. I can do anything, I promised myself. Anything except work. Anything that doesn’t count as PROGRESS on my to-do list.
I scrubbed the front of the oven because I wanted to. It wasn’t on my list so technically it wasn’t something I could cross off.
I rearranged our plants.
I lay on the bed, listening to a podcast episode I’d started earlier when I was walking. I scrolled through Instagram, but noticed that I felt better when I just listened.
I spread out my collage supplies on the floor. Over years I’ve been pasting pictures over pages in an old notebook, repurposing it, saving images atop editorial scribbles.
It was getting dark. Rather than turn on the light, I brought a candle over to the floor.
Steve put on the kettle and asked what kind of tea I wanted. ‘A surprise!’ I said. He brought me Peach, and with the first sip, I was transported to Tuscany, where I had it last.
I found the page I’d bookmarked in Walden. I’ve been reading it slowly, and on this particular evening, it reminded me that daily life is enough.
What should I write about what should I write about? I’d been spinning through this thought all week as I selected my next essay topic.
Thoreau was just sitting there, in his cabin in the woods, waiting for visitors, wondering who would bother to make the trek to see him. I was so entranced by his tellings of these still moments. Just waiting in the woods. A farmer wandered by. A poet came to visit. I laughed at Thoreau’s assertion that a poet could be counted on. ‘Nothing can deter a poet, for he is actuated by pure love’. The poet is up for the adventure, has the time, but also takes the time, makes the time.
In The Goddess Guide, Gisèle Scanlon asks artists to define ‘luxury’. Even though many of them work in the luxury industry, the common thread in their answers is not goods, but time: Luxury is time.
Same with the tv show Extraordinary Homes. I expected the houses to be grand and excessive, but it’s a surprisingly minimalist programme. With a focus on architecture, the structures complement nature, making home life less about doing and more about being, about taking time.
Not everyone has the time, but I do. I ought to enjoy it rather than simulate society’s expectations of the hustle, out of guilt for the privilege I have.
Much of my lifestyle is good fortune, but some is choice. I chose to leave London, to live where I can wander more and commute less, to hop off the ladder of prestige the private schools prepared me to climb. Schools with charity drives each week, to bat away accusation of our advantages through bake sales.
Sometimes I struggle to accept rest when it’s unclear whether I’ve earned it.
But arguing with my privilege, feeling disgusted with it, is a waste of time. It helps no one, and exhausts me. When I am well-rested, when I care for myself, I can give more, and be more thoughtful about it. With rest I can understand exactly where I am in the present, privileges and all, and from there, I can do more, but more importantly, I can do better.
I’m still not sure what that looks like exactly, but I’m figuring it out, fully and slowly, rather than rushing to do something, anything just to look like I care.
‘Doing’ is satisfying in the short-term.
I love a to-do list. Launching new projects lately has tapped me into that gamified fulfilment of quick rewards. But it’s temporary. I have to keep ‘doing’ to keep feeling that sensation. Or, I could slow down and feel something different. Writing an essay is ruminating, letting an idea swim around in my brain, camp out for a few days, or a couple weeks.
In what is now my collage book, I found some lists from years ago – we filled out that ‘Be/Do/Have’ exercise, where you brainstorm what you want, if you could be, do, or have anything. I’ve always found the Be part challenging. I don’t need to Be anyone. I just want to Be. I want to Be in my life, with enough space to enjoy its corners. To feel my life. Not just Do or Have, but Be, fully. Be in the present often enough to witness it. Just lying on the rug.
When I say to be your own heroine, what I mean is just be. Be your own heroine by being.
I love a routine. It’s easy to get fixated on the list of steps, and forget the ritual. A routine is a cyclical, rhythmic way of Being. Habits are life on autopilot, but when we choose them intentionally, they are the best little parts of our lives.
I’m working on a different kind of habit. A habit of not working. Be more, do less. Making rest less about deserving it. Just lying on the rug. Doing nothing, and therefore being entirely. I’ll let you know where that takes me.
Until the next chapter,
HEROINE TRAINING IS NOW ON PATREON
My writing is and always will be available for free. For as little as $1, you can become a Patron: support my writing, read secret stories behind my notebook pages, and more. This week I’m sharing pages from my collage notebook, and some [embarrassing?] parts of this essay that didn’t make the final edit.