Open, But Not Available

 
photo credit: Aziz Acharki

photo credit: Aziz Acharki

 

“Are you open on Friday night from 6-9pm?”

How many of you have said ‘yes’ to this invite, simply because you were open?  I used to do that, and ended up paying a price by being overwhelmed or exhausted at the end of the week. This snowballed into me cannibalizing my family time and my writing time during the days following, because I was off-center from too much out-of-the-house time.

I wondered why simply saying yes to an open night could get me into hot water. I figured out it was because I didn’t use the ‘zoom out.’ Zooming out was a technique I came up with when being invited to attend things or asked to help/serve/volunteer.

It changed my outlook the first time I tried it.

Here’s how it works for me: when I’m asked if I’m available, I not only look at that day, but I zoom out and look at that week. Many times, I may see I’m booked Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday nights. If I agreed to the Friday invite, it would mean I’d be out five nights in a six-day period. Accepting the Friday invite would make me exhausted and irritable. By the time I made it to my Sunday event, which I was looking forward to, it had no chance. In addition, my family time or bills or home repairs or writing time suffered during the following week because I was recovering from a relentless tide of events. In addition, it not only took from my time, but also from my energy reservoir. Too much Yes put me in a time and energy deficit, taking away from any writing I planned afterwards.  

Zooming out led me to create a phrase call ‘boulder time.’ Picture a rushing river where you try to keep your head above water. Imagine being able to jump out and take a moment for a welcome rest upon the warm boulder, being able to reset and recombobulate like after a TSA pat-down, before heading back into the river again. When I used Friday as my boulder time (by saying “no” to the request,) it gave me a break to put away Wednesday and Thursday, and ramp up for Saturday and Sunday, which I then attended with a glad heart. This also helped my next week go smoothly because I wasn’t frazzled by the marathon of previous nights. Zooming out helped me to see where I needed boulder time, a time slot I labeled as open, but not available. There’s a difference.

And you can pan back ever farther; it works for the month, and even for an entire season. How many of us have been booked every weekend of a summer, except for one? Don’t fill that weekend. Mark it as boulder time and fill it with pajamas, family or writing. Protect it fiercely.

Photo credit: Aziz Ancharki

The Inner Critic: Bless Its Little Heart

 
 
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How many of us hear The Voice no matter how much we have accomplished?  I heard two published authors speak last week, who stated that they STILL HEAR THE VOICE: “Nobody will read that”; ”This isn’t very good”; “Perhaps you’re not a real writer”; “You’re an imposter.” The voice hitchhikes within our tender heart.  Why does it remain resilient and loud, never impressed by our skill, unsatisfied with what we achieve?

I came across a twitter thread by Tracy the Clayton, and it stopped me cold. She had a life-changing epiphany and I immediately saw how it applied to us in our craft and in other places of our lives. To paraphrase this brilliant and raw post: she re-listened to that voice. She realized:

it was not trying to destroy or belittle her; it had only been trying to protect her.

This voice was clumsy in its efforts, a well-meaning child who merely loves us and is ungainly as it wrings its hands. It shields us from danger which might not even be there. Tracy faced it like it was a friend in the other chair. She thanked it and told it not to worry; ’I’ll take it from here.’ Tracy’s words helped me to dismantle the voice, transforming it from a hostile entity designed to shame, into a well-meaning friend who anxiously fusses over us, wants us to wear a coat, a ‘call me when you get there’ type of friend.  I see a difference in my writing day as I practice re-framing the voice. Daily, I work to reduce the status of this authority figure. Imagine if we could pat it on the head and say, ‘it isn’t evolved enough to understand me, bless its precious heart.”

The world needs to hear from you. We have enough things in our lives which get in the way; we don’t need the voice as well. Nod and thank it for its service. Step around it and continue with your very important work. I present you with the thread that started it all (given with Tracy’s permission.) May you find what you need in her wise words.

 
 
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Sheri Hoffmann is a writer, public speaker, and creator of the “Contented Yes” workshop series. Sheri has presented her seminars to audiences in the East Bay and North Bay areas. In addition to performing in the 2015 production of Listen To Your Mother San Francisco, she also writes about the ridiculous, the mundane and a variety of social issues. She is a fierce advocate for writers’ voices and very protective of their writing time. She can be reached at wellandhere@gmail.com to consult with you or speak to your group about boundaries, whether you’re a writer and/or someone who is relentlessly tapped for their time and skills.