Minutes to Hours.
My friend Gila was recently out kayaking with another friend when they found a message in a bottle. There was no action requested in the note contained within. What was the motivation for the person who made it and then set it adrift? What is the motivation behind making anything? Sometimes we do things for ourselves, other times we are motivated by giving to others. Sometimes the process of making something is it’s own reward.
What do you do that turns hours into minutes? What activities do you engage with that take you out of time? How do you attain the Flow state that Mihaly Csiksgentmihalyi illustrates so very well in his books.¹ Is it music? dance? art? gardening? running? surfing? What is it that takes you out of yourself and into that magical land where one moment stretches out until time becomes meaningless? In my life I have tended to enter that Flow state quite easily, but lately it has come almost exclusively via writing.
Recently I have been somewhat fixated on all I have not gotten done this year, until recognizing that all of the time I have devoted to writing is something that I am getting done. Even so I would also like to work on my house, spend time cooking with my boys, make art, garden. So why have I been writing so much?
As I think about the past year, looking over my planner one more time, the planner that I made back in January and have reviewed every month since, I see that while I have not accomplished some of my goals- it is because Riding the Pooka has emerged as a clear priority. I work a three day work week at the clinic, and I have been putting in nearly that much time writing as well. That is what it takes in order to post as often as I do on this here blog. I estimate that it takes me an hour to craft the words for each one minute of read time. So writing isn’t a job, and not exactly a hobby, it is more like a vocation- and it has been taking up a lot of space in my life.
In 2016 I have done so much writing that it has honestly eclipsed all other interests. Often it has happened in ways that were not planned for. For example I spent days reading about the Triangle Shirt Waist Fire, and the preceding Shirtwaist Strike-then was consumed for several more days as I wrote about how those events are a metaphor for breast cancer and metastatic disease. If I were getting paid to do this amount of writing it might be easier to come to terms with. What is the payoff for all these hours spent at the keyboard?
“Writing in a journal activates the narrator function of our minds. Studies have suggested that simply writing down our account of a challenging experience can lower physiological reactivity and increase our sense of well-being, even if we never show what we’ve written to anyone else.”
― Daniel J. Siegel, Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation
So the gift of writing is that it helps me to process and assimilate my life in a way that is really useful to me. Which is good because I have a very modest readership. Why share it at all? Because sometimes I hear back that my writing can and does benefit others’ efforts to reframe something in their own life. Which makes me think that it is not only worth doing for me, it is also worth sharing. Plus this whole cancering trip certainly offers up endless topics to write about, and there are loads of people cancering.
There are times in which paddling my little kayak out on the vast ocean of the internet, I start to get a sort of vulnerability seasickness. I see all of these other people out there on the waves in bigger boats and start to ask myself “WHAT AM I DOING???”
Is all of this effort really worth it? Is all of the seasickness worth it? It comes back around to yes, it is worth doing with or without public viewing. I am writing things that will be most often read by people I will never know, or connect with. Which makes sharing it a gift given with no strings attached. Like sending words out into the waves as offerings, or like messages in bottles flung from my little kayak. That anyone ever connects back, and lets me know they have received a message, is actually pretty astounding. Luckily I do get little messages back sometimes, often enough to not feel like I am singing my songs into a void. Those touch backs make it worth risking being vulnerable, and even getting seasick now and again from it. I know that reading or not reading is an act of free choice. This knowledge frees me to write as much as I wish.
After a year long break from posting much of anything, though not from writing, I started writing again on the blog in February of this year. Since then I have written 80 posts, and my average readership for each post has slowly crept up to around 25 views. Sometimes less, sometimes more. All this without any social media presence whatsoever. So really posting is not so risky as it sometimes feels. While I was a volunteer programer for KMUN, the listening audience was tens of thousands. In comparison writing for 25 people, many of whom are strangers, is pretty small potatoes indeed. My post A Tale of Two Tamoxifens- a case study, received only 10 views last year when I first posted it, but now it has an all time viewing of 260, making it my most popular post. Which shows that the longer I keep at this, the more people will have access to what I write. But likely if I don’t join social media I will remain out of the loop – and continue to have a very small readership regardless of how brilliant I may or may not be.
While trying to see the ways all this writing is not just a big fruitless time suck, I took a hard look at my overall life priorities, to gage if I want to devote so much time to something that has limited impact. As result I am seeing that creating a broader impact does appeal to me, not only in a ego sense, but in a practical sense too. I only have so much life-force, if I play too small I am loosing the opportunity to generate broader benefit. If my primary motivation is self-care by writing then simply putting it into my personal journal is enough. If I am going to share, it is time I try harder to share it more broadly. It is high time that I face up to the fact that I would like to have broader impact, that I would like my efforts to be at least as much, if not more, service to others as they are service to self. It is time for some strategizing to make that happen.
What do I want to spend my minutes on?
If there is one thing that I have learned from the deaths of many loved ones, not to mention my own cancering experience, it is that there is only so much time- and we usually don’t know what our expiration date is. This does lend a certain sense of urgency to making my efforts count for something. When considering how I want to spend my time in 2017 I realize a few things:
- I need to create Time-Space to write- so that writing doesn’t spill over into everything else so much. Clearly I am motivated, even consumed by the need to write. If I don’t honor my writing it seeps into all available space.
- I want to get other stuff done too. (Time with my boys, making art, gardening, spending time with friends, finishing the house we were building before being interrupted by cancer, cooking really delicious food…) Why do those things I love to do fall to the wayside? Because I lack good boundaries around writing.
- I want my writing to be accessible to thousands rather than to tens or to hundreds of people
- I don’t know how to do that.
- I need to ask for help to get my content out.
If I am spending nearly every available moment engaged in some part of the writing process why am I not already leveraging it to have broader impact? In short: What is the payoff for staying small???
The nice thing about being so small is that I don’t have any trolls to speak of. That is one problem of being bigger that holds no appeal. By staying small, by basically being a glorified journal, I don’t have to worry so much about being “perfect.” Pooka Ride is not the New York Times, so my grammatical errors are pretty low stakes mistakes. There is the fear that if I get a larger readership my obsessive tendencies might get completely out of hand- historically I have had two speeds, overdrive and broke down. Plus this feels just a bit like I am sitting here having delusions of grandeur that there are even thousands that would be interested in my crazy ramblings. Those feelings represent a puppet that holds fears about being seen and judged, and whose strategies for staying safe are about staying small. There are billions of people in this world, surely I am not so singular as to be uninteresting to all but .00000014 % of them? (Which is what 100,000 ÷ 7,000,000,000 is. ) To judge that my writing has no broad appeal, without even attempting to get a broader audience, is faulty logic. But “logic” motivated by my own puppetry. Clearly staying small is the goal of some of the puppets.
If I am going to write for others, and not just myself, I need to take a few risks. This is scary stuff indeed. Especially right now, when I don’t really know what those risks are. For a girl that doesn’t have a smart phone, doesn’t use Facebook or Twitter, or any online platform other than WordPress, there are a lot of unknowns. I also need some thought put into how to write for a broader audience without abandoning self preservation. For now I will continue sending out my missives to my dear readers, while more actively investigating how to be more generous about it, and setting some boundaries. I am open to suggestions.
¹Flow is an excellent book. You can also look at other books about happiness in my library.
*** Picture found via google search on Pinterest, though because I don’t have an account with Pinterest, the site wouldn’t let me look long enough to get you a link to the artist…