When the well is empty

This morning I actually did the 20-minute workout I always say I’m going to do, and then don’t. After that I took a long, hot shower, so hot I was on the verge on passing out by the time I was done. While in the shower, I properly washed my face, which I had neglected to do the night before (gross, I know), including exfoliating. I deep conditioned my hair, and shaved my legs. When I was done, I opened the bathroom window and felt the cold air and watched the bathroom door open and close itself of its own volition, probably something to do with air flow and not ghosts. After I combed my hair and squished mousse and gel into it, I put on my favorite sweatshirt and one of my favorite t-shirts, the color of which is somewhere in between bone and pink. Then I made tea, because I am trying to chill the eff out with the coffee, and sat down to write my morning pages. I wrote about my dreams last night, which included having an essay published in The New York Times and it not changing my life (lolololol, seriously).

All of this to say: I don’t feel particularly inspired to be writing this newsletter today.

If I could manage to keep detailed data on my own life, I feel like I might notice a pattern in my moods and productivity. Maybe it corresponds to the lunar cycle, or my own cycle.

I’ve been cycling through periods of burnout for the last few years; I don’t find this all that surprising or interesting. I have two young children, one of whom is not quite 2.5 and still really little, in the scheme of things. Both of my kids are high needs in their own way, and I’m in problem solving mode more often than not.

I have a wide variety of self-care practices, which do help and which I do try to pay attention to. Trust that I am not the mom who will sacrifice her own sleep to make sure the laundry gets folded or the dishes put away.

Still, no matter how many times I go to yoga or take a nap or read a book, I end up in the same place. Tired. Depleted. Uninspired. Is there a way out of this? I’m not sure. I hold out hope that it will get better as my kids get older, as we (hopefully) find more ease in our daily activities.

Or, maybe it’s not burnout at all.

Maybe my problem this week is that I recently wrapped up a revision on a memoir chapter, which I shared with a mentor and with a writing group. I received valuable feedback, as I hoped I would, and felt inspired to get back into my draft and revise some more. But I’ve also found myself avoiding revising, because I know it means going even deeper, and that can be hard and exhausting and frankly, not a lot of fun. So maybe I’m having a vulnerability hangover, and/or avoiding further vulnerability.

Literally everything I’ve read about making art, whether that’s writing, painting, drawing, or some other medium, stresses the importance of doing it every day. Not just when you feel like it. Not just when you find the time. Not just when you’re inspired.

I’m not sure I believe that, especially this week. I knew if I sat down to work straight away this morning I’d mostly be staring at a blinking cursor, mocking me. So I didn’t. I took a shower, made tea, watched the birds outside the window, dug around in the office in search of a particular notebook.

Does this count as working? Probably not. But I know it was more productive than staring at my computer screen. And bird observations always come in handy. Recently I noticed how mechanical birds can look when they’re hopping around on the ground, the exact opposite of how they look in flight. I will file that away, maybe use it for a metaphor some day.

On Friday, the day this newsletter goes out, I will get acupuncture, and check-in with my therapist, and hopefully finally make it to the used bookstore, to look for books to sacrifice in the name of collage art. Maybe I’ll get my favorite smoothie from JuiceLand for lunch. If I’m lucky, the sun will be shining.

I suspect that when I get back to my desk again next week, it will be with more energy. I will feel like painting, and checking in with my Slack groups, and poking at emotional wounds in the hopes of composing beautiful sentences.

If you, too, are feeling a little wrung out, consider this your permission slip to step back for a minute. Go for a walk. Watch a movie. Clean out a closet. Take a nap. Everything will still be here when you get back.

I’ll see you next week.


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