Today's my 35th Birthday! It seems fitting to post a reflective piece being another year older. Here goes... The day it released I received a copy of Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes. I don’t often read self-help(ish) type books. But hey the book came with the tickets of her appearance at the 92Y so why not?
Here’s the premise: One day Shonda Rhimes of all people has a metaphorical wake-up when she realizes she’s not happy. One of the most power women (of color) in television was not happy. She tended to hole herself up and not do things that scared her or took her out of her comfort zone. She was happiest when with her kids, in her jams/sweats, and/or writing. She was not someone who was into parties or public speaking, these things freaked her out easily.
So she decided to challenge herself for one year. She was prompted by a comment from her sister who essentially said she never said “yes” to anything instead going on to complain about all the invites to events, being super busy in her success, and so on and so forth. However, she didn’t indulge in the celebrity life people were asking her to be a part of. She really wasn’t living period. And then, voila she made a change and while it wasn’t immediately soothing over time she got over those hurdles and realized that once something that terrified her was over and done with she didn’t die. Life goes on.
I guess the desired effect occurred for me after reading that book in that I realized instead of a “Year of Yes” I needed a “Year of No.”
Last year was not an ideal year. It wasn’t a horrible one when accumulating everything that occurred from January to December mind you, though it wasn’t one of those “relief” stop-gap years I was hoping for after dealing with noisy neighbors then moving unexpectedly (I’d do so again in 2015 after doing so in 2014) to a new noisy neighbor and steadily trying to get out of debt after my divorce. While I ended 2014 with a completely revised draft of my Collection along with a promise that I’d focus on my YA I didn’t write much fiction at all. To be honest, I went most of the damn year without looking at either, which is unacceptable in my eyes. I wrote, I did I swear! But mainly essays, very few blog posts as you know, and did less freelance but still a sizable portion. But what I did most of all was give myself to volunteer work that required a lot of me. I participated in projects that fell through after I had spent many hours/months on them. I said “Yes” to way too much in the hope of helping the larger mission and movement. I ended up going from doing 70% of the MiP podcast to 100% which also added weight. I gave in to being humored and complimented on my ability to get things done and in saying “yes” continually believed I could handle it all when in fact I was not balancing anything because the writing went by the wayside in a large way.
Not writing hurts, it affects me on a core emotional level. The more I meet, get to know, ultimately befriend published writers or am in those communities I feel the fact that I am not a published writer. That my Collection is still being finalized and that my new YA project is still confusing as hell in certain areas even though I know what I want to do but am unsure of the journey to get there. I work on multiple things at a time and am never at a loss for ideas. Which is good. But again it’s a balancing act and in this particular instance I wasn’t balancing my work but work for others. I got upset, especially when time I set aside for my writing was impeded upon by others wanting to talk about those projects or discuss the larger issues of society or be concerned more about being nice than being upfront and as I allowed my time to be sucked away I began to tally, in my head, how much time I could’ve spent writing. Even if it was material I’d go on to throw out, I would’ve been producing something.
As I’ve said continuously: A movement is nothing without the people. If the people aren’t happy or fulfilled or dedicated to the work they do they will drop off and hate everything. Morale will be at an all-time low leading to the work being done half-assedly. I basically wanted to quit activism in its entirety last year because I felt like that was overshadowing my writing. That people would forget I was a writer or assume it was easy to “have it all.” That’s another thing Shonda touched upon. The belief that she “has it all” and she answered simply as well as realistically: She doesn’t have it all and she can’t do it all. When she’s writing various episodes for her shows she’s not at home with her kids. When she’s with her kids she’s not writing. When she’s traveling she’s not doing either of the two mentioned. So, those who kept telling me to find a balance to it all? Pfft the balance is understanding that you cannot do everything and something has to give way. So what will it be? In 2015 it was my writing. That’s when I thought “Nope, not again. This needs to stop.”
And so, in fall, I said “no.” I stated just as I had to my ex-husband before I asked him to move out “I am not happy.” In December I pulled back, from freelance work that had me up at all hours due to tight deadlines. I pulled back from some aspects of my activism and gave notice for this year of when I’d be done in other areas. I made a firm stance that I would write for at least one hour every day no matter what. Since January 2nd—I wrote for 35 minutes on a flight back home on January 1st—I have stuck to that even when I am tired, stuck, really not in the mood.
I talk to people as much about my activism as I do about my writing to remind them that I am, in fact, a writer. I took on a contributor job with Forbes.com, paid. (That's another thing, if anything is going to take time away from my writing I'm going to need to be paid for it, thank-you-very-much.) I’d say a polite ‘no’ to other freelance projects that had too tight deadlines. I would pull back from anyone and anything that came between me and my writing.
Like Shonda did in her Year of Yes I learned more about who supported me and who didn’t. (I also lost a friend in 2015 adding a kick in the butt of how fleeting and uncertain life can be.) You keep it in the back of your mind that you know now what some people are truly like while keeping them near or at arms-length. Some I confronted on it and broke away, others I simply removed myself from situations, some I still see with this newfound knowledge.
So yeah, in one of the few self-help(ish) books I’ve read I found many parallels as well as inspiration. Maybe if it had been anyone but Shonda Rhimes the commonalities wouldn’t have been as stark or maybe so. But if you’re having one of those years already, ‘cause 2016 has been a trip so far in some circles, then take a moment to zero in on what’s making you unhappy. Once identified exorcise that crap out like you’re the priest and it/they are Linda Blair possessed. It’s time to have a Year of Reflection, a Year of Inner Piece, a Year just for You.