This time of year, perhaps more than any other, I am prone to stress. Maybe it’s that time just before spring really breaks that saps all my energy – the darkness, the grey, the cold. And when I get overwhelmed, my creative energy typically suffers. It’s easy for me to get into a place of simply living “assignment-to-assignment,” and trying to manage all of my work with all of my parental obligations is a recipe for a burnt-out shell of a person. It makes everything feel impossible.
As the years have passed, dealing with times like these has made me realize the importance of taking care of myself, and making myself a real priority. So the idea of “self-care” has become something of increased importance. Self-care is really any kind of deliberate, self-initiated activity intended to maintain health and well-being (both physical and emotional). But lately, I’ve just been thinking about how all of it relates to my writing.
When I’m stressed out, I do what many people do, which is turn on the TV. No pants? Even better. But the problem with turning on the TV (from a creative standpoint) is that it doesn’t really fuel me. It just sort of pacifies me while I’m watching and then I don’t really feel any better by the time I turn it off. What fuels me are things like drawing, taking a long walk, doing yoga or going out with friends (an all too rare occurrence).
And when I asked some of the other Binghamton Poetry Project staff members, I found some similar responses.
Both Assistant Director Clara Barnhart and former intern Kristen Williamson said that sometimes writing needs to take a backseat in order for them to recharge. Kristen says, “Sometimes the creative process flourishes best for me when I’m not doing anything creative. I spend a lot of time playing with my dogs, browsing antique stores, taking a long hot bubble bath and of course in book stores.” When she’s able to relax and step away from writing, Kristen says she can more fully embrace inspiration as it happens on the spot no matter where she is. And Clara says, “. . . stepping away . . . [gives me] . . . permission to maintain other priorities. This can involve spending time with loved ones, running or going to the gym, or doing a form of active work like cleaning or doing yardwork. Within these activities I can set small goals which ultimately increases my confidence and motivates me towards my long term goals as a writer.” And, like Kristen, Clara also states that cuddling her dogs and walking with them is an everyday priority. Gotta love those fur babies!
Instructor Heather Humphrey talked about working out and doing a variety of activities depending on her mood, like yoga, running, bootcamp or boxing. But, her current frustration has been guilt over not having enough time to write creatively. She says, “I think the best thing we can do for ourselves as writers is to quit being so hard on ourselves. Cast the homework and obligations aside every now and then and just write. Writing is more cathartic than beating a heavy bag or running until my legs buckle.”
Director Heather Dorn spoke about how honoring her preferences makes her feel free to be productive. She says, “I write on lined paper, but I don’t always stay in the lines. I like to use a pen, be in bed, let the covers wash over me like an ocean and pull me in – under – where it is a little dark, yet comfortable. I like to write at night when the shadow of things is natural and nobody asks for the clarity of the sun. I like to write when I’m in a room full of familiar people alone. I can write in pencil on grid paper while my kids pull at my legs, but ignoring my preferences, ignoring my needs, isn’t productive.”
While there are a lot of similarities, we are also all very different people. The best thing that each of us can do in terms of our own self-care is to know ourselves and learn what fuels us. Not just what soothes us.
What do you do to practice self-care and get into that creative space?