In defense of an unbalanced life

30358445I have believed for years that balance and moderation were the ideal way to live my life. I haven’t necessarily always lived it that way, but I always strove for balance and I always bowed to the wise ones among us who preached it as the roadmap to a sane and happy life. For too many years, I accepted as law and right the idea that your diet should be balanced—not too much chocolate or bacon, just the right amount of greens and protein—your work/family life for sure should be balanced: you might work the odd weekend now and then but you always had it drilled into your head that your kids’ after-school events were at least as important and needed to be put on the scale right up there with the thing that paid the mortgage and put food on the table.

I read somewhere that you should keep your writing schedule consistent in your writing week and if you missed a day, it would be noticeable in the absence of flow in your prose and your storyline. I believed this! I would create these complex schedules that squeezed a good ninety minutes a day of writing into a schedule that contained a full time job and all the stuff I’ve already mentioned and even so no matter when I scheduled it, I rarely made it there two days in a row. And because conventional wisdom said my writing would suffer as a result, I would become discouraged and think, well, what’s the point? YOU try continuing to get up at five a.m. every day to create magic on a page when ALL the experts say if you miss a day you might as well not bother!

For years, I had trouble going to my fulltime job and then coming home and writing novels and setting the table for dinner and properly feathering the nest for my one and only child the way I wanted to. My solution to it, after years of frustration and outright failure, was to throw one of the balls in the juggling mess out of rotation and when you’re a writing parent with a paycheck that’s needed, the ball that gets tossed is writing.

When my fledgling flew the coop last fall and I was concomitantly catapulted from my latest adventure in corporate communications, I thought I would have an easier time fitting in all the things I needed to do in order to have a balanced life: exercise, my writing, time with my husband, keeping an eye on my elderly mother, maintaining my friendships and all of that.  But I was wrong. Even without the annoying full time job hanging around my neck, I still struggled to get the daily word count done for my writing projects.  And the laundry? Fuh-ged-about-it.

Which is why I was stunned to discover that, for me, the key to my productivity was not a matter of balance. Never was.

I learned this last year when I came off a week’s vacation with my husband and son and, without knowing what I was doing, plunged myself into an impromptu writing marathon. We even got a brand new puppy to add to the mix and it made not a whit’s bit of difference to the fact that I was compelled to sit down and write and did so pretty much nonstop for about three weeks.

16342405For three weeks there was no exercising. No grocery shopping. No making meals. No TV. Half the time, I didn’t even climb out of my pajamas before three in the afternoon and wouldn’t have even then if my husband hadn’t started to look worried. I didn’t write to a word goal, I just wrote until my back hurt and I couldn’t sit up at the desk or until my husband called to me to mention it was after one in the morning. I wrote without any sense or desire or attention to balance of any kind.

And I loved it.

When the book was finished, I did laundry and made lasagna and drove my son to his college and visited with my mother in Florida and picked up the threads on a few other things that had gotten dropped during those three weeks.  I didn’t write a single word during this time. And when I was all caught up and the house was clean again?

I sat down and did it all again the very same way: in one exuberant, happy, obsessed gush of words and story, tumbling out of me with no time to mind yoga schedules or laundry or any other so-called necessities to maintain a balanced life.

I figured it out way too late but at least I know now: for me, a balanced life is overrated.

I grant you she's balanced, but she looks miserable.

I grant you she’s balanced, but she looks miserable.

I know if I added an hour of yoga to my daily round, I would likely add health and see diminished pounds on my 5’3 frame. I know the merits of balance and moderation, I do. But I now see that it’s not the full story. It works sometimes and for some people. But there’s something very big to be said for indulgence and impulse and immoderation and being at the mercy of your passions and your drives.

I like living this way. Bottom line, it makes me feel alive. And as far as I’m concerned, that is the best kind of balance there is.

Look Where You’re Going to Get Where You’re Going

“It is a truth universally acknowledged…”

Not just  a great first line, but a comforting thought.  Don’t you love universal truths? Or truths we all buy into? I do because it means  the fact that there are truths we all acknowledge as true means we can look to a universally accepted blueprint for how to live our lives. One of the places I look for these universal truths is at the barn. I look there because it’s one of my many opinions that there is no group of people on earth with more quotes relating to living your life than horse people. For example, there is the one about how to jump fences on horseback which, when you think about it, really applies to anything in life that you tackle that’s a little scary but worth doing. It goes like this: “Throw your heart over first, and the horse will follow.” The point about that one seems to be that if YOU’RE not sure you can jump that five-footer, you’ll inevitably translate that doubt to your mount and he’ll ensure you don’t jump it. When judges grade a jumping competition and a horse balks or refuses a jump, it’s the rider they look at for hesitancy. They tend to figure that if the horse is physically capable of jumping the fence but doesn’t—it’s pilot error, pure and simple.

Like anything in life, you gotta believe it before you can do it. And horses are amazing the way they can mirror how you’re feeling. But for all that, the point I wanted to make today is that when you are sorting out your life, the process is a lot like riding a horse in that you, as the rider, really must look where it is you want to go. Ideally, this is right through his set of ears like a kind of organic scope. You don’t look at the ground, obviously, although new riders often do because they want to make sure everyone’s feet are going where they should. But looking at the ground is a great way to end up there.

Riding a horse–like living your life–is a delicate balance. You are not just a sack of feed up there for the ride (or at least ideally not.) When you turn your head, the horse feels it, the horse reacts even if just a little bit. If you are looking down, instead of up, or to the left, instead of to the next line of jumps, that’s where the horse is now looking too. Which, since that’s not where you want to go, looking over there is not a good thing.

Kristen Lamb has this section in her book Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer where she interviewed some NASCAR drivers for a piece she was doing and they, basically, told her they try not to look at places they don’t want to go…like the wall, for instance. It seems that in professional driving as in life and in horseback riding, it’s important to zero in on where you’re going.

Like I said, I love it when universal truths really are universal.