Sleepwalk with me

My on- and off-again friend, depression, has silently, slowly been holding me back, like an older sibling with her palm on my forehead as I swing my fists, unable to strike my oppressor. This is not my friend depression’s usual approach with me; usually, she comes in slowly, getting ever louder as she pushes my pressure points and sore spots. Unlike for many, my depression is usually a screaming, crying pain, rather than an inert whimper. Ever the shapeshifter, depression arrived this year and made writing and painting excruciatingly painful – but in creation’s pain, it became so much more important, worthwhile, and fulfilling when I was able to eke out a piece of work.

A friend (a real friend, not my jerk depression) recently shared an essay I read years ago, that resonated differently for me this time. In “The Cost of Daydreaming,” Vivian Gornick writes:

Ever since I could remember, I had feared being found wanting. If I did the work I wanted to do, it was certain not to measure up; if I pursued the people I wanted to know, I was bound to be rejected; if I made myself as attractive as I could, I would still be ordinary looking.

Around such damages to the ego a shrinking psyche had formed: I applied myself to my work, but only grudgingly; I’d make one move toward people I liked, but never two; I wore makeup but dressed badly. To do any or all of these things well would have been to engage heedlessly with life — love it more than I loved my fears — and this I could not do. What I could do, apparently, was daydream the years away: to go on yearning for “things” to be different so that I would be different.

When I was growing up, I tackled my “fear of being found wanting” with achievement. I worked tirelessly to be praised and to have a piece of paper or a stroke of ink proving that I was not wanting. When I graduated from college, a switch flipped in me. My ceaseless endeavors towards having the best and most education gave me a bad taste in my mouth. I wanted to be free. I wanted to accept myself and let go.

It was only after I’d given myself space and accepted myself that I started to feel my psyche shrinking, as Gornick said. It took years of ebbing and flowing, but here I am, half myself in everything I do, sleepwalking, latching onto big goals and outcomes that are always just around the bend, out of my reach. No ink nor paper to show for all of my half-work and bleary-eyed daydreaming, but also no satisfaction.

Creating is an uphill battle for me lately. I get excited about a project, prep for it, and drag myself through molasses to get started. Every brush or keystroke makes me feel more myself and more satisfied with my life, but each is harder than the last. For me, art is about revealing myself; laying myself bare: here are the colors I love; here is my weakness; here is my strength; here is the nose I got in the neighborhood of correct; here are the people I care about; here’s what I was too self-conscious to paint right the first time, but got right the second time; here is how I spend the last slants of late fall light after coming home from work. Since starting to paint for clients in 2011, I’ve had to unlearn my instinct to poke fun at what I do to alleviate some of the pressure of hoping people like what I have to share. I have had to stand next to my writing and my paintings and say, “Here I am. This is me.”

unnamed

The only piece of art I’ve finished in four months is this painting of Miranda July for Sandy, a person who has always supported me and artistically inspired me. I’m proud of this piece because I think I got Miranda July’s spirit right, but also because it was a trial through the thick of my creative mental blocks lately. In the end, I had to fight the final boss of my depression: putting all of myself into something and accepting I might fail with no one to blame but myself. I knew that if I were to stop, it would be an even greater failure. I would be going back on my word (and my Venmo) with someone who believes in me.

Gornick’s essay talks about the vacancies left when you stop daydreaming and start holding yourself accountable for the moments in life that you hold onto or let pass away. Knowing what activities help me grasp these moments has been half the battle: it has taken years to peel back the layers of myself and find that all along, the things that make me happy are the activities I loved as a little girl. Now that I can see the emptiness of achievements and the wholeness of art, I have a map of where I’m going and what I’m fighting for, but the guiding force is the people who see me, who have always seen me, as capable of failure, but as more than enough.

The Copy Clerk

Last month, I asked friends to reframe their lives in terms of a new story. I gave no direction other than that it had to be a way of thinking about your life in a novel way – a way of seeing yourself in a different light. Silvia de la Peña did not disappoint. Without further ado, Silvia’s story, inspired by her love of Chekhov.

∙ ∙ ∙

It was evening. The sun was setting, casting a golden hue over every long aisle of tables and chairs in the office. Silvianna Alexandrovna Ivanovna sat hunched over at her small table, quill in hand, working on the very last assignment for the day. ‘Another word for grand … Must think of another word for grand …’

Clack. Clack. Clack. The sound of black boots walking across the cement floor grew closer, a long black skirt swishing with every step. The chief supervisor of the copy house, Lizotchka Kudrinsky, stopped at the side of Silvianna’s desk.

“Katerina …” the supervisor began.

“She left an hour ago,” Silvianna replied.

“Who did?”

“Katerina.”

The supervisor lowered her round spectacles and peered down at Silvianna from above the tops of the frames. “As I was saying …” she continued. “Katerina, we really need this copy within the next thirty minutes, we simply must have it by then. The governor’s ice skating gala depends upon it. If they don’t have invitations, who will know if they’ve been invited?”

Swish. Clack. Swish. Clack. Lizotchka Kudrinsky walked down the aisle back to her desk at the front of the room.

‘You’re invited to the grand ice skating gala,’ Silvianna thought. ‘You’re invited to one especially grand ice skating gala … the grandest of all ice skating galas … where all your dreams can come true.’ As she thought of more ways to say “grand,” she swiped the quill against her forehead. Silvianna marveled at the amount of oil that appeared on the feather. ‘My powder said matte and the mister promised hours of a shine-free face, yet here I am again at five o’clock with an oily forehead.’ She wiped her forehead with her finger this time and looked at it for some time. ‘I shall gather and press my excess facial oil into a rose scented serum and sell it to ladies with dry skin. Then they will apply it to their faces in the morning, hoping to stay glowing all day. I could make millions of rubles! It would be … grand.’

From the front of the room, the chief supervisor cleared her throat and glanced up at her worker. She was eating from a small bowl of halved red potatoes. She stabbed one potato with her fork and pointed at the clock on the wall with it. “Katerina,” she said, “time is ticking.”

“Yes, Madame,” Silvianna replied. She stared down at the paper. Was it really to be a grand ice skating gala? Would there be roasted chestnuts and tea served by the frozen lake, like last time? Would they offer tours of the governor’s palace, like last time?

Silvianna gazed out the window along the side of the large room. The golden hour was nearly over, the trees and the sky outside had turned dark. She thought of her mother at home – had she locked all the doors so that no one could get in? Was she safe on the sofa, knitting a blanket? She thought of her father – would he like the sanitarium? Would he be lonely? Would he mind the staff, would he listen to instructions and not bother anyone with his episodes at night? Did he miss his mother? Silvianna thought of her last conversation with her grandmother before she passed several months before.

Her grandmother had been lying on the cot, holding her hand out and pointing toward her bedroom. “Silviannka,” she said. “Take my lamp. It’s in my bedroom. The one with the flowers. I want you to have it.” She put her hand down and closed her eyes.

Silvianna went into the bedroom and spotted the lamp. It was set upon a tall dresser, surrounded by trinkets and tiny pieces of dust. She returned to her grandmother’s bedside. “Thank you, Grandmother. I will take it later,” she said.

Her grandmother, with her eyes closed still, nodded. “Okay,” she said, and went off to sleep.

Silvianna thought of the lamp now. Should she have taken it? Did she have room in her small apartment for another table lamp? She wished she could have one more conversation with her grandmother.

“Five thirty!” cried the supervisor from the front of the room.

Clack clack. Swish swish. She appeared at Silvianna’s side again. “Katerina, do you have the invitation ready?”

Silvianna dipped her pen in the ink well and scribbled quickly onto the paper. She slid it across the desk to the supervisor.

“Ah ha …” said Lizotchka Kudrinsky as she read. “You’re invited to a capital ice skating gala held by the governor … Capital fare will be served, and all will have a capital time.” She lowered her spectacles again and peered down at Silvianna. “You may go,” she said.

Silvianna buttoned her coat in a hurry and stepped out onto the street. Suddenly she was in the mood for tea and roasted chestnuts.

If I shine

I have always been good at friends (braggy, I know). I don’t mean to say that I’ve always had a ton of friends, or felt extremely close to the people around me; I mean that the people I choose to share myself with are special. I don’t suffer fools, and I make a special effort to connect with people who are creative and dedicated to their own happiness in an authentic way. I have had my share of bad feelings about being locked out of groups of people (even lately! I’m almost 30!) but usually, upon reflection, it’s the people who (like me!) want to cultivate a totally welcoming, collaborative lifestyle that make me tick.

Most of this skill I’ve developed is selfish. Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow coined the term Shine Theory™ to talk about women reflecting success onto each other – if I shine, you shine. I find this to be an incredibly helpful attitude when approaching my friendships. I like to be around people who bring out my best qualities, and I like being around people who I’m happy to pour my positive attitude into. I also take particular joy in someone telling me, “You have the best friends.” I do – and they’re yours for the sharing.

I write about friendship today because I’ve been in a creative rut. After a month of super intense painting in December, I took a month off and found my writing practice fall off too. The only creative pursuit I could really engage with was making pom poms – something I’m doing with my wedding planning energy for decor. Wedding planning has been a fun way to channel the tepid stream of my creative energies into something real – but let’s be real: my wedding is more than a year away, it’s one day of my life, and I have things to write and paint somewhere inside of me in the meantime. Since December, I’ve painted two things and written one post. How’s a girl to blow away the cobwebs?

Sometimes, I have to dig into my friendships to find the positive energy I can’t find within myself. Last month, a long distance bestie came to visit and reinvigorated my appetite for fun. Spinning around the dance floor at the White Horse, blurry-eyed and fancy-free, I remembered that I have a sense of adventure. Walking through Pease Park, I remembered I had a sense of reflection. He had given me back two of the key ingredients of my creative self.

Another good friend has asked me to support her – and to have her support me – in maintaining creative goals. We’re two writers – check her out at www.rosetruesdale.com – her in a state of transition in Berlin, me in a state of (reluctantly and enthusiastically) settling down in North Loop, Austin. My goal was small: to write once a week every week of March. When my alarm goes off, I think to myself, is today the day? Most days the answer is no. Today is the day to sleep my head off. But having some accountability meant that today, feeling rested, I cracked my knuckles over my 9-year-old laptop and here I am.

Sometimes, digging deep isn’t enough. I’ve learned to not get too freaked out by the ebb and flow of my creative tides, but I know that I feel better when I’m putting myself out there. That’s where you come in. What are some ways you motivate yourself to keep going? What are small goals and projects that bring you joy? Who are your creative engines – your motivators, who you know or don’t? If you shine, I shine – let’s hear it.

Baby steps

It’s 10 am. I’m about to take my break, a nice walk in the Texas sun to slay my coworkers in a pedometer challenge. I stand in the work room, arms out, and drop my torso down near my knees. 1, 2, 3, 55 times.

What’s up, lil pup? I’m addicted to quantifiable physical challenges – this time the 30-day Squat Challenge app. I’ve written about my past forays into running, an activity I’ve put on hold for the time being because of recurring foot injuries. Now I’m getting experimental with new activities. I’m 13 days into the squat challenge, doing 60 today. I’ve integrated hand weights back into the mix, huffing and puffing, thinking about Madonna’s Gollum arms.

These new physical challenges – the pedometer, the squats, the Michelle Obama quest – they’re part of a larger experiment for me. I’m embarking on new routines to seek new fulfillment. A friend recently asked me what my goals were for the next six months and I was blanker than a ‘90s kid’s check. Now that I’ve finished school, gotten a job, revamped my painting business, and set up a comfortable home, I am reframing my goals. They are no longer these big adult milestones – they are smaller, quieter, check marks on a to-do list, adding up to a marked up piece of paper crumpled in the recycling.

Here are my new micro-goals, quickly amassing check marks and contributing to a feeling of progress:

  1. Eat more vegetables – even if this means hiding spinach in my food, like I’d do for a child
  2. Practice my yeses and my nos: cancel when being alone will contribute to a balanced brain; take on new challenges that scare me.
  3. Do a little bit everyday. This is a holdover from my Make days. Even if I have to force myself to paint one stroke, it’s momentum that adds up.
  4. Get back on the horse. One piece of fried chicken doesn’t mean a spiral into a life of sin. One mistake at work doesn’t mean burying myself in tasks I know are easy.

The check might not be blank, but $5 a thousand times is, well, you know your times tables.

What are some of your smaller goals right now? What are the baby steps that are contributing to your mental or physical health? How have you found happiness through small changes?

Keeping up with the Scorlazys

Twitter is a scary place to a lot of people. Even people whose entire career and ~brand~ was built on Twitter routinely tweet things like, “this website is a trash fire lol” or “logging off forever.” People take year-long Twitter breaks. People do log off forever. For me, Twitter has been a lifeline. After a big falling out with some of my IRL friends in Chicago, people I met through my most Twitter-savvy friend became my closest pals – some even became like family. I find that a lot of my self-care gurus are irreverent, silly folks from that “trash fire” of a website, from @imteddybless to @yayfrens to @emilyvgordon. Just this week, Chance the Rapper tweeted some of the best advice and encouragement I have heard in a long time:

canceling plans to read is ok. skipping a party for the gym is ok. staying home to cook is ok. lets encourage it & respect self improvement.

In the spirit of Chance, world’s cutest Chicagoan, I’ve embarked on some Twitter self-help. I’m ready to share it with y’all, perhaps as a little encouragement for the long trudge coming out of a three-day weekend. Last week, someone retweeted the brilliant @alliewach’s unofficial endorsement of the Google app Keep as a mode of self-care into my timeline. Always game to improve my self-care routine based on the advice of total strangers, I checked it out. Part Pinterest, part Notes, part alarm clock, Keep gives you one button to click to access your inspiration, your calendar, your grocery list, your self-care reminders, etc. etc. forever.

What am I keeping in Keep?

  • My dang grocery list, which I now actually keep up with (har har)
  • A picture of that girl who pulled a sword out of a Cornish lake
  • Chance’s great tweet
  • A reminder to run (“you ding dong”)
  • A reminder to drink 3L of water at the end of the day if I haven’t yet already
  • Blog ideas
  • Things I need to buy eventually (a couch, Malört, printer ink – the essentials)
  • Notes from events like BossbabesATX

So far, Keep has become a good friend, something I look forward to hearing from throughout the day, something I enjoy looking at in my downtime, and something that sets me on the right track. Adding another app to the mix has proven a great way for me to stay off Notes and alarms and also saves me hours searching “girl sword England” every time I want to send it as a funny (arguable) response.

Now that that’s all out in the open, logging off forever.

Anvils, Oprah, and the capacity for delight

Ever the wannabe Oprah, I cannot count the number of times I have told a heartbroken or struggling friend, “It’s okay to feel your feelings.” I mean, it’s not okay: it’s horrible and hard, and sometimes you’d rather feel someone else’s good feelings, god dammit.

I am neither heartbroken nor struggling, but lately, I’ve had trouble following my own advice. I’d rather have a cocktail or put on the television than be alone with my thoughts. Circumstances have changed. My lifestyle of long solitary walks, which allowed me to really digest my feelings about my situation, has lately been interrupted by chronic foot problems. It’s become more acceptable to throw back a wine spritzer every night of the week now that my companion is home. My writing and painting time has been interrupted by happy hour after happy hour, pool cocktail after pool cocktail, nightcap after nightcap: time to dry out!

But the problem isn’t truly that social drinking is clouding my connection with myself. The problem is that I’ve been using socializing, drinking, and TV to disconnect. What am I missing? What is it that I’m trying to avoid?

In an effort to use some creative energy to understand why it is that I’m so uncomfortable sitting with my thoughts, I’ve been rereading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. The book is prescriptive and self-helpy, with instructions about how to live creatively, unencumbered by the weight of other people and life situations. It’s a great read for anyone seeking a new way of framing their lives. I was struck by Julia’s insight about ways to cultivate happiness. She writes, “The quality of life is in proportion, always, to the capacity for delight.”

That may seem rather opaque or rather vague, depending on your point of view, but it totally blind-sided me. I had a moment of revelation where I felt the rug of my preconceptions of happiness pulled out from me. I was Wile E. Coyote meeting the unexpected cliff. What does Julia mean by the “capacity for delight”? She goes on to explain that the power of observation, the opportunity and willingness to be enchanted by the small things going on around us, can overwhelm the negative or creativity-squashing circumstances in our lives.

I vocally and steadfastly reject the notion that one can choose to be happy and for it to just be so. As a person who has known mental illness intimately, I know that happiness isn’t always a choice. However, the “capacity for delight” seems more doable, more possible, even in the throes of depression. Can you find one good thing in your field of vision? One good memory about the day? It’s a welcome new practice for me, someone who has been glossing over the small delights in an effort to disconnect from it all. By being more observant, more open to little sparks of joy, I hope to make my way back to my feelings, which aren’t so scary after all.

Some delights for me this morning: the cat is craning her neck to nuzzle my face; the man whose car alarm goes off every time he turns the ignition is leaving early for work today; I woke up on the first, not the third, alarm; the new coffee maker works like a charm. A night without a social engagement and the wine that comes with it has left me feeling my eyes open a little wider, my mind a little fresher.

Not everything will be a delight, of course. There are uncomfortable feelings there too, the ones I so often ignore lately, such as feelings of self-doubt and creative constipation; feelings of anxiety; and feelings of exhaustion. But today, it all feels more doable when I smile about the car alarm instead of glower. Contentment with my surroundings, even small pieces of it, is my gateway drug into the harder stuff. Not heroin, but the fiddly bits of my brain that are making noise.

Luckily for me, my Wile E. Coyote cliff has landed me in a placid pool full of cute ducks and palm trees (do these two things exist together? Whatever, it’s my imagination, I can do whatever I want!) along with the anvils and the puffs of smoke.

Just kids

I recently asked my Facebook friends for help: what are their tips, tricks, and routines for self-care? I need advice – big league. The past month has been a stressful one and I’ve been knocked off my self-care game. This post is the first in a series of self-care tips from my friends.

Russell writes,

The self-care tip I’ve been investing some time into this year and that has really helped me is to kind of delve back into things that made me happy as a child and/or teen. This has taken the form of re-reading books, re-watching old animated TV/movies (which I probably never would’ve let myself because of the nagging voice in my head telling me I’m an adult now), and tapping back into a time when the only thing I had to worry about in a day was what I wanted to do to pass the time. It’s a small shift that’s really helped me a lot.

When I think back to my childhood, I remember really loving to dig holes and really hating to get in trouble. These interests were at odds, since it seems that adults don’t love you ruining their beautiful landscaping with a big old hole. Because of my limited memory of my childhood interests (hole digging – not such a great hobby to bring back into my daily life), I enlisted the help of my mom. Here what she remembers me liking to do:

FullSizeRender (4)

This is a blog mainly about how much I like soup. Thanks for reading!

But seriously, folks: my mom’s iMessage contains my new tenants of Summer ‘17:

  1. Be creative: this means being proactive about painting and (gulp) maybe getting into some Pinterest crafts. The fun part about this is that I have a new home rife with opportunities for me to hot glue somethin’ weird to somethin’ else.
  2. Get my hair wet: The aforementioned new home has a POOL, y’all. My new goal will be to get in that pool at least 3 times a week and to investigate exercises I can do in it (water aerobics here I come!).
  3. Use that table leaf: I love spending hours laughing with friends (I love to laugh – can you relate?), but my love of patio drinking and investigating new bars is getting a little pricey. I’m going to balance my expensive hobby with an inexpensive one: hosting meals at my house. We just acquired a small dining table that transforms into a large dining table. I will try to host friends at least once a week. Nothing like that 105 degree weather to get your soup appetite going!
  4. Read a book: Start with The Artist’s Way – Sue also mentioned how I loved to write. Seriously, Emma, just do it. Turn some pages. Scribble something down.

As for the media I consumed as a kid, I might find myself in Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood or hiring the Baby-Sitters Club. I might also read a Shel Silverstein book or learn more about Georgia O’Keeffe. I might return to my teen years and watch Amelie and Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. One thing is for sure: I’m going to be listening to a whole hell of a lot of Bright Eyes.

Please, please help me on my quest to try out my friends’ self-care regimes. How do you stay sane-ish? What’s the one simple trick that keeps you looking glowy and feeling brand new?

Nesting

It was Saturday morning and I slept in… until 7.30. Then I had business to attend to. Two hours later, I emerged from a haze, still in my PJs, cold coffee on the table next to me, my tongue hanging out like Marnie. I had entered  the depths of my most treasured psychosis: Craigslist’s furniture listings.

I have lived in a great house on the East Side of Austin since May of last year, and it houses all of my belongings (except my Kitchenaid, which lives safely in my parents’ kitchen, in case I ever decide to get domestic). Here’s the exhaustive list of said belongings: a pink vintage couch, a rug, my easel, my 8-year-old Macbook, a stockpot, three wine glasses, Florence the cat, and one plate. That’s it, that’s the list.

Eventually, I knew I’d have to stop living off the hospitality and comparative material wealth of my Austin roommates. That time has come. I’m moving in with my boyfriend next month and here is an exhaustive list of his belongings: A lamp shaped like the Eiffel Tower, a floor lamp, a Chrome messenger bag, and a lot of black clothing. That’s it, that’s the list.

What I’m trying to say is, Sam and I are in need of some stuff. Or, more positively, I am footloose and fancy free to haggle on Craigslist on Saturday morning to my heart’s content. Lately, I’ve been struggling to feel comfortable in my own life, so it makes sense that I have set up shop in fantasies of the future.  It’s less about retail therapy and more about cultivating the excitement of the next phase of my life. Here’s where I’ve been hanging out online.

Apartment Therapy

Oh Apartment Therapy, you cruel mistress. I spend hours looking at your studio tours, envisioning a floor-to-ceiling gallery wall that encompasses our two collections of art and wall-hangables like hats, cork boards, flags, etc. I love to see what people do to pack a punch with 400 square feet, though we will (luckily) be in a bigger 1 bedroom. I find new furniture websites, see a $1400 price tag, cry, and immediately return to Craigslist and limit my search “$0 to $50”. My personal favorite is this Minneapolis studio, with every inch bursting with color.

Amazon wishlists

Window shopping is my main M.O. right now. I know that the orange velvet ottoman I found for $80 on Amazon will be replaced by some chic little $15 number I stumble upon at the fancy Goodwill (not the Lamar one – the other one), but it’s so fun to add all the dream items to a list. If you are feeling generous, my birthday is April 27th.

Craigslist free section

This one’s mostly for the comic relief. Did you know that someone will just GIVE you for FREE, a couch with several thousand holes in it? For zero dollars down and zero dollars monthly? Check it out.

Society6

Sam says I’m not allowed to get a pillow covered in rocks and gems, but Society6 begs to differ. I have spent and will spend several hours a week on this black hole of palm trees, evil eyes, and quirky illustrations. So far, I’ve only purchased a beautiful tapestry for above my mustard-colored quilt – but by God, payday is a-comin’. So is my birthday, have I mentioned? Now accepting Society6 gift cards.

∙ ∙ ∙

As of today, we are in Taurus season. I am an atypical Taurus – I am not taken with lush textures or luxurious spa days. I’m more about bright colors and cheap price tags. But I like to think that my nesting instinct comes from some astrological predisposition towards groundedness and comfiness. For now, I’m happy to channel my anxious energy into window shopping and stockpiling as a means of cultivating a rich fantasy life – but holy hell, that 1 bedroom in North Loop better watch out. A hurricane is set to swing through May 31st.

Face the Music

During SXSW, I’m always amazed how far $0 can take you. Through front gates and dark doorways; past overflowing swag tables with lighters, bandanas, and sunscreens; in front of tons of bands I love and bands that I will soon love; and sometimes, oh sometimes, $0 leads you to that enigmatic free signature cocktail.

But this year, I became acutely aware of the insidious costs of SXSW. I saw over two dozen bands, spent time with new friends and old, and enjoyed the beautiful weather – but I gave up all of the good stuff that this blog was based upon. I didn’t watch what I ate or drank. I didn’t get enough sleep. I didn’t exercise, unless you count lightly dancing to that Lizzo set or biking back and forth from Hotel Vegas when I forgot my phone. I certainly didn’t take responsibility for the big things in my life or take care of my skin. I was not a glowing, dewy Emma, but I was a windswept, carefree Emma.

Now comes the hard part: saying goodbye. By Saturday of the nearly two-week blitz of bands and beer, I was exhausted. Instead of walking back to a party after a few hours rest, I stayed in, waving a weak farewell to an intense festival. I was ready to get some sleep and face the music. Here’s my SXSW detox regimen:

1. Say no.

Do I want to go to that SXSW hangover party? Yes, I sure do. I am having withdrawal from constant social contact, but I know what I really need is to recharge. This means a few nights in with Florence the cat.

2. Keep a 9 pm bedtime.

I’m a big believer in this one, which sounds insane to most people. There’s something really satisfying about jolting awake at what feels like 5 am and realizing it’s midnight – I have hours and hours of glorious sleep left.

3. Take long walks.

Back on that Fitbit grind, I took 12,000 steps yesterday, around the Capitol, my neighborhood, that coffee house, even just my job. It’s not exactly intense cardio, but it’s keeping me moving until I feel ready to run again.

4. Lower alcohol intake.

This one is fairly easy since the intake was so great last week. It’s time to forego the signature cocktails and the $2 Lone Stars for a single glass of wine with dinner – or better yet, a big bottle of Topo Chico.

5. Organize my life.

The first big thing I did on Sunday, after the dust settled, was go through my accordion file of important documents. It turns out about half of that stuff isn’t important at all. Organizing my stuff helped me organize my head and have a better sense of the things to come.

Two things I struggle with on the journey to better self-care are finding balance and fighting guilt when I neglect some of my good habits. A week of feeding this other side of myself, the social and musical desires that drive big parts of my personality, is helping me battle these beasts of burden. As I guzzle that free Bumble™ bottle full of water, remove that glow stick bracelet, and get ready for a sleep bonanza, I remind myself that loosening up and having fun is also part of the plan to take care of myself. So long for another year, South By. Thanks for the Memories.

Rise and grind

“I get up when I want, except on Wednesdays/When I get rudely awakened by the dustmen,” Damon Albarn says on the Blur song “Parklife” – and in my teen years, this seemed like the dream. Get up when I want (11 am), except sometimes, when life intervenes. When I grew up, I realized that it’s the other way around: Every morning, life intervenes in the form of a wakeful cat or a beeping alarm or an early work deadline. I wake up when I want, but only on Saturdays, and it’s usually more like 6.30, not 11.

Lately, I’ve started to lean into this. I wake up before my alarm, usually around 5.20, and I drink my coffee in relative peace (while Florence the cat shoves her feeder against the wall to get fresher food). I’ve instituted a rule: I have to do One Good Thing for myself before I go to work at 8 am. By 6 am, I’m writing or gearing up for a run or walk. Sometimes I update my budget or work on my website. The point is, when I get to work, I’m ready to do stuff for someone else because I’ve already taken care of myself. Turning my brain on is always the first step.

I’m not the only one who believes in the power of mornings. In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron writes about the concept of Morning Pages: “In order to retrieve your creativity, you need to find it . . .. Put simply, the morning pages are three pages of longhand writing, strictly stream of consciousness.” Some of my closest friends swear by this practice. They have journals upon journals of things like, “I wish I were asleep, but since I’m not, I guess I’ll write in this dumb notebook. Blah blah blah what a beautiful sunrise,” or something more creative and profound probably. I myself have never committed to Morning Pages, because they always ended up looking like that previous quotation, but I find my system of One Good Thing retrieves my creativity for the day.

If longhand writing isn’t for you, there are other ways to get moving in the morning. The usual suspects: exercise, reading, doodling, or catching up on emails from friends. I know a couple that, every morning, would read off a list of personal questions (What would you do if you found a million dollars today? Where would your perfect vacation spot be?) to help differentiating themselves from each other and to explore their own sense of self. Using questions like these as writing prompts or food for thought could be helpful.

For people who can’t get the creative or imaginative juices flowing in the morning, don’t despair. Mark Twain saw mornings as a time to rise and shine and get something hard out of the way. “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning: If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first,” he advises. Sometimes self-care is paying a nagging bill before it bugs you all day. Sometimes it means putting your dishes in the dishwasher so you don’t come home to a full sink (or so I hear – this is not my practice. I love to be greeted by a full sink, personally! Hello, little buddy). Sometimes it means clearing out your inbox. Sometimes it means putting on your bib and eating a slimy, juicy frog.

I find that I am more awake, more positive, and more productive because of my One Good Thing rule. Today’s good thing? Writing this post and working on my website. The dishes will have to wait.