I hope everyone has had a lovely Sunday and got to do something they really enjoyed. I certainly did, and I want to share it with you today!
One of the things that is really important to my mental health is spending a certain amount of time outdoors each week. These past few years, I’ve been very slack about doing this–I used to be an avid hiker and I used to ride competitively. The barn where I kept my horse was dog-friendly, so after I rode, I would take H for a run in the woods. In terms of efficient use of time, it was pretty good. 🙂 Then we moved to a different stable with a no-dogs rule and I was forced to separate out my dog walking time vs my horse riding time. Work got crazy and I found myself in a different location every 48 hours. My mare went lame to the point that I decided to retire her from competition, and I had a hard time finding a good place to walk H–most of the places we go require dogs to be on leash the entire time, and let me tell you, it is hard to *walk* a big, active dog sufficiently to exercise him–H needs to run every day until his brains come out his nose just so you can live with him. More and more, I found I could not do everything: if I got the dog out, I ran out of time to ride. If I rode, I didn’t get the dog out. And if I wanted to write, I had to chose what to give up that day.
One of the things I discovered when I was determined to make up for a week’s worth of not writing by spending my entire day off at the keyboard was that I couldn’t concentrate. I needed that physical activity as much as the dog in order to settle to my work. My friends who are into yoga talk about ‘being connected’ and ‘grounded’, and I have always had a hard time with these concepts because my mind is forever stewing about the past and worrying about the future. I have a very stressful job, and I find it hard to let go at the end of the day. There are still times I wake up in the middle of the night, recalling cases I mishandled more than twenty years ago and not able to forgive myself for being young and inexperienced. Lately, the stress has gotten to a point where I am not managing it very well anymore. Writing used to be one of my main stress relievers, but not so much these days. What has changed?
I’m at a crossroads in my life right now. I am reaching a point of burnout with work, which just so happens to correspond with a severe cut-back in hours. I’m surprisingly calm about this at the moment because I recognize that I could no longer maintain the pace I’d been working for the last three years. My health (both physical and mental) has deteriorated. My creativity is practically zilch. I find myself wanting that creativity back again more than anything else. So perhaps having less money but more time isn’t such a bad thing.
If you’d asked me three months ago what I would choose: a Sunday writing at home or a Sunday galloping across open fields, I probably would have chosen writing. Why? Because my writing time has been so short-changed for so long that I couldn’t imagine giving up a whole day to do something else. But my writing has been stilted and mechanical for so long that even when I get the time time write, I often end up wasting the entire day piddling around on various social media sites, only to wind up with a grand total of 300 words and a serious case of depression.
One of the lovely things about working with animals is that they keep you very much in the present while still offering wonderful opportunities for operating in that level of consciousness most conducive to brainstorming creative ideas. A walk in the woods with the dog, or a half hour cleaning stalls or grooming a horse frees my mind to explore all kinds of wondrous ideas, and many a time I’ve had a ‘eureka!’ moment while out at the barn. I’d come home ready to write because I worked out something that I’d been stuck on while performing a mindless physical task. Talk about your Zen moments!
There are other times, like today, in which you must be in the present in order to function safely. “The future” is the jump that you are approaching. The past is non-existent. There is only the now of the sound of hoofbeats on the turf, the feel of the wind whipping past your face, and the 1700 pounds of muscle and blood beneath your legs. Losing focus at this juncture might get you a run-out at a scary fence or worse. This is a ‘connection’ I can understand–making myself one with the horse as we navigate the terrain and the jumps. Not paying attention could get you dumped when a group of deer suddenly appear in the woods alongside you, or cause your horse to stop abruptly because she feels the disconnect and is not sure if she should jump the obstacle or not.
A day like this is spent in moments of the here and now. The tension of crossing a running stream with a young horse in the group, who is uncertain about the process. The patience needed to work through an exercise until both horse and rider understand it. The fall leaves blanketing the mountainsides. The red-tailed hawk soaring overhead. The exhilarating, heart-pounding thrill that comes from galloping uphill to a fence and knowing your horse is going to take it joyfully because your joy is hers.
I’ve come to the conclusion that sometimes you need to step away from the keyboard and live life before you sit down and try to write about it. Even if it means cutting into your precious writing time. A day spent staring at a blinking cursor isn’t productive. I’ve also finally accepted that I can’t do it all every day. Some days I’m going to get the dog out. Sometimes I’ll make it to the barn. Some days I’ll choose writing over both. There will be nights when I choose to watch a movie with the BF instead of write. On a good day, I’ll do one of the other things I love AND write. I cannot live by writing alone. I cannot live without writing either.
I’m hoping my creative mojo will come back now that I am no longer working 60+ hours a week. It had better; I’m sort of banking on it. 🙂