When the pandemic first started, I was on a roll. Like a lot of people, I decided to use my increased time inside “productively”. I didn’t want to waste this new opportunity indoors (or, for those of you who have introverted tendencies like me, an acceptable excuse) watching Netflix or creating Tiktok videos. Beyond giving myself permission to read more, I was going to go on a knowledge quest, turning a negative situation into a positive; meanwhile my husband anxiously went around our apartment reorganzing closets and furniture, bristling at being contained in our 1,000 sq ft space. To each their own. One thing was certain, the “productivity” trap was definitely set and tripped in our house.
I set writing schedules for myself, time-blocks of when I would take extracurricular online courses, study French & German, and start a sour dough starter followed up by weekly baking once it was ready. For several weeks, everything seemed to be going well. I was logging into Rosetta Stone and Duolingo regularly and I was tuning in, notebook at the ready, to Masterclass sessions and The Great Courses plus. I really seemed to have a flow, so learning to code with Swift Playgrounds made sense too. On and on it went, until my free time was stacked with self imposed obligations. I’m sure you see where this is going, dear reader, and yes you guessed it, the inevitable happened; I got burned out. Instead of focusing on self-care and my mental health (i.e. giving myself leisure time, exercise, breaks from the news, meditation, WRITING, etc) I overloaded myself to fulfill this idea we seem to have in our society of always needing to be “productive”. Why do we do this to ourselves? To distract from stressors? Or is it a societal idea enmeshed with capitalism?
Either way the true casuality was the one thing that could have benefited the most from this infusion of time: my writing. While I did complete several days of successful story creation, it was the first thing that I allowed to be pushed to the side resulting in several months of intermittent fits and starts followed by an outright hiatus. Obviously all the other things I named above were outright nonexistent too, but their significance was nominal in comparison to my art. I had effectively stressed myself to the point of paralysis… so much for being productive.
As Summer set in, our family burst out from our home in downtown Chicago and began a series of road trips in an RV (all responsibly distanced), seeking out a place of peace and solitude while we re-evaluated everything going on in our lives. Was a city still the place for us? What are our passions? What was it that I always dreamed of doing when I was my daughter’s age? How did I lose sight of that? This spiritual journey through the mountains, snow, and forests, culminated in a solitary hike to the top of a butte overlooking the Grand Tetons with a notebook. I sat down on a rock against a tree, released my breath, and just listened. There was silence. Ambiant sound began to filter through, bringing in the whisper of the wind through the leaves and the creaking of the trees. I was writing. Nature was flowing into me and being released through my pen. I had grounded my mind and spirit and given myself permission to be at peace with my thoughts. The tumult of distraction and stress was nowhere in sight. I had found inspiration and caught it before it could blow away, for it is always a fleeting thing. Finally, I felt whole again.
My experience battling the forces of stress, compounded by the concept of “productivity”, is just another documented encounter with what Steven Pressfield has dubbed “resistance” (if you haven’t read his book The War of Art, you should check it out). My own insecurities and lack of confidence when it comes to my own internal permission structure, i.e. “resistance”, led me to overwhelm myself with distractions to procrastinate executing my true passion and interest. What an enemy self-doubt can be, especially when I had two-to-three times the amount of time that I normally would to confront it. It took an utter breakdown in the system, of a sort, for me to center my mind and fight back my own worst enemy.
So if you happen to follow me on instagram (@christopher_gabriel_writes), those posts about a story called “Lazarus” a few months ago, will finally have a purpose, because I’ve pushed back “resistance” and I’m working on wrapping that up, as well as finally beginning the rewrite of my novel manuscript. I gave myself permission to follow my dreams and to believe in myself, defining what “productivity” means to me. Remember to always do the same for yourself and do what YOU feel is needed, whether that is taking a nap, watching Netflix, baking, painting, writing, or even organizing those closets, as long as it isn’t “resistance” masquerading as something you need to do, preventing you from creating. Pull a Gandalf and exclaim, “You shall not pass!” vanquishing that fear.
You can do it!