My morning routine: A peek into the first hour of my day

writing.jpgThe New York Times recently published an article by author Benjamin Spall about the morning routines of successful people, which serves as a tease to his newest book, My Morning Routine: How Successful People Start Every Day Inspired. “Your morning routine helps to ground you, and using it thoughtfully will help to set the tone for the rest of your day,” he wrote.

I agree with Spall. I love having a morning routine! It’s the one thing that sets the tone for my day. It’s the time when I can move slow, spend time in absolute quiet, and focus on where I am now and where I want to go in my life, writing career, faith, and so on.

I touch on this a little in my book, Reclaim Your Creative Soul, stressing the importance about creating a routine that dedicates time toward your craft. At the time that I wrote that, my morning routine included two hours of writing time before I started getting ready for work. Nowadays, I don’t have as much time in the morning for that much writing, and now save it for short evening and long weekend writing sessions. But my morning routine is still a must, and I can’t imagine going through my day without it.

Here’s what it looks like:

No. 62 (Black/Blue/Violet/Blue) 1967 by Bob Law 1934-2004
Picture of me running at 5 a.m. in the dark.

I wake up somewhere between 5 and 5:30 a.m. I refuse to wake up by an alarm clock (unless I absolutely need to wake up earlier), and I’m lucky that my body likes waking up at this time. My coffee is on a timer to start brewing at this time. While it’s brewing, I go for a morning run. If I do this first thing in the morning, I won’t have time to come up with excuses to NOT run—and believe me, I have them. Before I run, I hate running. I don’t want to go. I have to basically put my shoes on and go outside without even thinking about it or I’m just going to talk myself out of it. I remember this one day I got all the way to my front yard and looked up at the starry sky, mesmerized by how bright the stars were and how dark everything else was. It was just enough time to decide I was not going to run, and so I didn’t. Yeah…better to just lace up and start running before my brain starts working. Besides, I LOVE running after I’m done. I’m totally terrible at it, and still only run slowly and short distances, but every time I run I feel strong and know I’m improving.

coffee1By the time I make it back to the house, the coffee is done brewing and I have 30 minutes to 1 hour before I need to start getting ready for work. I drink a glass of water, and then grab my coffee. I diffuse essential oils (my favorite blend is Northern Lights Black Spruce, Lime, and Cedarwood for a tropical rain in the woods scent) and sit in my cozy chaise lounge chair between my desk and bookcase. Here, I start with my morning devotionals, and maybe a chapter in whatever inspirational book I’m reading. I tend to save my spiritual and inspirational books for the morning, and my recreational, fiction books for during the day and in the evening. Yup, that’s right—I’m a polybibliophile.

If something grabs my attention or requires further thought, and if there’s enough time, I’ll meditate/pray and journal. I journal most days, but not every day. If I don’t have time but there’s something I need to address, I’ll jot a few notes in my journal, and then finish that thought on my lunch break. Or I decide my morning routine takes precedence over getting ready for work, which means I take up the half hour I’d normally take to make food for the day. So far, I’ve only been a few minutes late for work, so I’m good.

And that’s it! Basically, before I’m required to be all things for everyone else, I’m all things for ME through exercise, spirituality, and inner reflection.

Do you have a morning routine? If you don’t, I encourage you to start one. Instead of getting up at the absolute last minute and heading straight into your day, try waking up earlier and enjoy quiet time before you have to be busy. Even just fifteen minutes could change your whole outlook. Try it, and then tell me if you notice the difference!

If you DO have a morning routine, tell me about it in the comments!

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Numbered ~ a novel ~ coming soon!

If you follow me on social media (and you should: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter), you are already aware that my novel writing hiatus has ended and I’m working on my next book. I realized today that I haven’t actually written that here, which is just awful! So here you go: I’M WRITING ANOTHER BOOK!

I’m really excited about this one, too. Of course, I’m excited about every book I write, but this one just seems to be coming together so wonderfully. Even though I sometimes take a week or so off of writing (which is a terrible thing to do when you’re writing a novel), it all flows through me as soon as I sit behind the computer again.

Here’s a bit about the story (warning, some of these details could change):

Numbered

Numbered_Quote1The year is 2050, and technology has advanced so that people know the exact date of their death and how they’re going to die. In their final 100 days, people give up their jobs, their homes, and everything in their life, say goodbye to their families, and then enter a facility where everything is taken care of for them. They spend the last three months of their life in complete comfort with no worries at all.

Noelle Warren is a 32-year-old woman with 100 days left. She’s spent most of her life as a loner, unwilling to form attachments because of her short life span. She meets Ryder, who arrives on the same day, a 30-something man who is easy to look at…and that’s the only thing easy about him. He won’t talk or even acknowledge anyone’s presence, closing himself off even more than Noelle did in her old life. Being that everyone else on their facility floor is elderly and in different stages of dementia, Noelle’s convinced it’s going to be a long, lonely 100 days. But when Ryder finally does talk, his secret uncovers hidden truths in Noelle’s past – things she never wanted to believe, but now has no choice.

Numbered will publish in 2019. In the meantime, stay tuned for more updates!

Dethroning the 6th grade queen of the playground

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There are two stories that stand out for me in my childhood memories.

In the first, I’m in 6th grade, standing off to the side while the new girl, surrounded by the most popular girls in my class, decided who was cool enough to hang out with her, and who wasn’t. We all played the game, though secretly I thought it was stupid. Who did she think she was? She’d only been there a week and had managed to leap to the top of our school’s social standings. So far, everyone had made the cut. It was no surprise that the prettier, more popular girls were waved on through. But when I saw some of the girls like me get the nod of approval, I stopped seeing this as a stupid game. Instead, I realized I better join in or I’d be left behind.

So, I stood in line, watching as each person faced the new girl and her two new best friends sitting on the bench of judgement. The rules were this: the applicant would ask the new girl if she could hang out with them. Then the new girl and her friends would tell that girl to wait a ways away so they could confer. They would whisper with each other, and then, when they’d decided, would call the girl back to let her know if she was worthy or not.

I reached the front of the line, and asked the obligatory question, “Can I hang out with you?” I’d just seen my two closest friends waved through, so my chances felt pretty good. But following their whispering session, the outcome was not what I expected…and everything I expected—I was not cool enough to be their friend. My friends swore their allegiance to me, telling me this girl was stupid and they weren’t going to hang out with her anymore, but the damage was done. Everyone but me, the slightly chubby girl in the handmade dress and pink Keds, was cool enough to hang out with the queen of the playground.

The second memory is years later, in high school. My social ranking stayed pretty much in the middle. I wasn’t on the bottom rung, but I had a pretty far climb to reach the top. I was hovering at average, completely self-conscious, wishing I could stand out but afraid to, just the same. My core group of friends seemed content as a band of misfits, the ones who smoked at the outskirts of campus, were on a first name basis with the school’s truancy officer, wore punk clothing, and were actively against the status quo. I was by no means a trend setter or activist, but I did like to belong. This group accepted anyone, especially those who didn’t fit the mold of the popular crowd. I was warmly welcomed. However, I stayed at the outskirts, always keeping an eye on the popular crowd—the pretty, the wealthy, the ones with cute bodies and tan legs outfitted in the latest fashions. I hid my pale skin and body shape under baggy jeans and flannel shirts, trying to disappear while still longing to be noticed. In the band of misfits, I could relax and just be me. Even still, I wished I could shine bright enough to join the happy, beautiful people that reigned in the center of the quad.

It was at a football game that I ran into an old childhood friend. As kids, we’d played together, the lines of social standings completely non-existent. But now, she was tall and beautiful, came from money, and held a solid place in the popular crowd—completely opposite of me. However, the lines between us evaporated once again, and we were friends in the moment. I was funny and brilliant, she laughed at everything I said, and then…she invited me to stay at her house that night. I suddenly had a taste of the other side, and it was glorious. We listened to music, watched a movie, slept in her princess room, and made fancy crepes for breakfast. That weekend, my whole identity changed from being the rejected 6th grade girl to a teenager that had friends in the popular crowd.

That Monday morning, I crossed the threshold that separated the misfits from the elite, and headed for my friend. She greeted me warmly, and I basked in the warmth of her shadow as I stood nearby, silent while everyone else seemed to have someone to talk with. Deep down, I knew I didn’t belong, but I pushed that feeling aside. I was here with all my new friends. And then, just as quickly, I was cast aside.

“What is she doing here?” one of the girls said, looking straight at me. The words were a magnet to the feelings of inadequacy I’d been trying to hide. Now they covered me, exposed me, left me naked and raw in front of everyone I looked up to. I had no words to defend myself. Neither did my friend, who gave me an apologetic shrug. The line was drawn. I didn’t belong. I slunk back to the misfits, and never tried to leave my caste again.

And yet here I am at 40, still playing the comparison game.

This morning, I marinated in these feelings of jealousy and personal lack. It was pretty intense. My favorite author re-released one of her series with beautiful new covers, and suddenly, all my books seemed plain and outdated, in desperate need of a makeover. Then, I began following a new friend on Instagram, and saw that all of his photos had at least 100 likes. Mine get about 25 on average. To cap it all off, I spent the weekend surrounded by a bunch of 19- and 20-year-olds in an astronomy class. Every single one of them was adorable. We all had a wonderful time. And yet, I couldn’t shake feeling like a waddling grandmother in comparison.

I started going over all the things I needed to do to up my game. I could take out a loan to pay a cover designer. I could be much more strategic about my Instagram, taking much better photos and committing to a specific filter, and maybe even coordinating which photos to take and when to post them so that I have some sort of scheme to my page. I could starve myself to get thin again, care more about polishing my appearance, be the cool, glamorous 40-year-old everyone wants to be instead of the plain, average girl I’ve been all my life.

The overwhelming feeling was that I’m not measuring up. My 6th grade fears came back to haunt me. Everyone is excelling and I’m the girl no one wants to play with. Everyone knows the rules, but I was reading in a corner when they were explained. Now I’m lost while everyone else is having a great time, effortlessly living their best life while I’m still trying to find my way.

Comparison is a bitch, and it will paralyze you in your tracks.

So, what’s the cure? First, it’s to get off social media. But then, it’s to be still. What is it you’re really feeling right now? Not the jealousy, but the feeling underneath? What are you stuffing? What are you avoiding?

What am I stuffing and avoiding?

I feel like the things I truly want are always going to be just out of reach. I know what I need to do—perfect my writing, pay for quality covers, get better at marketing myself and my books, stick to a healthy eating plan, get stricter with my spending habits—but I can’t seem to do it. I’m afraid to fully invest because I might give it my all and still fail, and then have nothing left. I’m sure that all the things I want—being attractive and in good shape, being successful as a writer, living a life free of money worries—they’re all for other people…better people. I want what other people have because I’m average, stuck on one plateau and unable to move to the next. There’s no ladder to climb in this caste system, and I have to scale the wall unaided while everyone watches, probably while they’re laughing. And if I make it, that one popular girl will be there, asking everyone “What’s she doing here?” There will be no one there to back me up, and I’ll retreat back down the wall to my comfortable plateau.

But…what if I change the narrative?

What if I looked that girl in the face and asked her the same question…because she probably asked herself that question every day. What am I doing here? What mistake will bar me from this place of privilege? What do I need to hide of my true self to remain here? What would everyone think if they knew my secrets, my true identity, my fears, my flaws?

Then, what if I asked myself the same things? What am I being inauthentic about in my effort to be loved? Accepted? Appear popular?

How’s that working out for me?

What actually IS working for me?

A friend message me yesterday about reading that North Bay Woman magazine article I was recently featured in, the one about going gray, and how it helped her come to the decision to finally take the silver plunge.

“See, you’re an inspiration, and didn’t even say anything,” she wrote.

I can’t even begin to tell you how much that means to me. I’m constantly in a battle between the real me and the one I believe everyone wants me to be. So far, I’ve never reached the latter. And all too often, I try to hide the former. But it’s the real me that wins every time I let her shine. I don’t know why that’s so hard to grasp.

I’m still going to strive for success, but I need to get clear on what that looks like. Maybe I’ve reached it and haven’t even noticed. Maybe all the doubts I have are blocking my view of the things I’m doing right.

Maybe I’m my own worst enemy—I’m the 6th grade queen of the playground or the high school caste enforcer, and no one is holding me back but ME.

Maybe I’m just like everyone else, finding the perfect filter to hide the flaws I want no one to see, only to hide the flaws that would inspire someone who desperately NEEDS to see them.

Maybe I’m full of flaws, but also some pretty damn awesome accomplishments.

Maybe I’m just me, and that’s not a bad thing.

CrissiLangwell_Jasper

P.S. The central theme of my book, Forever Thirteen, is based on bullying among middle school students. Find it here.

Just a place

I’m on my lunch break right now, taking a class where the teacher is really into breaks. “Shall we take a break?” he asks every 30 minutes, which sounds awesome, except I’d rather get out early than take frequent breaks. Our dinner break is an actual 1 hour and 40 minutes (it’s an 8-hour class), and so I left campus and am now parked across the street from the courthouse so I can eat my dinner and read in the shade until it’s time to return.

This is an interesting place to pause. There was a time when the courthouse gave me panic attacks. I spent months in and out of this building, working out details to a messy divorce that included custody, child support, and eventually a restraining order. I was lucky to be dating a law student after some time, as he set me up with a pro bono lawyer when things took a turn for the worse. It was likely the only reason he crossed my path, as we were incompatible as human beings. But in this, I owe much to that connection.

Still, the courthouse was a place filled with scary memories, one I stuffed way down deep. I hadn’t realized how much this place bothered me until a few weeks ago when faced with jury duty. I got the call-in option every day, and I almost forgot to check for Friday. Last minute, I realized I’d been summoned.

The drive there, my stomach did numerous turns. It never occurred to me why I was so nervous until I was almost there.

Oh. Oh yeah. That’s why your nervous.

The memories flooded back as I walked the steps to the courtyard, recalling moments of unrest and fear I wouldn’t be heard. Before I had a lawyer, I was ignored. Nothing I said mattered. The threats. The fear. The phone messages. The bruises. It all fell on deaf ears. But with a lawyer, I was no longer invisible. I didn’t even have to speak, which was good because I was too afraid to say much of anything. The case closed with two years distance granted between us, allowing me the time I needed to heal and give our kids a solid foundation.

I wasn’t alone as I waited to find out if I’d serve on jury duty. One of my coworkers was also called to be there, and we both waited around a few hours together. I kept a book handy, and took turns reading and sharing conversation, along with occasional glimpses at a woman quilting on the TV. The longer we waited, the more this menacing courtroom became just a room with chairs. Nothing to be scared of, unless boring PBS shows freak you out.

We were eventually dismissed for the day, told to return Monday. When that day arrived, the two of us waited in line for security to check us through. They confiscated my dangerous water bottle, and we were sent upstairs. I was just around the corner from the courtroom I sat in more than a decade earlier. But this time, my fears stayed away. We filed into a different courtroom to await our personal verdicts on whether we’d be part of the jury or not. The judge went through his speech, fifteen minutes to be exact, and then he dismissed us. All that for nothing, my coworker grumbled.

But it wasn’t nothing for me.

In those two partial days, I received a new memory of the courthouse. The bad taste I’d last experienced was washed down by two very ordinary days. It took away the scariness and made this place a building. It became so ordinary that on my hour and forty minute lunch, I’ve chosen to spend my time here, finding solace in the shade of a tree while facing this place. It’s just a place, just a building, and I happened to experience both scary and ordinary moments here.

And that is all. I just had to share.

Cheat sheet to Crissi Langwell’s books

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Every now and then, I like to send out a reminder about the different books I’ve written over the years. I’m currently writing my next book (more on that later!), but for now, here are some of the books you may have missed. Click on the links to purchase.

 

BOOKS BY CRISSI LANGWELL

 

Contemporary Fiction:

hope trio_edited-1

The Road to Hope (Hope Series, Book 1)
A chance encounter between two mothers changes the course of their lives in a story that addresses issues of child loss, homelessness, teen pregnancy, and more. This series has mature content.

Hope at the Crossroads (Hope Series, Book 2)
Teen mother Maddie is ready to turn her life around. But when her past intersects with her present life, she has some hard decisions to make…and her choice will change everything.

Hope for the Broken Girl (Hope Series, Book 3)
He promised to take care of her. He promised to be a good father to Hope. He promised she’d have everything she ever wanted. He lied. Maddie’s story concludes with the third book of the Hope series.

(Buy the entire Hope series by clicking here)

Symphony Forever

A Symphony of Cicadas (Forever After, Book 1)
Rachel and her son died in a tragic car accident, weeks before she was to be married. Now she’s in a tug-of-war between life and death, trying to hold on to the man she loves and the life she left behind. (Note: Mature content)

Forever Thirteen (Forever After, Book 2)
13-year-old Joey is stuck in the afterlife, wedged forever at the awkward place between childhood and teenager. But when his best friend’s grief turns dangerous, Joey realizes he has a purpose worth dying for.

Cupcake Release Tease

Come Here, Cupcake (Dessert for Dinner, Book 1)
Morgan Truly discovers she has a knack for baking. What she doesn’t know is that her talent with sweets comes with a sprinkle of magic.

Young Adult:

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Loving the Wind
Take a trip to Neverland with the island’s princess, Tiger Lily, as she fights to be seen as the warrior she was born to be.

Non-Fiction:

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Reclaim Your Creative Soul
The secrets to making room for your craft, even if you live a full-time life.

More coming soon. Stay tuned!

Finally, I can breathe

Things are different in my reality right now. Slower. Calmer. Happier.

Make that immensely happier.

You may have noticed I was going through a terrible time a few months back. Then you may have noticed how quiet I’ve been since. That’s because this year of confidence has included a lot of change with it:

1. I started caring for my mother-in-law full-time in January.

2. I went on family leave from my job.

3. I questioned every single thing in my life, including my writing career.

4. I quit a few things that were once very important to me.

5. I went back to work with a new attitude, and felt lighter after my time away.

6. My mother-in-law moved into a new apartment, and life went back to normal.

7. I quit my job.

breaking freeWait, what? Yep, you read that right. I QUIT MY NEWSPAPER JOB! For those of you following along, you know this is huge. I’ve been wanting to leave for years. When I published my first book 6 years ago, I was certain I was only steps away from leaving my full-time job and writing for a living. It didn’t happen with that first book, but I figured maybe it would with the second. Then the third. Then the fifth, the seventh, the ninth… When I published my tenth book, my hope was lost and I stopped seeing the point.

Here’s the thing. I was putting so much weight on my success as a writer that I stopped feeling joy in it. I was miserable at my job and I was desperate for my writing career to save me. But it just wasn’t happening. I stopped enjoying writing, which was kind of like not enjoying breathing. Writing is everything to me. I love the shape of words, how they sound to the ears and feel in the mouth. I love the way they look on paper, the swirl of cursive or the nobleness of typed fonts. I love the way you can string words together in ways that evoke powerful emotions or breathless moments. I love reading these strings of words, and I love creating them. So when I stopped seeing the point in writing, I stopped seeing the point in life. Couple that despair with the immense weight of stress from my job, and I was absolutely miserable.

And then there was that mental breakdown thing. All that angst I was feeling served as a monumental block against all my creativity. This was not only devastating, but a blow to my ego because I’d stepped away from everything I preach about when it comes to staying creative, including the tips I’d laid out in Reclaim Your Creative Soul.

In other words, I was human.

I didn’t know it at the time, but my mental breakdown was just me reaching my breaking point when things were about to change. EVERYTHING was about to change, and it all started when I took time off work to care for my mother-in-law. Not only did it help my mother-in-law and me to develop a much closer relationship, but it also gave me the space I needed to BREATHE, to put things in perspective, to figure out what I wanted in life, and what I didn’t want. I began letting go of things that were no longer feeding me. I slowed down. I prayed more, and sat in silence more. I felt the grip of fear release its hold on me, and began experiencing moments when I knew what I wanted out of life, and it wasn’t at my job.

This wasn’t a new revelation, but for the first time, I experienced what it was like to not have to know everything that was going on in the world, keep my eyes open for trending stories, think up new ways to grab people’s attention, be on at all times… I experienced what it was like to move at a regular pace and do one thing at a time, and I liked it. And I realized that I could no longer move at the pace I was going at my job. I also realized that it wasn’t my job, but me. All this time I had been hating this job and feeling like it was the job’s fault for being terrible. But really, it was that I wasn’t meant for this job. It just stopped being the right fit, and I’d tried to make it work for far too long.

Taking 7 weeks off work helped me to not only see my current job a lot clearer, but it also helped me figure out what I would enjoy instead. During my time away, I found that job and applied. After I’d been back at work a month, that other job contacted me. I gave my two weeks’ notice a few days later. I’m now the marketing coordinator at a local real estate company, where I’ve been working for a month. I’m also the happiest I’ve been in a long time. I love the work I do, and feel like I finally get to utilize the skills I have…many of which I actually gained at the newspaper.

Even more important, I feel the sunshine when I go outside, hear the birds, smell the roses, feel the ball of happiness expanding in my chest. I feel joy. I feel light. And…I feel like I can write again, which means I can finally breathe.

And it feels really, really good.

The day I met Anne Lamott…and choked

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Seven years ago, I waited in line to meet her, Annie Lamott, the author whose books I had devoured in a frantic kind of way, as if reading everything she’d written would somehow make me a better writer. I’d discovered her years before by accident when a friend told me that my confessional way of writing reminded them of her. I wanted to see what that meant, so I picked up her book, Traveling Mercies. Instantly, I was drawn into her world, at her coffee table, beside her and God and her son Sam as we compared imperfections, the wonderful sucky miraculous life of single motherhood, and how our own mothers drove us crazy and probably gave us our imperfections. I was hooked. I went on to read every other book she wrote, then followed her on social media where I gleefully witnessed her tell it like it was with no apology. I wished I could be that brave, to write out exactly what I was thinking without ever worrying about what my church thought, my coworkers thought, my mother thought. I lived vicariously through her, thinking that maybe I should have a stronger opinion on political figures and refer to God as a woman, just like she did. I wished my flattened hair was kinky enough to do something as bold as the dreads she wore, and wondered if I’d be as cool as she was when I reached my 60s.

I’d just finished hearing her tell a crowd of us “everything she knew about writing,” which only took an hour to tell. It was enough to further inspire my writing dreams. I had several unfinished novels collecting dust under my bed, and aspirations to one day be published. I wanted to ask how she gathered the courage to share unflattering stories about her family. It was one thing to share about one’s own mistakes and disparaging attributes, but to reveal the flaws of others was a thorny situation. Did they forgive her for outing them because she was the Anne Lamott? Did the pleasure of seeing their stories in print supersede their shameful shortcomings made public? Or did Annie simply step around their wagging fingers and high-pitched complaints, holding her head high on her way to writing a new bestselling, must-read novel?

“Are you nervous?” my husband asked, lacing his fingers through mine as I craned my neck toward the front of the line. I’d studied her outfit, the casual way she wore a scarf draped around her neck, the moon and star necklace I’d seen her wear on several different interviews, and how even her casual appearance seemed elegant in a way. In her writing and on stage, she’d mentioned her struggle with weight, but I saw no sign of it. Her pants were loose on her slim figure, her clothing like something out of an L.L. Bean catalog where men and women danced on beaches in colorful fashions as breezy as the wind.

“No,” I answered him, even though it was a lie. I was more aware of my stomach the closer we got, the words I wanted to say to her swimming around my head like a school of herring in an underwater tornado. My questions were starting to fade into statements, ones that told her how much she meant to me, how she inspired me, how her words made me want to be a better writer. Judging by the way the line kept inching forward, I only had a minute or two to convey my appreciation. Would it be enough? I grasped my copy of Traveling Mercies in my hand, trying to bend the curling cover so that it lay flat once again, and thinking of the other books I’d left behind. Was this really the one I wanted her to sign? It was the first book I’d read of hers, but there were others she’d written that touched me in different ways. Bird by Bird, in particular. Why hadn’t I brought that one?

One person stood between Anne Lamott and me, and my tongue was suddenly as dry as the Sahara Desert. Everything I thought I’d say to her disappeared. All my visions of her asking me out to coffee, maybe even her house, so we could discuss our shared profession of writing and my future success as an author…it all evaporated as the person in front of me ended their turn and she turned to me.

“Uh,” I started, which is always a good place to start when talking to your idol. “Uh hi.” What was wrong with me? I thought I should at least mention the book I was working on, the one that would make me famous. But then I realized she might not care, or worse, she’d ask me what it was about. “Um, my name is Crissi.”

“Nice to meet you, Crissi,” she said, her kind eyes meeting mine. This surprised me. She looked at me as if I were the only person there, giving me her full attention like I was someone important.

“Uh, nice to meet you,” I said. “I wanted to tell you, uh…” What did I want to tell her? How could I put it in words, how she’d voiced every single feelings I’d ever had, and mentioned things I’d felt shame over as if they were no big deal? How could I tell her that the love letter she wrote to her thighs, who she called “the aunties,” made me love my body a little bit better? Or that the way she wrote about her son made motherhood feel that much more special? Or how her honest way of talking about the pain of writing made me feel so much less alone?

“I wanted to tell you,” I began again. “I want you to know, uh, how much your writing has meant to me.” She smiled, seeming unrushed despite the line behind me. If I was wasting her time, she never made any show of it.

“She’s read almost all of your books,” Shawn offered, nodding at the book in my hands. Anne looked down and motioned at the book.

“Can I sign that for you?” she asked, and I handed it over. I knew I wouldn’t say anything else. I couldn’t. It was enough that I was there, standing next to Anne Lamott as she wrote my name next to hers inside the very first book of hers I’d read.

“Can I get a picture of you two?” Shawn asked, and I was so grateful he was there. Anne turned and we pressed our heads together as if we’d known each other for years. On my face was a smile, but in my head was a million cannons, firing off t-shirts into the crowd stating that my head was touching the famous dreadlocks of my favorite author, the knotted hair holding years of history I’d read about in her books—the loss of her very best friend Pammy to cancer, her difficult relationship with her mother and then losing her to Alzheimer’s, the day she let a black woman and her daughter make a religious experience out of dreadlocking her hair…the very hair that was touching mine.

“Thank you,” I breathed, and she gave me a gracious “you’re welcome” before turning to the next lucky person in line.

It wasn’t how I’d envisioned it, but it was enough. Plus, I still had her words written down in her books. And maybe, just maybe, if I ever got the chance to meet her again, I’d have better luck telling her how much she meant to me.

Stepping out of the shame storm to embrace confidence

be bold

At the start of 2018, I dedicated this year to confidence. I aimed to build on my confidence and become more surefooted in my endeavors, my path, and make solid steps toward my future. A few days after making this vow, I agreed to be my mother-in-law’s caretaker for a week. That week turned into several months. Then the end date became unknown. My life changed dramatically, flipping from a busy life I could manage to one where I had very little control or structure. The biggest change was that my time and energy were now required for my mother-in-law, and I had very little reserved for myself.

The past few weeks have been particularly bad. I questioned everything I’ve believed in. I mean EVERYTHING. I scaled back on a lot of things. Then, I thought about what else I could scale back on. Quit the gym? Quit school? Quit writing? If there was something I could quit, it came up for consideration.

In short, I lost my confidence. I stopped believing I could write, sure that I was just fooling myself and everyone else. I stopped believing that going to school was worth it…that I was worth an education. I stopped having confidence in my abilities, my faith, my progress, my dreams, my present, my future.

Now? I think this is one huge test. It’s a hurdle I need to get over if I’m really determined to work on my confidence.

I was thinking this morning about what I want most out of life, and realized it’s really, really simple—I just want to be a better writer. This is completely within my control, too. I realized a lot of my angst was over the realization that my author career has kind of plateaued for the moment, and I grew tired of the uphill climb toward success. Thing is, I can’t really control fame or success, not completely, at least. However, I have complete power to learn more, practice what I’m learning, and keep improving on my craft. Then, I have the power to pass on what I’ve learned. To me, that would be the perfect life: to write every day and share this gift with other aspiring writers.

I also don’t need to apologize or feel shame over any of the real feelings I’m having. Last week as I was struggling, a commenter thought it amusing that I was “just now” carving out time for my creativity when I’d already written a book on making time for creativity. He wasn’t mean about it, but his words were ones already inside me—meaner ones that feed my shame over the fact that I was struggling at all after writing Reclaim Your Creative Soul. I mean, if I could write a book that shared how to get your life in order so you can be more creative, I should be living it completely, right?

WRONG.

First and foremost, I’m human. Second, so is everyone else. We all have moments when we’re down, when life throws you the unexpected, when we need a break, when we forget to take a break, when we’re feeling negative, when we mess up, when we feel like we can’t do anything right, when we question our purpose, our existence, our everything.

This week, I feel a ton better than I did last week. I see light where there used to be dark. I see hope. And I am more adamant than ever to take this one day at a time in this care-taking journey, to carve space out for me, to stop meeting change with fear, and to start seeking out possibility rather than disappointment. I plan to give this my best shot, and I plan to give myself grace if I fall down.

I plan to embrace confidence. I plan to make room for margins in my life. But most of all, I plan to be human.

Avoid a mental breakdown by adding margins to your life

doingbest

I’m keeping this image huge so that you don’t miss it. I shared this from another page on my Facebook yesterday. It not only hit a nerve for me, it hit the nerve of people who came across it. How many of you can relate to this? Are there commitments you’ve made that are now consuming your life? Are you really required to keep those commitments? Can you take something off your plate for an hour? For a day? For a week? Forever?

Last weekend I had a nervous breakdown, melting into a crazy, sniveling, pathetic creature right in front of my husband. I’ve spent months caring for his mother, something I’ve taken time off work to do. But in doing so, I’ve gone weeks without any kind of break except for collapsing into bed after putting her in bed. I’ve spent every waking moment with her. This is not exhausting work, except, it is.

Thing is, I was the one placing the shackles on me. I waited until I was going out of my mind before I finally pleaded with my husband that I needed a break. It got to the point of desperation before I said anything because I was determined to be strong and white knuckle my way through this. Also, I was the one choosing to remain in the same room with her instead of going up to my own room for some moments of solitude. I was choosing to be a martyr, giving until I couldn’t give anymore.

But that does no one any good.

This past week, I have made it a point to take at least an hour or more to myself. The difference has been amazing. Before, I felt resentful every time she needed something, and if I wasn’t careful, it showed in my attitude. But once I took regular breaks, my attitude changed. The resentment disappeared. I began wanting to spend better quality time with her instead of being in the same room and hating it.

On Thursday, my husband gave me a full day off. I slept in until 7 (I start my caregiving at 5), sat in a coffee shop for 4 hours, took a nap in the afternoon, and went to the gym in the evening. I did everything I wanted to do, which wasn’t anything exciting or glamorous, but amazing just the same. I took a day when I wasn’t needed for anything at all, and that was exactly what I needed. The next day, my MIL and I had coffee together, then we watched a movie together in the afternoon, and in between, I went grocery shopping without her and read.

If you’re life is filling up too fast and you’re feeling like you’re being pulled in all directions, it’s VITAL that you take a break. You need a margin, that empty space beside the busyness of your full-time life. It may mean you can only take one hour. If you think you can’t, you’re wrong. Ask for help. You need it. If you can manage a whole day, do it. If there’s something taking up your time without adding anything to your present or future, LET IT GO. Seriously. Remember that you’re only one person, and we’re all so much better when we let others step in and give us a hand, and when we rest so we can recharge. You are not a machine, you are human. So give yourself some grace and space.


Looking for ways to create space in your hectic schedule? Check out my book, Reclaim Your Creative Soul.

What it looks like to slow down

snailOne of my main goals with taking a temporary break from publishing is to slow down. But what does that mean? Right now, admittedly, my life already seems kind of slowed down, at least by my standards. I’m on the final two weeks of my Family Leave, and haven’t stepped foot in our bustling newsroom at the newspaper since the beginning of January. I get to stay home most of the day with my mother-in-law, and don’t really have a lot of deadlines outside of my school work or her physical therapy appointments, or just the normal stuff I do like cleaning and cooking. At surface level, my life has completely slowed down. And yet, I still feel that pressure of stress weighing on my shoulders, and it seems like there still aren’t enough hours in the day.

What does it mean to slow down? And if I’m not spending the majority of my day at work, why does it still feel like I have no time?

1. I’m trying to do all the things at the same time.

This could look like physically doing more than one thing at a time, but often it’s that I’m thinking of the next thing I need to do, or things I’d rather be doing, or all the things I still need to do, or what I should be doing while I’m doing something else. It’s me being in all places at once, which not only keeps me from being focused, but is also exhausting.

2. I’m letting distractions win.

As soon as I sit down to, say, do my homework, I’ll grab for my phone to check email, my Facebook, my Instagram, my Twitter…. If I can’t find the right thought, or I’m bored with the reading, or I don’t want to be doing this, or I’d rather take a nap, my phone is back in my hand and I’m obsessively clicking. I’m masking the discomfort with distractions, and a project that should take me 2 hours ends up taking me all day.

3. I’m tired.

I’m up every morning at 5 a.m., getting my mother-in-law bathed and dressed, making coffee and breakfast, cleaning her room, doing her laundry, spending countless hours in her presence, answering her questions, making all-day small talk…. I’m not running marathons, but I’m basically doing odd jobs and socializing all day long. As an introvert, this is painful, and yet I’m not doing anything to create space in my day for devoted rest time.

4. I’m filling my day with “busyness.”

There’s not a ton on my to-do list, but there’s enough. And when there isn’t, I’m finding other ways to stay busy, whether it be getting ahead on my studies or scrolling through social media.

So, about slowing down….

Taking an inventory of my day, I realized I’m ruled by a lot of time and energy wasters. So, here are some new ways to do things:

1. Do one thing at a time.

Mainly, this means being focused when I’m in the middle of something. Set a timer and power through until time’s up. Fight through the uncomfortable feelings of not wanting to do what I’m doing. Breathe. Stop thinking of all the things, but keep steering my attention to the one thing I’m doing at the time.

2. Block all distractions.

Keep my phone off! The timer will come in handy for this, too, by telling myself I can’t touch my phone, the internet, etc. until the time is up. Every time I reach for my phone, I’m adding more time to the thing I’m doing.

3. Rest, for real.

First off, I really need to go to bed earlier than I have been if I’m getting up at 5 every day. Also, an afternoon nap isn’t such a bad thing…and not the nap where I lay in bed scrolling social media, but the kind where I actually sleep for 30 minutes. But the biggest way for me to rest is to purposely seek out silence. I’m with my mother-in-law all day long, she loves to talk, plus she’s watching TV nonstop. I need to break up the noise with quiet time so I can hear myself think, hear God think, and just rest my brain for a little while.

4. Feed my soul.

I’m actually okay with using some winding down time for watching TV, perusing the internet, playing on my phone, etc. But if all my downtime is used for these things, I’m not really getting in any quality ME time. What refreshes my soul? I love reading, doing yoga, going to the gym, taking hikes, sitting in the sunshine, doing henna, writing for fun… But lately, I haven’t been doing any of these things. I’ve been so busy caring for my mother-in-law, and when I’m not, I’m filling my time with timewasters, believing I’m having downtime. But my soul isn’t being fed.

5. Schedule my day.

If I want to be productive and refreshed, I have to map out how I use my time. Without a schedule, I’m letting the day own me. But by giving myself time slots to get things done, I can actually do more in one day, plus I’ll have an inventory of how I’ve spent the day. I’ve just recently started doing this, and it’s working like a charm. Sometimes I don’t get everything done, and that’s okay. But it keeps me focused on how much time I have in one day, and how much time to spend on one thing. At the most, this has helped me to stop spending all day long on one piece of homework because I now have a deadline when I need to move to the next thing.

Beyond all this, I’m refraining from taking on extra, unnecessary projects (I had a moment of insanity when I mused about starting a podcast at the same time I was trying to lighten my load), I’m trying not to look too far ahead at the future, I’m reminding myself that what I’m doing now (being a learner and observer) is actually productive, and I’m practicing gentleness with myself.

How are some ways you make sure your life doesn’t feel too hectic? What are some things you do to refresh your soul?


If you aren’t sure how you could possibly fit creativity into your busy schedule, then check out my book Reclaim Your Creative Soul.