Tag Archives: work

Writing Wednesday: Making hard choices about priorities

Wow, this week is so turning out to be zero steps forward and five steps backwards. What happened to my relatively content child who, when sleepy, was usually happy to be placed in his crib with his stuffed rabbit? Who is this little being who refuses to be put down, who wants to be walked and sung to sleep instead? Who wakes up jumpy ten minutes into a nap? Who stays awake long past his bedtime and seems perpetually hungry? And why did his father decide that this was the perfect week to take a two-day trip up to remote villages in the north??

It’s Wednesday though, so here goes with a few thoughts about the process of writing my other baby – the book – while baby number one squeaks, mumbles, and sighs his way through what will hopefully be at least a 45 minute nap.

When I started writing the memoir more than three years ago, I had a choice to make. I could continue as I had been – working full time as Director of Training for the Headington Institute and writing only on planes, in the evenings, and on the weekend – or I could make a change that would allow me to more evenly balance my passion for my job, my passion for writing, and my burgeoning relationship with Mike.

In the end I decided to take the leap and drop down to working only four days a week at the Institute.

I took a 20% pay cut to be able to claim Fridays as my own every week, but it turned out to be worth every penny that I didn’t earn. Being able to invest at least one full day a week in my writing meant that I made progress on the book without stealing too much time from Mike. It also meant that I was happier to show up at the office, 100% focused, Monday through Thursday.

I have never regretted this decision, despite the fact that I haven’t yet made a cent on this book and possibly never will. I was an all-around happier person during the two years this system was in place, and how do you put a price tag on that?

Now, of course, things have changed. We live in Laos. I’m not juggling a full time day job and a life-job (for I suspect that’s what writing is for me, a good old-fashioned vocation). I am, however, juggling that vocation, a baby, and consulting work. Not to mention a marriage. Oh, and friends. I am coming to suspect that finding time to devote to writing will always be an exercise in making some tough choices about what to prioritize.

One tough choice I face daily at the moment is usually whether I should sacrifice some extra sleep to spend these quiet windows of baby-nap-time with my laptop. Another one is whether I should say yes to consulting work that would mean that even those nap times would need to be invested elsewhere.

What about you? How do you prioritize your writing? How do you make and guard the time to create? How do you defend that to yourself even if it doesn’t seem to make financial sense?  

Want to read more about making tough choices around priorities and creating the life you want to lead? Head on over to Alexis Grant’s excellent blog. And, finally, here’s the quote of the week:

One hasn’t become a writer until one has distilled writing into a habit, and that habit has been forced into an obsession. Writing has to be an obsession. It has to be something as organic, physiological and psychological as speaking or sleeping or eating.
(Niyi Osundare)

Juggling different worlds

I wrote an overdue email to someone far away today. I met Lynne for the first time in Kenya in 2004 when I took advantage of an introduction by a mutual friend and showed up at her house in Nairobi, still suffering from the worst bout of food poisoning I had ever had in my life. She fed me apple juice and yogurt smoothies and two days later we went on safari in the Masai Mara together for three nights. You bond quickly when you’re sharing a tent and getting before dawn to go be wowed by scenes like these:

Since then, Lynne and I have crossed paths regularly around the world – in restaurants in New York and DC, on houseboats in Amsterdam, and at her place in Atlanta. She is a lot of fun and one of the many people I would enjoy living closer to.

But instead there is email and skype, and today I jotted her a note for the first time in months. I started by saying I’d been meaning to write for weeks and that I didn’t know where time had gone recently.

On days like today, when it’s cold and raining here and I haven’t even bothered to get out of my pajamas yet, I can reach 6pm and puzzle over what, exactly, I’ve been doing. How is it possible, I sometimes wonder, that I’ve been bouncing from project to project, working relatively well, and yet I haven’t crossed off more than half of the things on my to-do list? Why am I still perpetually behind on emails and phone calls? And why is very little connected to preparing for the baby making it into the half that’s actually getting done?

Lest I alarm the extremely maternal (or paternal) among you, I am making some progress in relation to all things baby. I’ve washed the clothes we’ve been given (though I haven’t folded them all yet). I’ve made a list of small, practical gifts people could give us at an upcoming baby shower that lovely people from Mum and Dad’s church are organizing. I’m currently reading a book called Mama Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood – a rather fascinating memoir that looks at motherhood through the lens of Zen Buddist teachings.

But the baby is still only getting a certain amount of brain space (and boy, am I ever starting to wish I could impose similar limits on the amount of body space he was getting). For there are things still to be done before he arrives – things as dissimilar from buying baby wipes and diapers as a tent in Kenya is from a houseboat in the Netherlands.

For starters, there’s the consultancy on wellbeing and humanitarian work. For a project on wellbeing there’s an awful lot of trauma material that needs to be incorporated. The other reading material I’ve dipped into today, for example, focused on psychosocial interventions in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami and collective trauma following atrocities and killings during a civil conflict in Sri Lanka. First thing tomorrow I will be starting A Human Being Died That Night – a memoir plumbing South Africa’s apartheid years and wrestling with questions of transitional justice. I’m aiming to wrap up this consultancy in the next four weeks, and I doubt I’ll mind taking a couple of months away from this sort of material.

Then there’s the memoir, which my agent is planning to start sending to publishers next month. That’s great news, but it also means that I need to spend some time pulling together all the bits and pieces that traditionally go in a book proposal – a bio, an outline, and information about my author platform and strategic connections that may assist with marketing. You’d think I’d know how to summarize the book in a couple of sentences after having actually written the thing, but that’s a lot easier said than done.

And there’s talking to Mike for an hour or so every night, doing some exercise, spending time with extended family here, filing insurance claims, and so on. I am not short on things to do.

Today I haven’t minded juggling these diverse mental worlds. Some days I can feel a bit fragmented, and I’m aware some of these worlds are going to need to take a dive on the priority list in the near future, but overall it’s good to have a bunch of different, interesting things to do right now when it’s quiet, cold, raining and I can’t be bothered to get out of my PJs.

What about you? What different mental worlds are you juggling at the moment? Are you finding it stimulating or are you feeling fragmented?

Phnom Penh

I find Phnom Penh really, really hard to spell. Makes me stop and think every time.

Most trips make me stop and think hard in some way, and this one has been no exception. There have been some things about this trip I’ve found tough.

The heat, for one. It’s been about 100F here, and the electricity’s been hit or miss – which is no small thing when you’re on the fourth floor of a tall, narrow, building trying to run a good workshop with 22 people packed into one room and the sun beating down on the roof.

Then there’s noise – the whole city thrums with it. Car radio’s, children shrieking as they play badminton on the streets at night by the weak glow of street lights top poles, cats desperate for some love, rats in the roof, and the dawn to dusk construction project right next door to this place.

And translation issues. I had a fantastic translator for these workshops – an inspiring young man who picked up much of his amazing English from Mormon missionaries. But even with a good translator there was so much I missed. Jokes by the participants. The nuances of questions. Some of the subtlety in what they were saying.

Especially when you are talking about stress and resilience, nuance and subtlety is important. Without it I felt a little like I was feeling my way forward into a dark room while wearing sunglasses.

This workshop process was not comfortable for me. But I am walking away believing it was worthwhile. I hope and pray the participants – 18 Cambodians working for a local NGO that combats sex trafficking – took something away, however small, to think over and to act on to better care for themselves. The work that they are doing is so admirable. And, in this region, so badly needed.

As a result of these workshops and many rides around the city this week in tuk tuk’s like the one above, I know I took away some things to think on. A renewed appreciation of the cross-cultural complexities of stress and thriving, and the acute challenges of caring for yourself in a context where viable choices are far more limited than the ones I have at my disposal. Gratitude for air conditioning and cold running water. And a deep admiration for the capacity of the people I’ve been here working with these last couple of days to laugh until they cry. Their laughter is a skill, a gift, and a blessing.

It’s 8:30am. I have an hour to shovel everything back into my suitcases and head for the airport. Only three airports, two long flights, and one US immigration official stands between me and Mike.

And to that, I say amen.

Thanks for stopping by,

Indonesia and Cambodia

What’s “right now” is a construction zone right outside the window of the bedroom at my guesthouse in Phnom Penh. And a very loud radio. Oh, and an air conditioner that’s struggling. And no hot water. But that last one doesn’t matter, because, well, the air conditioner’s struggling and it’s really, really, hot here. So when in need of a shower, cold is just fine.

Let’s just say that there are some days when I enjoy these experiences more than others.

The last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind. Mike left for a gig in Malawi two weeks ago. I left for Indonesia just about exactly a week ago. The Jakarta program turned out just fine, despite a host of logistical challenges – including a frantic phone call from the caterer at 9am the morning we started saying “we forgot to do your food, and the driver is lost”. But they got it sorted right when I was trying to figure out where we were going to walk our group of 20 to feed them, and all’s well that ends well. After some tense moments, Jakarta was a success.

So, since I was already going to be in the region after the work in Indonesia I figured that it was a good idea to do a quick hop, skip, and jump across to Cambodia to have a look-see as to the needs of the local mental health community here and run some workshops for a local organization that Headington is interested in supporting.

I am no longer entirely convinced it was a good idea. But let’s not go there right now. Because I’m here now and there’s nothing to be done about that except soldier through.

Right now it’s 6:30am. Yesterday started with an alarm clock at 2am so I could catch my flights from Jakarta, and ended with no dinner. Hopefully today will bring better nutrition, better cheer, and maybe even less noise from next door???

One can only hope.

Thanks for dropping by,

Many things that start with “L”

So London was intense. Week-long international trips for work usually are, and this was no exception. It was one long blur of enduring flights, late night conversations, facilitating workshops, leading a retreat process, eating Thai food in a pub while watching the snow swirl in the glow of the street lights outside, and then going out into that cold to walk to the train and realizing yet again that though I adore watching snow fall… it’s just not worth the cold if you have to brave it unprotected for any length of time. I’m really glad I remembered to pack gloves and a scarf.

The work I went there to do went well, I do believe, and I walked away feeling happily exhausted in the belief that it was time well spent.

Then, of course, there were the unexpected and wholly serendipitous gifts that travel like this brings.

Catching up with a distant cousin I hadn’t seen in a decade.

Lunch with my best friend from high school in Zimbabwe.

Riding through the slippery streets on the back of a motorcycle, along the Thames and past Parliament House. Although not generally a huge fan of London, in those half hour trips I was utterly charmed and occasionally afraid for my life (a fantastic combination, I generally find).

A day in Oxford visiting old friends and making new ones. And being stunned by the visual beauty of the place. All that learned majesty left me feeling inspired to… well… learn and be majestic.

And then came the flight home and no sleep for 12 hours and 5 movies in the row (one of which I am very ashamed to admit was Ghosts of Girlfriends Past) and by the time I landed back in LA I felt plane-grungy and exhausted and feral and about as far from majestic as you can imagine.

Mike met me at the curb with a Valentine’s day rose and chocolate. Nothing says happy valentine’s day like curbside roses at LAX, I reckon. Boy was I glad to see him. And to hop in the shower when we got home.

Mike’s been on the east coast this week. He’s back tomorrow, and we have a whole week and six days together before he’s off again, this time to Malawi. We ran the numbers the other day and we’ll only see each other for about four weeks between now and June.

Why??? Well that’s the other part of the “L” update, which you’ll have to wait a little longer for. That one’s coming next time.

thanks for dropping by,