Catching Up and Undoing the Art of Self-Sabotage

Welcoming Committee at my Writer's Residency

I promised 2 posts a month on this blog and I have honestly *just* been squeaking by. 

For the personal update (which I admit has been lacking from this blog), I came home from one residency in February (one, I was planning on documenting here, but haven't yet) then headed for Seattle the next day as one of Martha Silano's opening readers for her book launch (GRAVITY ASSIST!) at the fabulous poetry-only bookstore, Open Books to get a call from my husband that he was hurt and headed to the ER.

Some of you may know, my husband's a Seattle Firefighter, and during a drill he took a bad fall down a flight of stairs and ended up with a quad tendon rupture requiring surgery. Since that time, there has been a series of other things that have been going on in my life and people have said there has been a lot energy around me--but here's the thing about energy: energy is just energy until you put judgment on it. So I'm trying not to. And there have been some really magical moments--I mean magical, that I hope to share soon. But yes, there has been so much these last couple months.

A very smart woman said to me recently, "Life is just happening, don't take it personally.

So it's been 2 months of a knockabout life and this is a long introduction to say: It's 3 am and I'm back at another writing residency disconnecting from social media and using this first day to catch up on everything I'd let slide over the last couple of months.

I have only been here a day and I'm already reminded about how much better life can be with huge moments of solitude. I haven't had many lately. I mean, I am working full-time at Two Sylvias Press and also the driver for my family since my husband can't drive due to his giant brace on his leg. And there has been so much going on, I just haven't been able to find time, or haven't had the energy to make time.

In fact, what I've seen is that in a time of stress, I (and maybe this is you too) reach for the easiest thing--social media, napping, TV/movies (guess who watched the whole series of Netflix's YOU--um, note: I started watching because I thought it was a happy show about a bookstore owner, I had no idea it was a psychological thriller--though the same thing happened to me with the film, A Simple Favor which I thought was just about a mommy blogger, similar to Julie & Julia), playing video games (or specifically "one video game." Something you may not know about me, I absolutely love the old Wii game Splatoon and still have on our TV), or just simply wasting time on the internet (aka looking at houses on the California coast you can't afford, shopping for things you don't need, doing "research" on anything from a couch to a new coffee pot). 

I realized the more I stressed I became the more: 

1) I slept (I literally came home every day after work and slept from 4-5 or 5-6, had dinner, then went to sleep again around 10 pm)

2) let things slide (many times email, always laundry, several To Do list things)

3) found a lot more moments to waste time--which at first didn't make sense to me, but I think my brain was just so overwhelmed and I was so tired, these little moments of bubblegum for the brain helped me through or maybe, I just needed to distract myself for a while. Sometimes I just stared out the window (nothing creepy to see here neighbors...)

But on the other side of those bad habits (note: napping is not a bad habit, I truly believe in the importance of sleep!) I need to acknowledge, there were a lot of things I did not let fall through. There were a ton of things I finished and did complete.

There is a reason for this. One of the things I see really make things worse for my fellow poets (and many time these are women) is self-sabotage. It's really something I try my best to avoid. And to be clear, this is in full regards to my art. I know I'm a skillful self-sabotager in other places of my life--mostly in regards to worry, irrational fears, and also putting my needs second to my family's (something I am actively trying to work on this year).

What but does "self-sabotage" really mean for me in regards to my art and how do I avoid it? It means, if my life is falling down around me, I will still put poetry, writing, and art first. If I made a commitment to a group of friends that I am going to submit my work once a week--I do. If I signed up to be in a group where I said, "Yes, I promise to show up and write a poem each day"--I do.  If a magazine writes to me with the proof of my poems and says they need the contract back in 3 days and they need my poems proofed--done.

Yes, my house may look like a ransacked mess. I may be pulling my clothes from laundry baskets or more so, the actual dryer. We may be having appetizers for dinner or I'm eating canned chili I found in the pantry. I may be driving and be so tired I have to pull over and sleep in a parking lot for 30 minutes before I get home. I may have a list of things I need to do, appointments I need to make, but when it comes to my writing life, I will be the worker bee as I love the honey, the sweetness poetry can grant me even in the toughest of time.

And I know for me, my writing is my place of flow. It's why I've been writing a poem-a-day since March (and only missed one day--Easter). It's where I can disappear from the world, or better, take my over-the-top, this-is-terrible life and turn it into art--I actually wrote a poem last month called "My Husband Falls Down a Flight of Stairs and Lives, and I Cut My Hair." Because all of this is fodder for our art. And sometimes the stress life is giving me actually makes my work better because it offers a tension in my poems--note: I am not asking for more stress and do not believe in creating drama or struggle for the sake of writing, I mean, if nothing was going on, I'd still be writing. BUT if life is going to be kooky, it's going to end up in my poems...

But I want to talk more about the self-sabotaging part of us, which can come up at any times, not just the times of stress and busyness, but all times.

There's a lot of undoing to self-sabotage. Most of it's being honest (sometimes harshly honest) with yourself if you see patterns emerging-- Do you always drop the ball an hour before the deadline? Do you let yourself off the hook with a "you wouldn't have won/been chosen/been published excuse after doing so? Do you not submit somewhere because you feel as if you're not "good enough?" Do you procrastinate then either don't do it or do it poorly? Do you make large generalizations about the literary world that validate your excuse not to try?

If any of these sound familiar to you, you may not be a member of your self-sabotage club, you may be the president.

For me, my realization of self-sabotage came when I realized I'd finish a poem, but then blow past deadlines to submit it. There's a book of places by Washington State poets edited by our poet laureate at the time, Tod Marshall, called WA 129. It has 129 poems from Washington State poets. But am I in it? Nope. Did I have a writing date with Martha Silano and write the poem? Absolutely. Did I take a moment to submit the poem? Nope. Are all of my friends in this book? Pretty much. Am I? Not one little word.

It was kind of an eyeopener. But I think it's good to check in with ourselves and our strengths and weaknesses as poets. I love to write, but for a long time, I wasn't so good at the submitting-your-work part. So I made myself accountable. Am I perfect? Absolutely not. But am I seeing my art/writing as an opportunity to step it up and be more responsible to myself? Yeah, and that's kind of the first step.  

So yeah, that's where I been. Getting by and weirdly, strangely, writing and working through it. So it's late now, the sun will be rising and I'll be headed back to bed. I spent more time on this than I thought (I was in flow!) but I guess I have had a lot on my mind. 

And note: because I promised 2 posts a month here, you can expect another in the next two days. Worker bees get things done. 

Thanks for reading and hope you're finishing #NaPoWriMo on a high note!

Cheers to a happy and good news May! 

~ Kells