by Deborah Atherton
Work life balance is hard enough, but there’s something about jingling bells and the smell of roasted chestnuts in the chill December breeze that is enough to send many of us over the edge. Creative people tend to have a lot of balls in the air at any given moment anyway; sometimes it is hard enough to be trying to figure out what comes next in your delicately balanced plot or your apparently-never-to-be-finished painting without adding the stress of buying presents for 1,432 people.
Words of wisdom on this subject abound. They usually involve Making Lists and Deciding What is Really Important and Letting Go of Making the Annual Fruitcake (which nobody eats anyway.) But all that is in itself exhausting, and we’re human beings and our minds don’t actually work that way anyway. We decide to go to parties because we think we might have fun and heard there were going to be peppermint martinis or because the host came to our party last year or because we said yes in a weak moment and can’t back out, not because it is Really Important. We already know what is Really Important, and tend to avoid it at all costs.
What must self-help books and articles do is try to help us work around our own minds, to help get us to do what we know we ought to do. Or may even want to do, but find ourselves continually distracted from doing. The distraction level rises exponentially during the holiday season, and so do the “oughts” and “shoulds.” And most of us, even or especially those with hours set aside every day or week for creative efforts, can’t totally maintain our focus, at least not without arousing the disapproval of others. We don’t want to be Grinches or Scrooges, do we?
Well, maybe we do, at least once in a while. Those articles are at least partly right: we can’t be everything to everyone, even for a month. It’s hard enough to be something for ourselves. And whatever that something is: the book from NaNoWriMo that needs three more chapters, the blog that gets left untouched, the film that can’t quite get edited—we’re better off if we find just an hour or two, somewhere within the onset of social obligations and consumer madness, to spend some time with it.
So say no once in a while (maybe not to the party with peppermint martinis), take a breath, and stare at your unfinished work for a bit, at least long enough to remember what the problems were when you last picked it up. Maybe the $29 you would save at the Cybermadness sale isn’t worth the afternoon you might spend thinking through your project—or at least reminding yourself that you have one.