Why Are We All So Tired?

April 7, 2011

by Deborah Atherton

Why are we all so tired? 

Lately almost everyone I know has been telling me that they are very, very tired.  Many of us, of course, have very good reason to be tired; we work all day, and then we try to write or play music or paint or blog or do photography at night and on weekends. This is the fabric of our lives; we are used to spending our days overwhelmed by the sheer volume of things we are trying to do.   And everyone is just getting over some bug or another, and dragging themselves slowly into spring.

But I feel what I’m hearing lately in people’s voices is something more than that. Although we’ve all been living for at least a decade now with a different sense of how unpredictable and frightening the world can be, the last few months may have threatened our precarious sense of balance in a new way.  Earthquakes, tsunamis, nuclear disasters—we’re indirectly experiencing so many events completely out of our control that even the new and scarier world we’ve gotten a bit used to has been turned on its head.  Many of us can’t bear to watch the news for more than a few minutes at a time, and when we do, we watch with a kind of fascinated horror, and perhaps it makes the things we are trying to do—find the right chord for a song, finish a portrait, rewrite a scene—seem kind of unimportant.  Just getting up in the morning and paying attention to what is going on around the world is exhausting right now—how can we push ourselves to take one more step?

I’m not sure I have the answer to that, except that there are all kinds of ways to bear witness to the world and the other human beings in it, and exercising your own creative spirit might be one of them.  If it can only be five minutes of thinking about your project, or five minutes of sketching or writing or looking through a new lens, that is five minutes of sanity and calm that will move you closer to your larger goal.  Once I heard a Zen teacher talking about how, if you can not find half an hour for meditation, you can surely find fifteen or ten or five—or two—and I believe the same holds true for creative endeavors.  It may seem like a useless effort, it may seem like a tease, but really—is it going to make you any MORE tired to dedicate five minutes to shaping something new?

Maybe not – maybe it will even have the opposite effect, and encourage you to try ten minutes tomorrow.  Or maybe it will just have to be five minutes every day until the news is a little bit more bearable again and we can dream a little bigger.



Interview at Barnes & Noble

December 16, 2010

Jill Dearman, the author of Bang the Keys, an essential book for writers,   just interviewed me about my writing process on her Barnes and Noble blog.  They were very interesting questions, probably useful for us all to ask ourselves!  Here’s the link to the  interview:  Scary Monsters .

Habits Good and Bad

October 8, 2009

Posted by Deborah Atherton

Not what it used to be?

Not what it used to be?

Leslie and I have both blogged about the importance of establishing rituals and habits to keep working on your creative projects – but what happens when that OTHER kind of habit becomes part of your day to day: the habit of not ever having enough time to paint, write, pick up the camera, invent a new recipe or compose a song? We have all been there – even those of us who make our living as writers or artists – the days speed by us, filled with appointments, business, family concerns, or let’s face it, an umissable Law and Order marathon. Suddenly, it’s a week, or a month, or more. Deadlines may be looming, but somehow, somehow, we just can’t get to it.

It’s easy to edit creativity right out of your life. You don’t miss it at first. But as time slips by, this little feeling begins to creep over you. You’re not quite sure what it is for a while. Your friends start seeming a little less witty and warm. The New York Times appears to be a tad less authoritative. Lenny on Law and Order doesn’t deliver his final words quite as acerbically as he once did. Facebook isn’t half as much fun as it used to be. You feel – oh just a little tired of yourself and the people around you. You begin to think you might need a vacation, or a new job, or possibly a change of significant other.

Before you take up any of these final solutions, check in with yourself. When was the last time you took an hour – just an hour – to focus on your creative work? Labor Day? Memorial Day? Valentine’s Day? Are you beginning to lose your guitar callouses? Have all your paint tubes dried up and shriveled? Are you more than one update behind on your writing software?

Perhaps the most unfair thing about possessing a creative spark is that it demands to be used. If your soul lights up when you sit down at a keyboard or leap out onto a dance floor, it’s going to keep asking you to do those things, and you’re going to end up feeling a little bereft if you don’t. You’re not going to like yourself, and you’re not going to like other people. Life will be a little duller than it ought to be. Nothing will taste as good as it used to. It’s not fair, but it’s the way things are. You can shut your talents up in a box, you can spend your life answering emails from your boss at 1 AM, but you can’t make yourself happy doing it.

On the other hand, you have one little thing you can do that is almost guaranteed to put the savor back into your life. Take an hour. Just an hour. Sit down with your work. Pick up where you left off – or maybe start something completely new.

Not all at once, but slowly, and whether or not the work is the best work you’ve ever done, life will slip back into glorious Technicolor. Everyone around you will gradually become much more amusing – and, more importantly, so will you.

I Just Don’t Have the Time

June 2, 2009

When we ask people what stops them from launching a creative activity that interests them, the excuse we hear most often is: I don’t have the time.

When we ask them how they use their time, they tell us: I have a full time job. I’m exhausted when I get home. I need one day a week for shopping and chores, and then – don’t I deserve one day a week to do nothing? And I never get through my to do list on Saturday, anyway.

Okay, some people really don’t have the time. Mothers with three children under five are probably going to have to wait a while to take up painting again. If you’re sitting in the West Wing trying to solve the problems of the automobile industry, this may not be the moment to start your novel.

But ordinary people, with ordinary workdays, can probably squeeze a little more time out of their days to undertake something that will expand and energize their lives.

The trick is, it doesn’t have to be a lot of time. We often stop ourselves by making our plans for our creative work so glorious and grandiose that we can’t possibly live up to it. “I’ll wake up every morning and write ten pages,” we tell ourselves. Or, “I’ll come home and before I even eat dinner, I’ll find my saxophone and do scales for an hour.”

Well, no you won’t, most likely. It’s too much to be starting with. Most likely, you’ve been putting this off for a long time, and you’re in a rush to DO IT NOW! Because in your heart of hearts, you’re afraid if you don’t do it quickly, and do it all at once, you will never do it.

So next time you start thinking about it, try thinking small. Don’t think about waking up every morning and writing ten pages – think about making an appointment with yourself on your “free” day to write for half an hour. Or maybe fifteen minutes, if half an hour is too much. Everyone has fifteen minutes to spare. You’d spare it for a friend who called you with a problem, wouldn’t you? Okay, this time, be your own friend. Just give yourself a little time – a very little time.

Get the piano that’s been sitting in the corner unplayed for so long tuned, and just sit down at it for a quarter of an hour, once a week. Don’t worry if it needs to be refinished, or it doesn’t hold its tune as long as it should. Just sit and play for fifteen minutes a week, and see what it feels like.

Maybe, after a few weeks, you’ll find you’ve actually been sitting for half an hour. Maybe, after a few weeks more, you might find yourself setting another quarter hour after you get home for work. (But please eat dinner first!) Maybe after a couple of months, you’ll have a series of sketches, or a set of photographs, or a completed short story, that you feel good about.

No working person has a lot of time. Almost everybody has a little time. And your creative dream is worth a little time.