The Saturday Collapse

February 22, 2013

By Deborah Atherton

Saturday Collapse

Whether we work at full-time jobs, as I do, or run our own businesses, as Leslie does, we are likely to be running at full-steam Monday through Friday attempting to pay our bills, all the while telling ourselves how much work we will get done on our creative projects on the weekend. We look forward to it; we plan for it; we schedule it.

And then Saturday comes. And before us lie all the weekend chores we don’t have time for during the work week, from laundry and grocery shopping to dry cleaning and buying a new electric drill at Home Depot. Plus all the bill-paying and newspaper/blog reading that couldn’t get done Monday through Friday. And the trip to the gym you are really overdue for. Not to mention the frantic emails from work or clients that mean you don’t really have the day of at all.

And you don’t want to do any of it. Not the writing or painting or photography. Not the laundry or dry cleaning or big box shopping.

What you really want to do is collapse in front of the TV and watch an NCIS or Downton Abbey or Big Bang Marathon or read the library book that is due back Tuesday. What you really want to do is just tear open a bag of chips or make yourself a cup of tea and cookies and not think about anything productive at all.

If you have reached that moment when nothing else seems possible, and your TV or your book or the movie you downloaded exercise irresistible temptation, give in.

Just do it. Watch six hours of the teams we all wish we belonged to, be they the detectives at NCIS or the aristocrats around the dining table or the geeky comic book devotees at a California university. Read the latest from Charlaine Harris or the Jack Reacher thriller or a brain-eating Zombie fantasia. Go through all the Oscar nominees and scornfully dismiss them one by one.

Sometimes your brain needs a break. Even more often, your body needs a break. Being Americans, we have all read self-help books on how to manage and schedule and prioritize our time, on how to organize our lives, on what is urgent and important, or urgent and not important, or barely worth thinking about—and once in a while, we have to throw it all out the door.

Take the day off. Indulge. Let yourself.


Here’s betting that by 10 o’clock Sunday morning (or maybe 11 o’clock Sunday night), you’ll be ready for something a bit different, and that those task lists and chores will seem a little less overwhelming—or at least look like something you can postpone for another week. And that having spent a day actually off, you might want to spend at least a few hours of one writing or painting or heading off to film the polar bears enjoying the weather no one else is enjoying.

It’s your time. It’s your life. Every minute of it isn’t going to be spend fiercely engaged with the struggle to create. Some of it is going to be spent munching snacks and watching TV. And it is my belief that ultimately your creative projects will benefit by the downtime.

Thanks to Eric Ember for permission to use his photos.


When You Can’t Create

December 20, 2009

Sometimes in life it isn’t blocks or procrastination or fear of success that keeps you from your creative work. Sometimes the world intervenes and because you are physically unable, or charged with the care of someone else, or trapped in an office with a terrifying deadline, you just can’t do it.

That’s where I am right now – I’ve fractured my right shoulder and until a couple of days ago was in too much pain and too out of it to do even what I am doing now, which is typing this slowly with just my left hand. And not being able to write is almost harder for me than not being able to pull a shirt over my head or have to ask someone else to cut up my Thanksgiving turkey. Not being able to write is like not being able to breathe.

Perhaps the hardest thing in these situations is being kind to yourself about your inability to perform. I find myself giving myself these little lectures about people in far worse situations who, for instance, scratch philosophical tomes into the stone walls of their prison cells with a sharpened spoon. It’s hard to listen to the doctors who say – rest, medication, and in time, physical therapy. I know that in two months I’ll be mostly back to normal, able to work again, write again, think clearly.

And in the meantime, I’ll have to settle for being a reader more than a writer, to try and think some projects through, and just do a little left-handed typing when I have the energy and patience. I get to spend some time talking to my esteemed collaborators – all of whom have wonderful ideas. I get to watch daytime TV and understand America a little better. And I get a chance to practice being a little kinder to myself when I simply can’t write.

Room to Breathe

November 1, 2009


pile of books

No Space to Create

Posted by Deborah Atherton


Leslie talked a little in her last post about finding room to breathe – and the question has arisen from several quarters – what do creative people do about the STUFF that sometimes accumulates and weighs us down?

There are some elegant souls among us who have a spare Zen aesthetic, who acquire only what they need and can use for their art or their life, and dispose of the rest. They live in beautiful, tasteful environments, and everything around them is a choice.

And then there are the rest of us. We may be the proud owner of 27 guitars, or 55 cameras, or hundreds of tubes of half-used paints, or 500 Playbills, or 5,000 books—or all of the above. We may have a room full of electronic equipment, half of which is out of date, but none of which we are ready to throw away. We may have every story or piece of music we’ve ever written jammed in boxes in the basement or attic. And at some point, the stuff may become more important than the work we want to do today. It may lure us to come fool with it, or it may intimidate us by the sheer weight of it. What to do?

Well, there are a ton of books on organizing, and I’ve probably read them all, but in my experience, one of the best things to do is to get a second opinion, and even more importantly, get some help. Only you can decide what to do with your creative projects; but contrarily, I’m guessing you’re the last person to be able to objectively decide what to do with the 55 cameras. Or even the 27 guitars (guitarists, do not rise up and protest!) This person should probably NOT be your significant other. Your significant other has their own relationship, perhaps not so positive, to your stuff. Get a friend, or a college student, or if you can afford one, a person who makes their living helping people make these choices and organize around them. Join a group (for a free monthly group on clutter, check out Sallie Felton’s site –

I am not advocating that you get rid of all your books and guitars. No one would expect a guitarist to survive without ten guitars. Maybe twelve. Or maybe you live in a mansion with a room dedicated to those guitars. Or have a studio so spacious that it could swallow all of Pearl paints and not hiccup. But if your stuff is getting the better of you – if it’s interfering with your day to day creative rituals and routines – it may be time to let a few of those Playbills go.

In the end, it’s about having the space to breathe to do your creative work, and sometimes that takes some adaptation of our physical environments, as well as our internal environments, to get to.