23
Mar 17

Marathon Mindset: Embracing Life’s Slow Burn

Recently I caught myself getting really mad about how long things take. Generally, I’m a pretty patient person. Even though I would like instant validation, I don’t expect it. And that’s because there’s a long road ahead of me. I embrace the time it takes for things to happen because that’s the marathon mindset.

Embracing the Marathon Mindset

I’ve written about the yoga approach to life before, and the marathon mindset is similar. Only with the marathon mindset, you gotta be cool with how long life takes.

Almost daily I hear someone complaining about how people have no attention span these days. They’re used to the immediacy of information accessed from a pocket-sized computer that we call a phone. And maybe that’s true.

But I don’t think it is for everyone. I think most people know that life’s a slow burn.

Sure, I want what I want when I want it. But I’m an adult. I know that I can’t just take a vacation in the middle of the week. I can’t go out to dinner every single night. I can’t stay up late reading just because the book is good. I can’t keep clicking on the next episode just because Netflix has the whole series available.

I mean, I could definitely do all these things. But there are consequences.

It’s kind of like with running a marathon. You can’t blow all your energy by hardcore sprinting the first few miles. Your pace has to be even and measured. You have to strategize. You have to think about how you’ll not only approach the beginning of the race, but the middle and end too. And should you choose to start the race at a dead sprint, there will probably be consequences. That is, unless you’re a super human who can sprint 26.2 miles.

(Side note: I’ve only ever run a half marathon, and I’ve openly and loudly stated on multiple occasions that it was the worst day of my life. This is a metaphor, though. And metaphors mean that I don’t actually have to run.)

I'm embracing the marathon mindset in all aspects of my life. Click To Tweet

So, rather than feeling impatience take over, I’m embracing the marathon mindset in all aspects of my life. Here’s what that looks like:

The Marathon Mindset at Work

In my career, it’s easy to be impatient. I want recognition and validation immediately. I want to move ahead and make a spot for myself, and I want to do it faster than anyone else. But that’s the thing, isn’t it? It’s not about how fast others run the marathon, because if you try to keep pace with others, you’re going to burn out.

Instead, I focus on doing the best I can at work, and trust that I will be recognized when it’s time. Just like when you get the medal when you cross the finish line, I’ll eventually get recognition for the hard work I put in.

The Marathon Mindset at Home

Have you ever tried to remodel a home? Because holy hell. Living in a house with a person you love while trying to be a normal human being and simultaneously remodeling said house is like running a marathon on an obstacle course that some jerk set on fire. Everything is a hazard.

But by embracing the marathon mindset, I can be patient with home renovations. I know that they take time and money, and they’ll be done when they can be done. Similarly, I like to take the long way round when it comes to chores — doing a little bit at a time. It can be easy to get bent out of shape if your living situation isn’t ideal, but be real. When has your living situation ever been ideal?

The Marathon Mindset with Your Side Hustle

This is definitely the hardest for me. I feel like I’ve been writing my whole life, and it’s easy to feel like a failure when you don’t feel success and recognition immediately. But that’s the thing with writing. It’s naturally a slow burn anyway, because who the hell writes a novel in a day? No one.

Embracing the marathon mindset as a writer means that I have to not only acknowledge that writing is going to take hella long, but that achieving any amount of success from it will take even more time.

What does the marathon mindset look like to you? Click To Tweet

So there you have it. That’s how I embrace the marathon mindset in my everyday life. What about you? What does the marathon mindset look like to you?

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21
Mar 17

The Pedestal in His Workshop

The Pedestal in His Workshop

This past weekend, I began writing about my experience with a specific writing instructor. After reading Bonnie Nadzam’s “Experts in the Field” essay in Tin House on Saturday, I’ve chosen to publish this. After reading Bonnie’s essay, I can’t help but feel like I had a really good experience, even though it was terrible. Our experiences aren’t the same, but neither of our experiences are unique. For further reading that explains just how prevalent this sort of thing is in the writing world, check out this piece on Literary Hub.

Ten years ago when I didn’t have the words for what was going on, I took a writing class with a local author. In fact, I took several. It was during the year between undergrad and grad school, and I wanted to stay sharp and relevant and if I’m being really honest, I wanted the praise that comes from a teacher.

I needed someone to tell me I was special because that year I spent waiting tables at a professional wrestling-themed barbecue restaurant in the parking lot of a Walmart made me feel really worthless.

(I’ve always been susceptible to the bigger and better, especially when I was younger. And when I couldn’t attain it, I crumbled a lot inside.)

So, on my first day of class, I showed up early. I didn’t know anyone, but I didn’t care. This was a class. This was where I excelled. This was what I was meant to do.

I had read one of the instructor’s books, and thought it was decent enough. It wasn’t a life changing read, but not many books are.

The class was an interesting mix. There were young and old, new and seasoned writers, published and unpublished.

Among the mix of people was my friend, Katie. That’s how we met. Even though I look back on this class with a mix of rage and regret, I’m glad I met Katie. She was a bright spot in a dark place.

Though this was my first time to take the class, it wasn’t the first time for a lot of the students. Many of them were long-time disciples, flocking like moths to a flame of this teacher. I couldn’t figure out why anyone would take the same class several times then. I mean, I was waiting tables and dead broke all the time. I couldn’t fathom paying for this $190 6-week class more than once.

As class began, it felt manic and frenetic. The energy felt good. That’s mostly how writing workshops have always felt to me, like the first time you try speed.

In the first session, we outlined a novel together. He’d call out for suggestions of protagonists and antagonists, for conflicts, for setting. We’d shout back as he wrote the different elements on a large easel-sized Post-It pad. Once we’d complete one element, he’d stick it to the wall and start over with another sheet on the big pad.

By the end of class, we had a novel. Sure, it wasn’t good. But most books aren’t. And that was how he convinced all of us that it was super easy to write a novel. After all, it’s just a game of filling in the blanks, right?

Then, for the rest of the class sessions, different people would bring their novel outlines and we would all critique each other’s. It went well. I excelled, in a way. Insofar as excelling is receiving praise.

I took many classes from this instructor that year. There were different class options that he taught, always a different component of the writing process, but taught in his signature madcap style. Katie was always there, and it was nice to have a friend who was into the same thing I was into, because up until that point, I had literally never had that.

Even now, I can count on one hand the number of friends I have who are into the same things as I am.

As I got to know that instructor better, and as Katie and I got to know each other more, a weird dynamic emerged. We were under a figurative microscope. Anything we did — writing, clothing choices, vending machine drinks — were under scrutiny. The instructor picked at us constantly. Sure, he did it in fun, or at least that’s what his tone said. The older, unkempt men in the class picked up the game quick. They would make similar comments, or let us know that they’d love to take care of us, if only we’d marry them.

The younger men in the class followed suit.

The Pedestal in His Workshop Click To Tweet

It’s also worth noting here there were a fair amount of women in the class that were older than me and Katie. It would be hard to be younger than us, as we were the 21-year-olds in an adult education courses. And those women, while they weren’t outwardly cold to us, it was obvious that they were tired of us. Like they thought we were asking for the attention.

At the time, I didn’t realize what was happening. I had never been in a class like this. I had never interacted with older men, except for maybe my dad and his friends. And they didn’t act like this.

I found myself behaving in odd ways in that class. I would specifically wear boring sweaters and jeans — anything to make it harder for that instructor to call me out. And when he did call me out for any number of things, I found myself answering untruthfully, just because I wanted to placate him. I wanted to tell him something that would please him. I needed that validation that I was attending those closes to get. So he’d ask me pointed questions, trying to trap me, to make me look like an idiot, trying to have that little moment where he could point out to the whole class how stupid 21-year-old women were so we could all laugh together, and I’d say anything to get him to just fuck off.

(I didn’t realize that was what I was doing, though. And I didn’t realize that I was doing that until I ran into that teacher a writer’s conference a few years ago. He started in on me as soon as he said hello, and I found myself saying bullshit to get him to go away.)

I can’t speak for Katie. I don’t know if that’s how she felt. But it’s how I felt.

And I didn’t even realize I was doing it. I was trying to play the game I played in classes. Say the right thing, receive validation. I was grasping at straws every time I attended that class.

I feel it’s important here to note that I don’t, nor have I ever specifically sought validation from older men. In fact, I have spent a lot of my life trying to piss them off. This was different though. He was a teacher. That’s who I wanted validation from.

It’s only now, with that 10 years of hindsight that I realize we were placed on a pedestal in that workshop. We were there for the entertainment and delight of a group of old degenerates. These were men, who over the course of several classes, would open up about their distain for their wives or for women in general. They would eloquently express how terrible women were, but they would gladly take up with us in a heartbeat.

And they felt they were allowed to do this because the classroom environment enabled it.

Only I couldn’t see it then. In fact, I joined a writer’s group with a few of those men, and met with them for years after the classes had ended. I think I was still young enough to seek that validation. Even though the teacher wasn’t there anymore, those old men had become his proxies. And I just wanted to hear them tell me I was a good writer.

But what I got was more picking.

While I’m not happy that was my experience, I’m happy to have processed it all, to understand what was happening. It has, perhaps irrevocably, changed my writing process. There’s always a sneering middle-aged man in the back of my head. He picks at words and story ideas. He reminds me that since what I’m writing about is something he hasn’t experienced, it’s somehow invalid.

And then I remind myself that this middle-aged man in the back of my head is just as disgusting as the men in those classes. All ear hair and paunch. Body odor and artificially inflated ego.

For a long time I thought my teaching style was forged by my love of writing. I thought if I just conveyed to my students that if you did the research or knew what you wanted to say, then it became easy to say it.

And while maybe that’s true, it’s not where my teaching style comes from at all. I am a product of that classroom, of those bad experiences from that teacher.

In my classroom, everyone has space to say what they want to say. Click To Tweet

In my classroom, everyone has space to say what they want to say. And no one will ever play those stupid mind games with my students on my watch.

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18
Mar 17

As I Write This

As I write this, I’m sitting in  my writing nook at the Writer’s Colony at Dairy Hollow. I’m staring out the window and hearing cars squeal their tires as they try to get through the intersection of Spring and Polk. I’m grateful to be here.

As I Write This

As I write this, I think there are a million other things I should be writing. There are always a million other things on the to do list. Why would I prioritize a blog post over short stories and a novel?

As I write this, I’m thinking about all the ideas I’ve had before. I’m thinking about whether or not I have any ideas worth hashing out. I’m wondering if I’ve left so much on the back burner in the past that it just kind of dried up and dissipated. I’m wondering if I can even tackle the stories I’ve been meaning to write for all these years.

As I write this, I’m remembering all the prolific writers I’ve met along the way. I’m constantly surrounded by people who bash out words left and right, regardless of whether or not they’re good. Hell, I know people who have built lucrative careers on bad writing. But that bad writing never seems to hold them back. Why do I let it bother me?

As I write this, I’m wondering where the hell is my damn trophy. My generation supposedly got shit tons of them for showing up. I don’t own any though. In fact, I would argue that instead I was probably given more negative reinforcement — constantly reminded of how mediocre I truly am. That’s why I’m practically crippled here at the Writer’s Colony because I know every last word I type is garbage.

As I write this, someone else picks up another copy of Fifty Shades of Grey.

(I’m not shaming anyone. Live your life. Read what you want. But I am saying that people will buy shit, and I am basically paralyzed here while trying to craft a damn paragraph about a 5-year-old wanting Chinese food for her birthday.)

As I write this, I remember what a unique position I’m in. I don’t know how I got here. I grew up the same as all my high school classmates, but they’re all different. Or I’m different. I don’t know. I wouldn’t say special. Just different. I couldn’t give a shit about granite countertops or spring trends or tropical vacations. I just want to write a damn book, and the older I get the less magic there is left in my keyboard.

As I write this, I can feel the crisp, Ozark air. It’s different than what I breathe in Oklahoma. I don’t know why or what it is. Maybe it’s all the hills. Or the way the air has to snake around the curves of the hills and the twisting pathways.

As I write this, I’m remembering that Hemingway quote about writing “one true thing” and it makes so much sense right now that it hurts. And I’m also disgusted with myself for identifying with Hemingway, of all the literary misogynists.

As I write this, I’m curious. I’m dodging self-defeating thoughts and crippling doubt. I get through a sentence, and remind myself that I’m not that kind of writer. I remind myself of the writer I want to be. I stall. Does this sentence work? Does this whole story work? What am I doing, other than wasting everyone’s time?

As I write this, I’m breathing quietly. I’m clearing my head and shutting down the thoughts that do me no good. I’m alive. I’m capable. I’m here. And I’m going to use my time wisely instead of wrestling with the demons of my own making.

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16
Mar 17

I’m Going to the Writer’s Colony at Dairy Hollow in Eureka Springs

The Writer's Colony at Dairy Hollow in Eureka Springs

Today I’m heading to the Writer’s Colony at Dairy Hollow in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, to do something that I never thought I’d do — attend a writer’s retreat.

Writer’s retreats are things I dream about. Sometimes I catch myself perusing Air BnB for the perfect little escape off the beaten path. I think of all the things I’d like to work on when I finally have some solitude, or just a quiet space where I’m not nagged by chores or papers that need grading. And ultimately I never do it because it’s always expensive, because I don’t have enough free time to do it, or because I just don’t think it’s in the cards right now.

Well, that has changed.

The Writer’s Colony at Dairy Hollow in Eureka Springs reached out to the Women Bloggers for a group of writery bloggers to come to a free retreat in exchange for some bloggy and social media love. So, in addition to the writer’s retreat experience, we’re also getting tours of downtown Eureka Springs and a haunted hotel.

This is basically my dream scenario. Pretty much the only thing I write about is ghosts. And pretty much the only thing I love more than writing about ghosts is seeing ghosts!

I’m also very excited to have the opportunity to do this with some really awesome women. Mari Farthing, Heather Davis, and Rebecca Loper will all be attending.

I’ve got a bag packed full of projects to work on. I want to focus on a short story that’s been banging around my head for a couple of years. I’ve only managed to get about 1,500 words of it on paper, but I’m optimistic that this will be the weekend that good things happen for that story. I’m also bringing a half-baked novel outline to keep on deck for when I hit a point in the short story where I need to back away.

And naturally, I’ll have my journal with me. I posted about In Your Own Words Journaling on Instagram earlier this week, and I’m definitely bringing those journaling prompts with me. I may use them first thing in the morning, or as warm-ups for working on other projects. Or hell, if I find that I’m unable to write anything else (God forbid) then I’ll hit my journal hard.

If you’re interested in following along on my trip to the Writer’s Colony at Dairy Hollow in Eureka Springs, I’ll be posting quite a bit on Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. I may say something over on Facebook, but most likely I won’t. (I mean, I may share an Instagram post or two directly to my page, but that’s it.)

And of course, you know me. When I go out of town, I have to make a hashtag about it. So, follow #MarisawritesDairyHollow and you can keep up with all my shenanigans.

 

Have you ever attended a writer’s retreat? Anything special I should do in Eureka Springs?

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09
Mar 17

Create Space to Breathe: 4 Tips to Help You Fight Overwhelm

When the things that need to be done start to pile up, I know I need to create space to breathe.

We’re smack dab in the middle of grading season. Or, more accurately, procrastinating grading season. (Every day I manage to tell my students they shouldn’t procrastinate with a straight face. I have no business doing that.)

Create Space to Breathe: 4 Tips

Normal adult activities like cleaning and grocery shopping have fallen by the wayside because I feel like I don’t have time to do it. And while I may not have time to do it all when I need to get 116 papers off my plate, I know I have time.

I firmly believe that busy is a choice. But I also know that there are times when you have more to do than others. And grading season is definitely that time for me.

In the past, I’ve wasted time feeling like I needed to be cooped up and cordoned off — away from the world and working diligently to get things done. But the problem with staying inside all day and looking at a computer screen is that it very much makes Marisa a dull girl. And if I’m being honest, it makes me hate my job and my students, which isn’t really productive at all.

So, this year I’m taking a more strategic approach and making an effort to create space to breathe. I feel like I have to this semester, especially since I’m teaching 5 classes this time around. I’m also at an age where I can’t be productive when I cut corners. So, fast food isn’t an option since it doesn’t really fuel my body anymore, so much as shut down the whole production while I lay down and attempt to digest. And there are no more all-nighters for me. In fact, I’m in bed at the same time every single night.

I know some of my coworkers can stay up late to get things done and still teach the next day. Or they can fuel up with nothing but coffee and donuts. But that ain’t me.

So here’s what I’m doing to create space to breathe during this busy time.

001: Going for walks.
Through a wellness initiative at my university, full-time faculty and staff received a free Fitbit. And while it’s not he first step tracker I’ve owned (I used to be a Garmin Vivo Fit user) it has definitely made me way more competitive when it comes to getting my steps in. Not only do I see my friends and all their steps within the Fitbit app, but I also see everyone on the university’s fitness portal. Because of this, I know how much more other people are doing, and I want to do more.

Now, there are only so many hours in a day, so it’s not like there is plenty of time for me to walk all over the place. Instead, I’m using my lunch breaks during the work day and walking around campus. Thanks to global warming, it’s been so unseasonably warm, and that has definitely made it a lot easier for me to traipse around campus during the day.

Not only is the walk good for me, but it enables me to take a moment away from the computer. I truly get to use that time to decompress from grading, lectures, and emails. It’s perhaps the most relaxing thing I do all day.

002: Eating my lunch outside.
I’ve got a bad habit of holing up in my office and eating lunch in front of my computer. I know this isn’t good, but it’s so hard to make myself go elsewhere. Plus, it’s not like I want to be the irrelevant old professor who rolls up in the cafeteria and tries to strike up a conversation with students in hopes that they let me sit with them.

I’m a 100% introvert, so I need time in my day when I’m not interacting with people. That’s usually why I eat my lunch in my office with the door closed. But the other day, I walked to my favorite spot on campus after I purchased a sandwich. I was delighted to find that no one was sitting on my bench, and very few people were passing by.

Naturally, I parked right there and enjoyed my pastrami on naan sandwich with an over-sweetened iced green tea. The best part? I could hear a choir rehearsing in Carpenter Hall.

003: One-on-one talks with good people.
I’m very fortunate in that I’m surrounded by a lot of deep thinkers. We can discuss a lot of things, and I never feel like I’m stuck in very surface-level conversations, which I HATE. It may seem counterintuitive, but when I’m stressed out, it’s nice to talk through some difficult concepts. If we stuck to just the small talk, I think that would stress me out more.

Over the course of this past week, I’ve talked about writing pedagogy, race relations and the biases we carry, whether or not a Ph.D. is actually worth it, and why we buy into the systems and institutions that we do. I know this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I live for these kinds of discussions. And by taking time to have them, I feel better through the day because I’ve interacted with a human on a meaningful level, and haven’t stared a screen all day.

004: Turning my brain off by 8 PM.
I’ve found that the best way to be productive and get through a really busy time is to clearly delineate how I will use my time. By that, I mean I need to set aside time for work and time for shutting down and relaxing.

I mentioned that I’m in bed by the same time every night, But I also have to start relaxing and winding down at the same time so that I can get to sleep more easily. At around 8 PM ever night, I put away all my school stuff. I may write or blog or journal, but mostly I’ve been too fried to do that. Instead, Chris and I cuddle up on the couch with Rosie, and we’ve been watching Twin Peaks (I totally hate this series — sorry nostalgia fans) or Desus and Mero (bar none the best late night show on the air).

Oh, and yeah. I’ve had a big ol’ glass of red wine each night.

 

So there you have it. That’s how I like to create space to breathe when I feel overwhelmed. What do you do when you’ve got a lot to do? How do you create space to breathe?

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