Process: Where Life Happens

Right after I wrote my last post (January 2016 “Taking Stock”), I got sick. Down-for-the-count sick. No longer do I have the bounce-back I did in my twenties. Or thirties. Okay, or even my forties. Gone are the days of a round of antibiotics and I’m up and at ’em, good as new, back to business as usual.

It didn’t take too much reflection for me to realize that I had gotten so sick because I had, once again, burned it at both ends, leaving me a flamed out pile of ash. Having long been a get-it-done kind of person with an overdeveloped work ethic, I derived way too much satisfaction—one could even say I was addicted—to accomplishment and achievement. Even when I felt like I was at the tail end of crack the whip, I was still compelled to keep all the balls in the air and considered every day that I managed to do just that a good one. But when I found myself bedridden, too sick to move or even care, I knew something had to change—and that something was my thinking about life and myself. Rather than focusing so intently upon the end result of my efforts, or the product, I have learned that I need to focus on how I do things, or the process. Product is important, yes. But the process is where life happens and where the quality of that life lies.

This hard-earned wisdom applies to all of us, especially we driven, ambitious perfectionists. Whether writing a book, story, essay, or article, editing one (or all), building a business or platform, or promoting a business or newly published book, what is the point of achieving our goals if we are too burned out and sick to enjoy the fruits of our labor? I now know that I’ve crossed the line when striving for the goal supersedes taking care of myself and enjoying the trip. Since my bout of illness this past winter, I am now all about quality of life over quantity of achievement. Maybe I’ve finally learned my lesson.

As a result, I have developed a much more reasonable and sane strategy for my work life. No more working late into the evenings, getting to bed late, and sleeping poorly, only to get up feeling hung-over (only I’m really not) and dragging myself back to the computer and doing it all over again. Now I finish work by no later than 5:30 p.m. and work only five days a week, which gives me the downtime I need to actually relax and nurture other important areas of my life. And I can honestly say that I am even more productive.

So what about you? Are you focused strictly on product? Or do you have a healthy process on your way to the goal, all while keeping your eye on the prize?

Taking Stock

 And now let us welcome the New Year

Full of things that have never been.

~Rainer Maria Rilke

As I set out to write this post, my initial topic was perseverance. Then it morphed into expectations (which are often as fruitless as resolutions—see my January 2014 post for my take on that) and ultimately led to goals. I like to write about topics that I need to lean into, and perseverance and goals are two big ones as I stand on the threshold of 2016.

But as I pondered these two, I realized that before I could determine this year’s goals and then persevere in fulfilling them—in short, before I could focus on looking ahead—I needed to reflect back and take stock of where I’ve been.

Life is about trying different things to find out what fits and works. As I looked back on 2015, the question “What is it time to let go of?” came to mind. After sitting with this question awhile, I eventually saw where some pruning was in order: a behavior (actually a couple … okay, more than a couple) that was reaping negative returns, a volunteer position that had become stale, even, sadly, some relationships that were no longer healthy—or rather, hadn’t been healthy for ages and showed no signs of changing. I feel a deep sense of loss and sadness where the relationships are concerned, and yet, after letting go of all that I needed to, I feel lighter and freer, which confirms to me that I have made the right decisions. Their time had indeed come.

Some “new” has already presented itself: healthier behavior on my part, a different volunteer opportunity that I’m excited about, and membership to a professional organization I have long considered. Who knows what else is in store? One thing I do know: I will pause and take stock before I proceed.

In letting go, I have freed up space for the new to enter and the energy to engage with it. What about you? What is it time for you to let go of?

 

Copy Editors Are People Too

I did a double take when I saw that the comma queen, Mary Norris, was speaking at this year’s Wisconsin Book Festival. I made my way to the already-packed room with ten minutes to spare and managed to snag a seat in the last row. There was ample seating available in the overflow area where the event would be streamed, but I wanted—no, needed—to be in the actual presence of Queen Mary.

To rousing applause, she took the podium and began sharing her story of a good Midwestern girl’s climb through the ranks from foot checker for athlete’s foot at the pool in her hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, to milk woman (her word—great story), to cheese packager, to editorial library staff at The New Yorker, to her now venerable position as copy editor of the same. She then segued into giving us the goods, what we were all hungering for: her grammatical wisdom. I resisted the impulse to stand and applaud her take on the epicene, or gender-neutral, pronoun “they” (it satisfies the problem of gender but not number), and her reading from her book, Between You and Me, regarding the common conundrum of “that” and “which” left us geeks in stitches. Who knew that grammar could be so funny?

But when Ms. Norris said, “People tend to be afraid of copy editors,” I really sat at attention. She shared that when new employees are brought around her office to meet the staff, they recoil in fear when they approach her door and discover that she’s a copy editor. Only when she reassures the trembling new employee that it is indeed safe to talk to her, that she doesn’t edit the spoken word only the written that is destined for publication (her emphasis), does the poor soul relax. It was then that I recognized Queen Mary as a kindred spirit, for I, too, experience others tiptoeing around me once they know  I’m a copy editor. People repeatedly apologize to me in follow-up e-mails for grammatical, spelling, or punctuation errors in their previous messages. I even receive follow-up texts with “* (word spelled correctly),” and sometimes with the commentary, “damn spellcheck!” It pains me that my profession, and apparently I by association, strikes such terror in the hearts of people.

After a Q&A that included such fascinating topics as peeked/peaked/piqued and “hopefully”/“presently,” the event concluded, and we all herded out of the room en route to the bathroom or bookseller’s table, or both. My heart went all a-flutter when the Queen herself and I practically brushed elbows as she made her way through the throng to the book-signing table. Never before have I been so near royalty.

Little did I know that this would not be my last encounter.

One hour later, I left Central Library and headed to the parking garage one block away. Since I have a chronic mental block as to where I’ve parked, I had taken special note, and even checked three times, the floor of the garage: X5.

After climbing eight flights of stairs, I came to a door marked “X3-X4.” Since five comes after four, it stood to reason that I needed to go up one more floor. However, after doing so, I was met by a door marked “Y3-Y4.” Hmmm … Y comes after X. What happened to X5?

I hiked another two flights of stairs, only to find myself standing on Y5, the top floor of the garage. Where the hell was X5??

I traced this route twice, certain that I must be overlooking something, until I finally just hoofed it through the ramps, where I eventually found X5 nestled within the recesses. Upon laying eyes on my beloved car, I almost ran to it with outstretched arms and draped myself across its hood.

As I approached the exit, two women were ambling away from the parking attendant. One was laughing while the other was turning in circles, scanning the walls of the parking garage with a befuddled look on her face, saying something like “Now what?” Then I recognized her black shoes (I loooove shoes). “That’s Mary Norris!” I said out loud to myself.

I wanted to roll down my window and speak to my kindred spirit, as twice we had crossed paths in as many hours. But I didn’t. Why? Because she’s Mary Norris, copy editor for The New Yorker! Copyediting royalty! But I suspect that Mary would have welcomed the interruption and even chatted shop with me a bit and shared a good laugh had I the guts to engage her. We copy editors from the Midwest are down-to-earth folk, after all. We also get lost in parking garages.

So don’t let our good grammar fool you. We scary copy editors are people too.

“Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press . . .”

As another Fourth of July approaches, I’m struck by the sad reality that the true meaning of this holiday—our independence, our freedom—has been replaced with thoughts of camping trips, cookouts, and fireworks.

All freedoms listed in the Bill of Rights are precious, but the one near and dear to the heart of every writer is the freedom of speech and the press. Not only is this a constitutional right, it is also a privilege, one we too often take for granted in this country. My blood runs cold whenever I read or hear a news report about the imprisonment and, in many instances, the execution of authors and journalists who dared to write the truth, their truth. These brave writers, along with the tens of thousands of military troops who have sacrificed their lives, not to mention the sacrifice of their families, remind us that freedom is not free. Nor is it a license to abuse or endanger others. With freedom comes responsibility, the responsibility to respect one another and protect our common welfare while maintaining our individual integrity.

As you gaze upon Lady Liberty, remember what she stands for. Remember that you not only have the right to express yourself through your writing, you also have the privilege to do so. And the responsibility—to be true to yourself and to your readers, who need to hear your stories, thoughts, and insights as only you can tell them.

What you have to say matters—and you have the right and privilege to share it with the world. So don’t give up. Keep writing.

Reflections

As I reflect on this past year, I have had the privilege to bear witness to the achievements of many writers—and, in some cases, I have had the honor as an active participant in them. Some finished writing a book, and some started writing one. Some are days away from publication, and some are researching their options. Some created blogs and author websites, and some submitted to publications and contests. Some branched out and developed their skills in another genre, and some marketed their newly published treasure through readings, speaking engagements, social media, and book signings. And some are now brainstorming, researching, or actively writing their next book, and some are doing the same with their first book.

All of these are admirable achievements, and each one was accomplished through perseverance, commitment, and desire to communicate to the world through the author’s gift of writing. I applaud them all and am blessed to have each one of them in my life.

Wherever you are in your journey, I celebrate you. May you follow your heart in 2015.