Right Now: I cannot improve on Seneca’s advice

Seneca, part of double-herm in Antikensammlung Berlin. Credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2456052

First a word about Seneca:

His full name was Lucius Annaeus Seneca the Younger, and he was a Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, dramatist, and satirist.

He was known for his philosophical work and his plays, which were all tragedies, but we won’t hold that against him. (Comedy is hard.)

His prose includes a dozen essays and 124 letters dealing with morality. His best-known plays include Medea, Thyestes, and Phaedra.

He was quite influential on later generations. During the Renaissance, Seneca was (according to E.F. Watling in Four Tragedies and Octavia) “a sage admired and venerated as an oracle of moral, even of Christian edification; a master of literary style and a model [for] dramatic art.”

This is a guy I’m going to listen to.

Here’s one of his quotes. This is the advice I cannot improve upon — and, I’m guessing, neither can you:

We must go for walks out of doors, so that the mind can be strengthened and invigorated by a clear sky and plenty of fresh air. At times it will acquire fresh energy from a journey by carriage and a change of scene, or from socializing and drinking freely. Occasionally we should even come to the point of intoxication, sinking into drink but not being totally flooded by it; for it does wash away cares, and stirs the mind to its depths, and heals sorrow just as it heals certain diseases.

Right Now: We need to talk about breaks

Gardening is my go-to for taking a break.

After last week’s post, I thought it might be helpful to go into a little more detail about taking a break from the work.

This column is usually about how to be more creative, more productive, more prolific. And that’s a good thing to focus on, especially when distractions are lurking around every corner, ready to pounce and rip all your good intentions to shreds.

But there’s a flip side. Sometimes all the work-work-work has to take a pause for a while. Sometimes, if it needs to stop completely.

When I say we need to talk about breaks, I don’t mean break-ups or breaking down or being broken – though Lord knows those are among the biggest distractions that wreak havoc on best-laid plans.

No, I mean setting aside whatever you’re doing – on purpose, with purpose. A planned separation from the work you’re devoted to. A deliberate exit from the Get-It-Done-Or-Else highway.

I know what I’m talking about. I’ve tried many times to do the push-the-train-down-the-track routine, and it invariably fails.

Note: I’m not talking about writing sprints, where you really do need to push yourself to complete a project. Sometimes that’s necessary. I’m talking about a day-in/day-out plan of productivity that burns you out. Trust me, it’s not helpful, healthy, or wise.

At this point, you might be asking: Why, if writing is so important, would anyone advocate taking a break from it?

I have an answer. Several of them, in fact:

  1. You’re not a machine; you’re human. Humans need rest and relaxation. (Let’s be honest: Machines are treated better than we sometimes treat ourselves. Machines get turned off now and then for maintenance.) R&R restores our tired bodies, improves our immune systems, and keeps our organs functioning properly.

  2. You’ll come back with fresh, rested eyes. This has happened to all of us: When you’re in the thick of a project, sometimes it’s difficult to see the problematic elements (the old forest/trees analogy). But step away for a bit and when you come back, you can see it. Hence one of the good reasons to take that break.

  3. You might discover how non-important some of the work is. Another thing that can happen is that you come back from the break and discover that the project doesn’t hold the same excitement as it did before. Because before, when you were pushing yourself to get it done, the treadmill you were on kept you going. Now, having spent time away from it, you can see the truth about your relationship with this project. This isn’t anything to be alarmed about. In fact, it’s good. Now you can move it to a place of lesser importance and move something else up – or you can dismiss it entirely if need be. The important thing is that you’ll be working on other things that spark you instead of continuing to feed the must-do that was sitting on your plate.

Whether the break is the weekend, a vacation, a hiatus (with or without an end date), or a sabbatical, the key is to take the break seriously. Respect it. Honor it. Put aside the phone and computer and day planner. Get into nature. Visit with friends. Read a book. Rest. Relax. Rejuvenate. You’ll come back better for it.

Your projects deserve a better you.

I Do Declare: Gardening is a lot of work and a lot of reward, but mostly a lot of work

An herb garden out of an old chandelier.

I am one of the approximately 1 zillion people trying their hands at raised-bed gardening.

I happen to know it’s that many because when you google (or bing or duckduckgo) “raised bed gardens” you get a hillion-jillion links to articles and videos, and this, of course, is the best indicator of what’s going on at any given moment.

Squash and zucchini or possibly cucumbers. I’ll know in a few weeks.

We have a fairly sizable back yard, so we cleared out a patch of it and brought in various small containers and filled them with dirt.

And by we, I mean my husband. Because all this raking and clearing and hauling bags of dirt is hard work, and my job is writing about it.

(No, seriously, he’s much better at this whole “growing things” than I am.)

A few weeks ago, we did a day trip out to Mepkin Abbey for their plant sale and purchased some seedlings. Those monks really know what they’re doing when it comes to agriculture, and I like the idea of getting plants that have been prayed over.

Cucumbers are growing! I think they’re cucumbers. Maybe they’re squash. Hard to tell at the leaf stage.

We brought them home and popped them into the dirt. And now we wait – and mosey our way through the garden every day to see if anything is happening. (It is! Tomatoes are happening!)

When I thought about writing this blog post, I wondered whether I should do a tutorial or a photo spread or a short play.

And then I pulled on my background in journalism and considered how I would approach it if I were doing this article about someone else. In other words, what points would I want to go over, what insights would I want to reveal, what questions would I ask?

Here, then, is my interview with me on this topic:

Q: Why did I decide to do this garden?
A: Well, why not? Raised-bed gardening is all the rage, and plus I have this vision of me popping out to the garden and gathering all kinds of veggies for lunch.

Q: The plants might not all be ready at the same time.
A: Please don’t destroy my dreams.

Q: But why get into gardening now? It’s not as if I have lots of spare time on my hands. I already have a full plate, including a blog to keep up with.
A: Look, me, stop trying to make me feel guilty. I want home-grown veggies is all.

Q: What experience do I have?
A: Pretty much none. In fact, most plants that come under my care die an early death.

Q: What do I hope to gain from it?
A: A vast storehouse of tomatoes. Also cucumbers, squash, zucchini, and … um … what else did I plant? Lots of veggies.

Q: What is the actual return on investment (ROI)?
A: Okay, yes, we spent a lot on dirt and containers and plants to the tune of … let’s just say the tomatoes are going to be worth about $20 each. So what? I don’t like this line of questioning.

Q: What if it fails?
A: What if it doesn’t?

Q: Answer the question.
A: Fine. If it fails, I’ll have a cleared-out patch where I can build a labyrinth.

Q: Which will mean more money.
A: You’re judgmental for a former journalist, aren’t you?

p.s. This is all in fun. I do enjoy gardening very much. And, as I mentioned in last week’s Haiku to You Too, it truly is Holy ground.

Tomatoes are happening!
And more tomatoes are happening!

I Do Declare: *Right Now* it’s hard to tell what day it is

This I Do Declare post should have gone up Monday. Fact. I missed it because I was neck-deep in a project that took a lot of energy. Also fact.

And not only that: This is the first Right Now post I’ve done in a while, and that’s because I’ve been in high-productivity mode for a few weeks, which meant the mid-week post had to go on hiatus.

A touch of irony there. See, the Right Now posts are all about productivity, following through, keeping momentum, and making tough choices to stay focused and not get sidetracked. Things like: Do I keep going and meet the deadline on the paying gig, or do I set it aside and write a blog post? Do I push through to do everything until I’m completely exhausted, or do I get some sleep? Some choices make themselves.

So essentially, for the past few weeks, I was following my own advice.

Now, that doesn’t mean this blog is expendable or that my readers are less important than paying clients. Please hear me: I am dedicated to this blog and to all of you who take the time to visit, read, and respond. Fact.

I’ve simply come to grips with the reality that if my days are getting busier – and they are, which is a good thing (actually a fabulous thing, given the past year) – then my organizational methods need to scale with my increased activities.

When I started this blog almost a year ago, it was right after I’d been through a Covid-related RIF at my job. It was at the start of the pandemic, and lots of people were getting laid off, which meant finding another job was going to be difficult. I needed a reason to get out of bed, a task to focus on, a diversion from the scary headlines.

Hence these scribblings and screeds – not to mention the outlets for my sense of humor. Seriously, isn’t your life a little better now that you’ve met Belle, Vim & Verve, Writer Girl, Reggaetor, and Grammarcat?

I used to joke that I started a blog so I would know what day it was. It was funny because it was true. And it was true because I needed order and organization and I needed to keep track of time.

I still do.

Today is Wednesday, April 21, 2021. I have many writing projects on my plate, and I am determined to find a streamlined, effective way to be productive.

And there we have it. This blog is still a great time-telling device. I think I’ll keep it.

I Do Declare: I think about that sprinkling of water on my head all the time

Last Friday (April 9) was my baptism birthday. That day would end up affecting every other day of my life, though I didn’t know it at the time because I was 3½. Being baptized into the Christian Faith and in the Lutheran Church has done more to shape my world view — how I relate to others, how I understand myself, how deeply instilled in me is the need we all have for mercy and forgiveness — than any other event.

Here’s a photo of me that day at the church — along with my older sister and younger brother who were baptized at the same time.

I’m the one in front, holding my Bible. With us are my grandfather (standing behind me), my grandmother (holding my brother), and my mother (on the far right, with a fabulous hat). My dad was overseas at the time.

The image is blurry, but I’m glad it was taken.

The set of circumstances that led to my baptism (full insights on that will be a post for another day) are interesting, one of those things where you can see God’s thumbprint all over it. I don’t think I’m unusual in this respect — God is interested in all of our journeys — but the fact is that my coming to be baptized represents one huge cosmic connect-the-dots of God’s design. And I mull over this quite often. More so the older I get.

Last Friday is also the commemoration date for Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of my heroes. For many years, I wasn’t aware that I was baptized on the date of his death, and I’m positive that it wasn’t planned that way. But I like that this is my baptism date. It adds a layer to my reflections.

Here’s an image of him, along with one of his quotes, which I like to meditate on.