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Spring Cleaning…in July

Time to purge!

Time to purge!

I’ve spent the last week hoeing out.

No, that’s not a comment on my morals, or a sign that I’ve developed a penchant for gardening. I’ve just decided it’s time to unload the accumulated debris of my past lives.

Since I moved back to Central New York six years ago, most of my possessions have been residing in the far corner of the garage. I’ve been reluctant to go through them. After all, those boxes and totes hold far more than clothes, books, household items and random odds and ends. They’re chock-full of memories. Many of which I was keen to put behind me when I initially packed it all away.

They say time heals all wounds, and in this case they are right. Because a month or so ago, I came to the realization that I’m finally ready to let it all go.

A sure sign from the universe. First item removed from box #1 on July 15, 2014.

A sure sign from the universe. First item removed from box #1 on July 15, 2014.

So, last week I arranged for a dumpster. And as soon as it arrived, I began the long-overdue task of going through those containers.

If I had any doubts about the timing of my endeavor, I didn’t need to look further than the first box for an assurance from the universe. One of the first items I extracted from its musty depths was a tiny tin of mints. The tin was a favor from a friend’s wedding – which took place exactly 8 years ago to the day. (Happy Anniversary, Liz & Kent!)

I’ve found myself less nostalgic about the past than I thought I’d be. As evidenced by the fact that I’ve had no qualms in discarding certain items I’d been previously unwilling to part with.

I’d list them here, but frankly, at any given moment I could veer toward sentimentality. And the next thing you know, I’ll be making a mad dash for that dumpster…

It’s the most random things I find myself most reluctant to part with. Like a pair of purple velour bell bottoms. I’ve been hanging on to them since the summer I was an orientation leader in college. Before you start jumping to any conclusions about my wardrobe, let me explain: They were part of my costume for the Brady Bunch-themed play we put on for that year’s incoming freshman.

Ahhhhh…the memories!

Yes, the memories… they have come flooding back. But I find I’m not quite as attached to the contents of those boxes as I thought I’d be.

That’s not to say I haven’t brought a few armloads of belongings into the house. (Including those purple bell bottoms…) But a far greater percentage has gone either in the dumpster or to Common Cents, the thrift store that supports our local food pantry.

I’m not quite done yet, but already I’m feeling rather proud of myself. And, somehow…lighter. As if by getting rid of the past, I’m more ready to tackle the future.

Which is a good thing, since I’m about to embark on my next adventure. Yep, that’s right. I’m heading back to the Dominican Republic. This time for a more extended stay.

It will be my 100 Days in Paradise.

Don’t worry. You’ll get to read all about it.

My favorite place to hunt for sea glass. A special thanks to my friends Kathie and Mike Holt, for introducing me to the Dominican Republic and for being so generous with their vacation rental. Find out more at: https://www.facebook.com/CostambarOceanfrontRental

My favorite place to hunt for sea glass. A special thanks to my friends Kathie and Mike Holt, for introducing me to the Dominican Republic and for being so generous with their vacation rental. Find out more at: http://www.homeaway.com/174655 or http://www.facebook.com/CostambarOceanfrontRental.

Confessions of a (Recovering) Workaholic

Exhibit A: A typical daily to-do list from the height of my workaholism. (It does sound like a dirty word, doesn't it?)

What my daily to-do list looked like before I saw the error of my wicked, workaholic ways.

I’ve always been passionate about my work. My career path has had its twists and turns, but my level of commitment has always been the same – nothing less than 100 percent. It’s just my nature. Additional responsibility? Extra hours? Unexpected challenges? Sign me up! Because I don’t even know how to say ‘No.’

Not when it comes to work, anyway. In my personal life, it’s another story. Because when you’re really passionate about what you do, sometimes you do it to the exclusion of virtually everything else in life.

But then, work is life when you’re a workaholic.

And that’s what I am: a workaholic. And if you were nodding along to any or all of the above, you’re probably one, too.

Only sometimes it’s hard to recognize that fact when you are in the throes of an addiction. It can take a truly life-changing event to wake us up.

For me, that life-changer was the Great Restructuring. That’s my little pet name for the event that lead to my unceremonious and unexpected unemployment a few months ago.

Now, I suppose I’m a recovering workaholic. Although let’s face it, I’ve been actively looking for a way to fall off this particular wagon. But I’d like to think I’m making progress.

In the beginning – the first week or so following the aforementioned layoff – I was a hot mess. I still woke up in the middle of the night, mind whirring through a laundry list of projects and tasks. Only instead of the angst of having them looming over my head, I felt relief that I no longer needed to worry whether they got done.

Which would have been refreshing if, say, I wasn’t lying awake in the middle of the night.

During the day, I didn’t know what to do with myself. So many hours of my day had been spent consumed by work. Now they stretched before me like a barren wasteland.

And when I took stock of what was left after I subtracted out work, well, it wasn’t pretty. In fact, it was downright depressing. Because who has time for things like family, friends and hobbies when you’re a raging workaholic!

Thankfully there were a few friends I hadn’t yet managed to alienate – despite my track record of canceled plans and unreturned phone calls – and some family members that were still talking to me. I both clung to them like a lifeline AND tried to make up for lost time.

Which is to say, I started smothering the life out of them.

I also realized that I’d been woefully negligent when it came to the community boards on which I was serving. Now that my schedule was a bit more, err, flexible, I could actually attend all of the meetings I’d previously been missing.

It was also about this time that I realized that, while I was very committed on a philosophical level to the organizations I was involved with, I should have been committed for saying yes to all of them. Even if I was physical able to attend all of the board meetings, committee meetings, fundraisers, etc – and I couldn’t because many of them overlapped – I didn’t have enough time or energy to do them justice.

Of course, that didn’t stop me from trying. Because you know, that’s what workaholics do.

I wasn’t use to having down time. So between the smothering of loved ones and the manic volunteering, I endeavored to fill every moment with…something. Anything.

Well, anything short of daytime television. A girl has to draw the line somewhere.

Thankfully, we were on the verge of what would be one of the longest, coldest and snowiest winters in recent Central New York history.

(Yes, I just said that. Which is a sign of my fragile – and deeply disturbed – state of mind at that point in time.)

As a result, I spent a lot of time shoveling. And when there wasn’t enough fresh snow to necessitate shoveling, I trekked through the woods on my snowshoes.

Both of these activities would terminate with me collapsed in a sweaty, exhausted heap, content in the fact that with Mother Nature as my personal trainer, I didn’t need to renew the gym membership I’d long since let lapse. After all, I needed to be more careful about my discretionary spending. (In retrospect, the gym membership would likely have been cheaper than the massage therapy and chiropractic appointments I needed to fix me after all that shoveling.)

I also spent copious amounts of time bingeing on sci fi/fantasy novels and Justified. (I have a serious addiction to both.)

This was all in addition to the time I spent searching for and researching job opportunities online; reconnecting with past colleagues; fielding questions about my change in employment status, etc. All while studiously avoiding the dreaded resume update.

I think that even in those early days, while I was struggling to make sense of it all, I knew that I needed to make a change. My workaholic tendencies were sucking my soul, even in my unemployment. And I knew I couldn’t let myself ever be that all consumed by a company or a job ever again.

I knew my thinking had shifted when, maybe a month after the Great Restructuring, I had dinner with a former colleague.

During our meal, she was constantly checking her phone, frantically (and almost unconsciously) fielding text messages, emails and even a quick call between bites of her (woefully neglected) salad.

As I savored every uninterrupted bite of my delicious entrée – a lovely eggplant parmesan, if I recall correctly – two things hit me.

The first was that I had been like that too, not all that long ago.

The second? That despite the horrible shock to my system, despite the uncertainty of the future, a part of me was both grateful and a little relieved that I’d turned that page. (Even if perhaps technically it had been turned for me.) Here the universe was presenting me with an opportunity to reconsider my workaholic ways.

And maybe, just maybe, I can still be incredibly passionate about my work but not have that passion be at the expense of everything else.

Now, my to-do list looks a little different...

Now, my to-do list looks a little different…

It’s not the easiest of transitions to make. Especially since in order to have a semblance of a work-life balance, you need to actually have a life. Which is what I’m working on right now. The whole getting a life bit.

It might be the most important project I’ve taken on to date. It involves quite a bit of travel and a lot of writing.

And I’m sure it will come as no surprise to you that I’m giving it my all.

The Curse of the Blank Page: A tale of writing, self-doubt and purple eyeliner

IMG_3954I’m feeling a bit bored. Something I have no right to feel, really. What with the fact that I’ve spent most of the day avoiding the task at hand: Writing.

It’s not a lack of things to say – or topics to expound upon – that has me avoiding this most earnest of endeavors. So what is it then, that prevents me from taking up my pen and moving it across the blank page or, alternately, positioning my fingers above the keys on my laptop and tap, tap, tapping away at an equally blank screen?

I suppose it’s fear. Not that writing – or even depending on it to make my living – is an unknown for me. But I have this dream, and there is a part of me that fears failing to achieve that dream.

Yes, I’m familiar with all of the old adages. How the only way to truly fail is not to try, etc. etc. I’d rather not run through them all, either on this page or in my head. I can recognize the wisdom behind them. Heck, I even buy into it.

But somehow that doesn’t lessen the dread I sometimes feel when it’s time to sit down and get to the work of actually writing.

Don’t get me wrong, I write every day. I fill notebooks. But it’s coalescing these bits and pieces into something meaningful that freezes my heart. Because as long as I’m not thinking about writing, the words flow – smoothly, painlessly and, when I’m really lucky, beautifully.

It’s when I think that things jam up.

Sometimes it’s the critic in my head. Wow, is she a bitch! She delights in playing Negative Nancy to every idea – sometimes every word! – I try to put down. And she doesn’t limit herself to merely critiquing my writing. Oh, no! She likes to weigh in on all of my life decisions.

Her favorite time to chime in is when people ask me what I do, or what I’m doing these days. I barely have time to respond before she adds her two cents.

“A writer? Really! You have the audacity to call yourself a writer, ” she sneers. “That’s rich. I see the garbage you’re scribbling down. Take my advice – get a day job.”

Thankfully, her berating is only for my ears. But I’m sure the intrepid soul who was kind enough to inquire can see the play of confused emotions across my face. (I’ve never been good at poker.)

Sometimes my in-house critic doesn’t need to say a word. She doesn’t have to. Because the second I sit down to write – or even think about sitting down to write – my writer’s ADD kicks in. Now, I’ve never actually been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder. But you wouldn’t know that they way my brain scatters off like a frightened kitten when I come face to face with that blank page.

Anything and everything is a potential distraction. There are the usual suspects – the internet (although sometimes I can justify that as research…), social media, daytime television, etc. And then there are the signs of true desperation. Like the sudden, burning desire to clean out my closet. Or make a vat of chicken soup. Or pluck my eyebrows.

Wow. My eyebrows. They REALLY need some attention. Even everyone’s favorite critic thinks so. I guess she had a good look at them while I was experimenting with some eyeliner a couple of minutes/paragraphs ago.

Which might seem normal, except for the fact that I don’t really wear makeup. And I’m not going anywhere. But somehow, between one word and the next, it was something I just HAD to do. IMMEDIATELY.

So, now I’m just sitting here in front of my computer.

Wearing a shade of purple eyeliner that was obviously a mistake.

Waiting for the words to come.

Something that isn’t even possible if I’m not moving the pen across the page or my fingers across the keyboard.

Which I can’t do if, say, I’m removing the aforementioned eyeliner…

Or flossing, which is what I did to distract myself from the ghastly shade of purple I’ve now managed to smear across my face.

But despite these many, many distractions and that incredibly vocal critic, I have to keep pressing forward. Not because of any impending deadline, per se. But, well, remember that boredom we were talking about?

Well, it isn’t really boredom. No, it’s words – an inkling of an idea, a fragment of dialogue, the tender young threads of a story. They’re just under the surface, nudging against my conscious mind. Like an itch waiting to be scratched.

And there is only one thing to do about it.

I have to sit down, make my peace with that blank page, ignore the nagging voice of my inner critic, forget about eyeliner and oral hygiene, get the heck out of my own way…

And WRITE.