It’s a concept many of us writerly types are familiar with. After all, few of us have the luxury to just sit at home and write all day. We have careers. Kids to raise. Errands to run, meals to prepare, volunteering to do. You’d be amazed by how many of your favorite authors actually have a life beyond cranking out novels. So how do they get it done?
They write between the lines.
Each one of us gets exactly 24 hours to do it all. Eat. Sleep. Manage the glut of daily routines and responsibilities that eat up the hours of our day. But good writers, successful writers, the ones who manage to do it all and get their work published, too, understand the secret. They write while riding the train to work. They write while their kids are in gymnastics class or at soccer practice. They write during those 30 minutes while waiting for the casserole to finish baking in the oven. If there is a crack in the sidewalk of time, we writers will find it and fill it in with words.
Busy is my other middle name.
On a normal day, I wake up before the sun rises to go for a run, or head to the gym to exercise. Then I check in with my teens and commute to work. After work, I usually cook a nutritious meal for the family, then return to the gym for another workout. I spend the rest of the evening reading, writing, catching a TV show, and spending time with the teens before I take a moment to prepare lunch and clothes for the next day. Somehow, it all gets done. Even the laundry and dishes. (Okay, not always). And I nearly always manage a good 8 hours of sleep every night.
Yes, maybe it’s because I’m from Jupiter. Or maybe it’s possible because I have no friends or relationships to eat into more of my precious time. But maybe, just maybe, it all boils down to one essential thing. Time management.
It takes a lot of discipline to do it all every day. It also takes effective tools, and consistency to make those tools work for you. Calendars are useful, as are reminder apps. Imagine — making your phone remember everything so that you can focus on what’s more important!
Sometimes, I listen to other people complain that they just don’t have enough time in the day to get to the gym. To cook nutritious meals with whole foods. To read books. I just smile and try to empathize. But if they were to ask me for advice, I would offer this one thing: look for the cracks.
Want to read more books? How about listening to audiobooks during your daily commute, or together with your family in the evenings? What if you plan to spend exactly 15 minutes before bed each night engrossed in a book you really want to read? It’s slow progress, maybe, but it’s still progress.
Want to exercise more? How about bringing your sneakers to work and going for daily walks during the last half of your lunch hour? How about purposely climbing the stairs at your work building? Or a habit of walking your dog each evening. Or you can brave the early morning and go to the gym when it’s not at all crowded.
It is easy to find excuses. It’s easy to come up with reasons why you can’t make those small changes that you know will improve your mind, your health, your life. It’s easy to collapse on the couch and watch TV and eat processed foods. But very little good ever came from following the path of least resistance.
You don’t have to be a writer to write between the lines. Each one of us has at least one big thing we’d like to accomplish. You’re probably thinking of it right now while reading this post. The question is, what small changes are you willing to make to reach your goal? What cracks in your daily path are you ready to fill?
I mean, we try. We each do our best to survive the Monday,
to make it to the end of the year, year after year. But who wants to live a
life that’s all about surviving? It’s so much better when we strive to thrive.
(Did I just make up that slogan? Because I love it and would totally wear the t-shirt).
Thriving can be hard, though. Sometimes, really, really hard. We know what we need to do to live better, to be better people. But it takes a great deal of effort and consistency. Exercise more. Eat less. Read more, communicate better, and above all, love harder. Love your spouses, love your kids, love your neighbor, love yourself.
It’s that last one that throws people into a tailspin. What does that mean to love myself? Does that mean I’m not loving myself if I like to change my hairstyle or sculpt my body into a different shape? Isn’t it possible to love yourself too much and turn into a narcissist?
Let me clear this up: Self-love is not narcissism! Got it? They are two very different things.
Self love says:
I am worthy and valuable, and so are other people.
I deserve good things in my life, and so do other people.
I deserve to be treated with respect and kindness, and I will treat others the same way.
My goal is not to compete with those around me, but to constantly grow into a better version of myself.
I want to lift other people up so that they feel better about themselves.
I am superior to other people.
I am more worthy and valuable than others.
I deserve more good things than other people and envy those who are more successful than me.
People must admire me, or my ego will be shattered.
I must put others down in order to feel better about myself.
Self love is a necessary component to being a happy and secure person. It means looking in the mirror each day and fully accepting yourself — every blemish. Every scar. And know what else? When you can fully accept yourself, then you can also learn to fully accept others. Every blemish. Every scar. Self love lets you laugh at your silly quirks and flaws, and to forgive yourself. And when you can forgive yourself, guess what? You can forgive others.
It comes in that order. First you, then others. A match with no flame can’t light candles. A lighthouse with no inner light can’t guide ships to shore. You’ve got to love yourself first. Turn on your light, my friends.
Today, I love:
Those tiny crinkles around my eyes when I smile; a marker of many years of smiles and laughter.
My short, springy, curly hair. Some days, I flat-iron it until it’s straights and long. But mostly, I wear it free, run my fingers through the soft curls. I love to stretch them out and watch them bounce back into shape. Boing! Just like that little girl in the Ramona Quimby story.
The way I rise early in the morning, ready to go for a run, ready to pull on my kick-ass boots , face the world, and smash my goals.
The inner wind that pushes me. It drives me forward until I see each project to completion. It focuses me, and enables my self-discipline when motivation fails me.
The treasure trove of stories that dance in my brain, eager to escape when I sit before a blank screen, ready to write.
I love my goodness, and my messiness, my corny sense of humor, even those moments when I feel too serious, overwhelmed by the misery and hopelessness in the world (like Artax, Atreyu’s horse, in the Swamps of Sadness).
Because I love myself, I will continue to strive to thrive, to do better, to be better. I will be my own queen, wearing my crown with pride. And I will do my best to lift up those around me, those who still struggle with loving themselves, until we are all kings and queens of our own destinies. There are plenty of thrones to go around.
Guess what, everybody? According the Under Armour, the company who makes my favorite running app, Map My Run, I beat the year! Hooray, me! *Cheers, sets off fireworks*
What does that mean, beat the year? Well, I’m not exactly sure. Last April, I signed up for a fitness challenge to see how many kilometers I could run during 2018. My grand total was 1,019 Kilometers. I’m not sure how far that is, exactly, since we Americans generally don’t speak metric without the help of Google or Alexa. But it sounds pretty good to me!
Now, this whole “Beat the Year” thing might be even more impressive if my opponent had, say, a set amount of kilometers I was actually competing to beat. I’m pretty sure the year was just lying on the couch, watching the rest of us run like rabbits and laughing her head off.
“Look at you!” the Year says to the slowpoke who ran like, two whole kilometers throughout the whole year. “You beat me! How about that?”
Still, despite my cynicism, I feel like a winner. Why? Because I did stuff. I made an effort. I challenged myself to grow. And in my interpretation, that is what it means to “Beat the Year.”
Each new year in our lives is like a big ol’ champagne glass, minus the bubbly stuff. Our goal is to fill that glass with as much bubbly stuff as possible before it’s time for the final toast at the end of the year. (Champagne, soda, sparkling water, take your pick).
Everything you do, for yourself or for others, earns you a splash of bubbly in your glass. For every choice you make to the detriment of yourself or others, you pour a splash down the drain. Help a family member move to a new town? Increased your workout routine? Ate a lot more green, healthy stuff? Fill your glass just a little bit more. Wasted money on stupid stuff? Ate a lot of fast food? Spread negative gossip about your coworkers? Dump your hard-earned bubbly into the sink.
In 2018, I:
Maintained my almost-daily workout schedule.
Ran so much, that I rewarded myself with my first-ever 20-miler race (How many kilos is that, Alexa?).
Volunteered a few times in our community, side-by-side with my teens.
Drove to SoCal with a couple of the kiddos and one of their friends, and had an AMAZING time together at Disneyland and our favorite beach.
Landed a role as the technical lead on a very important, prestigious statewide project at work.
Read a lot of books.
Learned to step outside of my comfy cubicle and initiate conversations and walks to the coffee shop with coworkers.
Stood right next to the stage at an Imagine Dragons rock concert and sang my heart out.
I mean, what an AWESOME year! True, I still walk a pretty lonesome path with only my teens to keep me company. And somewhere out there, somebody else accomplished way more, or had way more fun, or learned way more great things along the way. But so what? My glass is so full right now, on this last day of the year, that it is overflowing with bubbly stuff.
The final countdown for 2018 has begun, dear readers. It’s already next year in Australia. Wherever you are in the world, whatever your stage of this life’s journey, and whoever you walk beside (even if it’s only you), I hope that your glass is full. I raise mine to you. May we beat the pants off 2019.
“Roland, what the hell is
this?” Ethan is glowering. “I’ve got that SamCorp account meeting in fifteen
minutes, and this is what you give me to work with?” He shakes the blue folder
like it’s covered in bugs.
I snatch the folder from
him. Inside is the report I’d printed out and slipped into Ethan’s inbox early
this morning. My eyes blur as I looked over the numbers, lids as heavy as wood.
“Give me a minute. I can fix it,” I say, turning to my computer.
“You’d better not screw this up.” He storms off. I take a huge gulp of double-caff coffee, my second one this morning, and get to work.
At lunchtime, I doze off
mid-conversation and wake up to find that my coworkers have returned to their
cubicles, and my girlfriend, Haley, has sent half a dozen angry texts, the last
one canceling tonight’s dinner plans. Great. I toss my half-eaten meal into the
trash and hurry back to my desk before Ethan notices I’m tardy.
Greg, my neighbor from
two cubicles down, stops to say hi and catches me mid-yawn. “You’re not coming
down with something, are you?” He frowns as I rub my bloodshot eyes.
I shake my head. “Just a
little insomnia lately.” Understatement. Lately, I was lucky if I could get
four straight hours of sleep in one night. Unisom stopped helping. Herbal
remedies were useless. Meditation, white noise, no electronics before
sleeping…I’d tried it all. And still, I lay awake in bed, my mind a carousel of
Greg holds up a finger.
“Say no more. Let me send you a link for this new sleep aid, called Doz-Z. My
brother-in-law tried it, and now he sleeps like the dead.”
I snort. Sounds like a
gimmick. A few minutes later, the link shows up in my inbox. I ignore it.
By the time I drag myself
home that evening, I feel half dead. I heat up a carton of leftover Thai
takeout, then wash it down with a glass of cheap pinot. Haley calls, and I’m
all apologies and promises, so she agrees to go out with me this Friday night.
At least, I think we said Friday. My brain feels so sluggish right now, I can’t
really hold anything. We hang up, then I head off to bed.
My room is completely
dark except for the dim blue glow of my alarm clock. 10:15. The minutes stretch
on as I close my eyes, twisting one way, then another. Somewhere across my
room, Alexa pumps out the soft, soothing sounds of rain and wind.
11:15. 12:15. 1:15.
Just after two o’clock,
I’m sitting up in bed, laptop powered on. I open my work email and find the
link Greg sent me. Click. Posted on
the website is a photo of a guy snoozing in his bed, unlike me.
TRY DOZ-Z AND GET THE BEST SLEEP OF YOUR LIFE
Underneath this, there’s
a bunch of stuff about the science behind the product, and potential side
effects. I skim over this and look for the price.
30-DAY FREE TRIAL. GUARANTEED 8+ HOURS OF SLEEP EACH NIGHT.
It sounds way too good to
be true. But I’m sleep-deprived and desperate. Before I can change my mind, I
fill out the form and send it.
When I get home from work
two nights later, someone rings the doorbell. “Roland Zabinski?” the guy asks.
I nod, and he hands me a small package. I close the door and tear open the
package. I’m not really sure what I’m expecting – pills, maybe? A powder you
mix into a smoothie? Instead, I dig out a pair of button-like wireless earbuds
and instructions on how to download and sync them with the Doz-z app. You’ve
gotta be kidding me.
I get it all set up,
press the earbuds into my ears, and sink into bed. “Activate sleep mode,” I say
“Welcome to Doz-Z,” a
soothing female AI voice says. “Would you like to dream tonight?”
I blink into the dark. “Uh…yeah,
sure,” I say.
“Okay,” she says. “Dream will begin in three, two, one…”
I’m searching everywhere.
Around the car. Next to the house. Behind the big round bush at the edge of the
lawn. Nothing. I’m heading back when she suddenly scrambles out from under the
front porch. Before I can do anything, she pelts right in the face with a
“Hey!” I sputter, wiping
away cold, wet snow. “Not fair!”
In a moment, her arms are
around me. “What’s not fair? The part where I won?” She kisses me, her full
lips warm against my frozen mouth. “Poor sport.” Her round eyes twinkle like dark
ponds reflecting the moonlight.
I take the snowball I’ve
been holding and stuff it down the back of her shirt. She yelps and leaps away.
“Oh, that was dirty!” Her eyes are narrowed, but she’s still smiling. “You’re
in trouble now, buster.”
“Oh, am I?” She’s
giggling as I chase her across the lawn. When I catch her, my arms encircle her
waist, and I pull us both to the ground. She’s dusted with snow, like powdered
sugar, her face electric with joy. My heart does a backflip.
“Marry me, Marley.” I
smooth back her hair with a gloved hand.
She stares at me intensely, trying to see if I mean it. “Yes,” she whispers. Then the world around me fades to gray and dissolves.
I bolt upright in bed,
gasping. “What the hell was that?” I
“Your dream has ended,” says
the soothing AI voice. “You have slept for nine hours, thirty-two minutes.”
Nine hours? “Shit.” I dig
the earbuds out and drop them on my nightstand. I’m late for work.
“You missed the meeting
with marketing.” Ethan’s pissed.
“I know. God, I…had some
car trouble.” Still a lame excuse, but sounds better than sleeping in. I work
extra hard for the rest of the day to make up for it. I feel more focused than
I have for a long time, except for brief moments when Marley’s face would swim
across my thoughts. She was just a dream,
I remind myself, shaking the thoughts away.
“Would you like to dream
tonight?” asks the AI when I’ve settled into bed that night.
“Yeah.” I countdown with the voice. Three, two, one…
“I feel like a cow.”
Marley pouts and rubs her swollen belly. “A big, fat cow.”
“You’re not fat.” I place
my hands on her belly, too.
“I’ve got a name idea.”
“What now?” I cock an
eyebrow, waiting. Marley’s ideas to name our first baby have ranged from
terrible to atrocious so far.
“If it’s a girl, Leia.”
I groan. “Vetoed.”
“If it’s a boy, Han.”
“Why not Luke? At least
Luke sounds normal.”
“Who wants a normal name?
This baby is special, and deserves a special name.”
“I still like the name
Catherine, after my grandmother.”
Marley gasps, her eyes
wide. “Did you feel that?” We both stand very still. Then I feel it. A thump from somewhere inside her belly. The
baby – our baby, is kicking.
“See?” I say. “She likes the name, too.”
I’m late for work again.
This time, Ethan doesn’t notice, but I know I need to figure out how to wake up
on time. Maybe the app has an alarm feature.
“Your free trial has
ended,” says the AI when I lie in bed two nights later. “If you commit now to
the one-year plan, your credit card will be charged. Shall I proceed?”
I think of Marley and our
daughter, Catherine, waiting for me at home. Our dream home. My dream family.
“Yes,” I say.
Each night, I hurry home
from work, eager to fall into dream mode. And each morning, I reluctantly
remove the Doz-Z earbuds and head to work.
“You seem more chipper
lately,” Greg remarks one day. “Things going better with your girlfriend?”
Girlfriend? Oh, her. “Haley
and I broke up.” I left out the part where she had accused me of cheating and
said she never wanted to see me again. I mean, I technically was cheating, since
I kind of have a wife and family, so I didn’t bother to correct her. “It’s that
Doz-Z app,” I say. “It’s really helping me get some good sleep.”
“Glad to hear it. My
brother liked it, too, but he had to quit. Too expensive.”
The truth is, I haven’t
even looked to see how much the service is costing me. When I get home, I call
the credit card company for recent transactions, and learn that my payment in
the amount of $10,000 was declined.
$10,000! My head is spinning. I was expecting maybe a couple hundred. There’s no way I can afford to continue using the app. But Marley, and Catherine…
That night, Marley and I
take Catherine to the beach. It’s her first time seeing the ocean, and she
squeals in delight as the waves wash against her pudgy toes.
“Build a castle, Daddy!” Catherine
holds out her pink pail and shovel. I kneel in the damp sand and begin to dig as
Catherine dances around me. The sun is warm on my bare shoulders, and the air
is fresh and salty. I glance back at Marley, who waves from her beach chair,
her free hand resting on her belly. She is pregnant again.
“There!” Catherine places
a sand dollar on top of the mushy castle I’ve built. “That’s the princess who
“Princess Catherine,” I say.
It’s becoming harder to
wake up from the dreams. “Ten more minutes,” I murmur to the AI. Ten minutes
becomes thirty, then grows to an extra hour of sleep. I creep into work later
and later each morning, often unshaven, wearing wrinkled clothes from the day
before. It was just a matter of time before Ethan calls me into his office, expression
“I need employees who take
their jobs seriously,” he says. Security walks me out of the building. I head
home, clutching a cardboard box filled with my belongings.
“Would you like to dream?”
asks the AI.
Catherine is growing. She
curls in my lap as I read her stories and stroke her soft curls until she falls
asleep. Then I join Marley as she places baby Luke in his crib.
“Our almost perfect
family,” she says as we gaze down on our son.
She sighs. “We’re missing
one important piece.”
I kiss her forehead. Catherine
and Luke. The perfect house. The perfect wife. What could possibly be missing?
The next day, Marley
shows up with a squirming bundle in her arms.
“A puppy!” Catherine is ecstatic.
She reaches up to pet its silky brown fur.
“I have a few name ideas,”
Marley says with a mischievous grin.
I groan. “Oh great.”
The Doz-Z bill arrives in
the mail. We were unable to charge your
credit card. Payment is due immediately.
I toss the bill on the growing pile of unopened mail, wolf down a piece of burnt toast, then return to bed.
Catherine plays her first
soccer game. She runs up and down the field in her adorable blue uniform, ponytails
“Go, Blue Lightning!”
Luke and I cheer, though he says it more like B-you Yighting. Aladdin, who is now a fully grown lab, barks and
tugs at his leash, eager to join the game.
Marley laughs and pats his head. “Not this time, you scamp.”
“I’m sorry, Roland. I am
unable to activate sleep mode until your balance has been paid in full.” The AI’s
soothing voice only irritates me further. “Would you like to hear your options?”
“Come on,” I beg. “I’m
going to miss Luke’s birthday party. We’re taking him to Bounceworld, and
Marley baked his favorite cake.”
The AI doesn’t answer.
“Activate sleep mode,” I
say again through gritted teeth.
“I’m sorry, Roland,” the
AI starts again. I let out a frustrated grunt and pound the bed with my fist. “Would
you like to hear your options?”
“You may pay your balance
in full right now.” Out of the question. My credit card is maxed, and I haven’t
made a payment in over a month.
“If you are unable to
pay, but would like to continue using Doz-Z, then you can commit to six months
of service as a Doz-Z staff member.”
“Staff member? Is this a job
“Yes. I can send Doz-Z
agents to collect you tonight, and you can begin your service immediately.”
I think of the stack of
unpaid bills covering my dining table. I think of the 72-hour warning from the
electric company. I think of Catherine, who just lost her front tooth, and
Luke, who started Kindergarten last week. I think of holding Marley in my arms,
the sweet fragrance of her scented shower gel, her round, chocolate-brown eyes
looking back at me with so much love. I can’t abandon them. They are my life.
The Doz-Z agents arrive
two hours later. They take me to the corporate building and show me to my desk.
“Look over these numbers and have a report ready for me by 10AM sharp,” says
the new Ethan, a stern-faced woman with graying hair pulled into a severe bun.
I turn to my computer and get to work.
Hours later, they release
me, and I take the elevator down to the dormitory, where I share a room with
half a dozen other staff members. No one speaks as we change into matching
pajamas and climb into our cots. One by one, we all insert a pair of Doz-Z
earbuds into our ears and say, “Activate sleep mode.”
“Would you like to dream
tonight?” asks the soothing voice of the AI.
Yeah. It smells like Christmas. More specifically, my living room is filled with the sharp, pungent smell of noble fir tree, mixed with fresh-baked sugar cookies, and the fragrance of First Frost. Do you know what first frost smells like?
Neither do I.
But, according to Bath & Body Works, it smells like this $10 candle flickering on my TV stand, along with Caramel Apple Cider, Winter Wonderland, and Autumn Woods. If I were light them all, then I could bottle the new scent and label it, “Holiday Overload.” Better yet, I could call the combination of scents, “Childhood Christmas,” then ship it to my kids when they’re all grown up and living away from home.
Our scents…I mean sense of smell is pretty mingled up with our memories and emotions. More so than our other senses, as the olfactory bulb is pretty well connected with the parts of our brains that process emotion and memory. That’s why, when we smell a freshly sharpened pencil, your memory evokes the stern face of your 4th-grade teacher. Or why a whiff of fresh, damp mint may suddenly whisk you back to that group hike through the woods one summer thirty years ago. I tend to associate the stench of cigarettes with family road trips when I was a kid, hanging my head out of the car window to gulp in breathable air while my mother chain-smoked.
Smell is such a powerful thing. Do you know that sniffing certain essential oils can treat pain, nausea, anxiety, depression, insomnia, sore joints, and dementia?
Neither do scientists.
But that hasn’t stopped people from turning to aromatherapy as a form of alternative treatment for thousands of years. Need an energy boost? Inhale the scent of lemon or tangerine. Fill your home with lavender to boost memory, or ylang ylang to enhance intimacy.
Despite the fuzzy science, I enjoy being surrounded by good smells. I shower daily in sunshine and daisies (according to to my favorite body wash), then lather my body with Happy Vibes skin cream. Every now and then, when no one is looking, I lift my wrists to my nose and inhale deeply. Maybe little bits of fragrance are actually releasing some feel-good chemicals in my brain, or maybe it’s totally psychological. All I know for sure is that when everything around me smells good, I feel pretty good, too. It all makes scents.
Commas exist for a reason. They give us a way to separate ideas, or to list multiple items without miscommunication. They also tend to spark wild debates over the use of the Oxford Comma (the “gif” vs. “jif” argument of the literary world). But love commas or hate them, we can all agree that written language simply could not get along with them.
The thing about commas is, they allow us to pause. Take a beat. Which can be a real lifesaver, apparently.
I tend to be the opposite of lazy most of the time. Go go go, from before the sun rises to long after it sets. I have a full-time career. I’m a full-time mom to teens. I cook most of our family meals, and write novels and short stories in my spare time. I also workout nearly every day, and run at least 15-20 miles per week. A routine like this takes a lot of organization and a lot of energy. Which thankfully, I have. Most of the time.
But once in a while, the universe decides it’s tired of watching me run around in a blur, juggling my very active lifestyle. So what does it do? It inserts a comma in my life.
Next thing you know, I’m stuck in bed with a cold. Any active person can tell you — we can’t stand getting sick. It keeps us from our runs and workouts and Very Important Business Meetings. Who has time for commas, when we are driven to GoGoGo?
Eventually, the pause ends, and I can get back to the business of busyness.
A couple of weeks ago, the universe inserted another pause into my life. I was out for one of my usual Saturday long runs. Since I’m not in training for anything right now, I was only planning to run for 8 miles along one of my favorite trails. I ran four miles out, and was on the run back when my knee began to complain. At first, it was just a twinge, so I continued pounding the pavement. But by five miles, the pain was excruciating. Youch! By six miles, I was walking. No, limping. So much for a good long run.
But as I limped along the trail, no longer in a hurry, I began to notice my surroundings. It was such a lovely, cold autumn day. The sky was a brilliant shade of blue, and a huge flock of hawks circled overhead, stalking their prey. The sun was just beginning to set, casting a deep golden glow on the river. Someone had stopped by this way, I saw, and stacked river stones into a tower. The leaves had finished their fiery show and had mostly taken their bows, drifting to the earth.
I met a stranger along the path, who was also walking, and helped her identify a weird fungus-looking plant (using iNaturalist — a great app for nature-lovers). By the time I returned to my car, I was no longer frustrated by being temporarily handicapped by a bum knee.
I slowed down for a few days, then tried to ease back into running. But this past weekend, the awful pain appeared again after running 6 miles. So it was back to walking, and observing, and listening to audiobooks instead of high-energy running music. Today, I feel great, and every inch of me is screaming to get out on the trail and run again soon, but I figure I’d better, well, pause, and go get that knee examined, before I aggravate the injury. Sometimes, it sucks to slow down. But just like you have to know when to throw in a comma to keep everything flowing well, you also have to know when to take a pause in some part of your life. Everything looks different when you slow down for a moment and look around. You may not be moving forward as quickly as you’d planned. But the views can be breathtaking.