Part of Writing Non-Fiction is Not Writing

averie-woodard-122274Spring has flung me across the country multiple times already and it’s only mid-April. I knew my work life and social life were both going to ramp up at the same time (showers, events, travel) but I didn’t realize just how much it was going to put my ever beloved writing life on hold. You don’t really know how much you love to stare at a blank screen, willing yourself to write something brilliant, until it’s ripped away from you for a couple of weeks. A couple of weeks can feel like a lifetime.

It was in a particularly bad moment, when I was spiralling about not writing enough, not writing ever, potentially never again (?!), that my boyfriend pointed out that part of being a writer is also living. And that is even more important for someone like me, who writes non-fiction. My stories are the stories that I have lived. My stories exist because I was not alone in front of a computer screen at every chance I had. They exist because I went on dates, and traveled with my friends, and broke some bones, and almost lost my brother. They exist because I was off living, not worrying about getting a certain essay completed.

When the travel calmed a bit, and I was able to see two beautiful weeks ahead of me with time to write, I came across a Self Care Challenge. 7 days worth of Self Care. A challenge to love ourselves and give ourselves the time we need. How freakin’ radical. It came at the perfect time because I was so frantic last week to get back to work on my essays and my poetry that I was willing to forego a much needed haircut, to lock myself up and get the work done. I was desperate to be left alone and work. I put every other single need– work, side gigs, writing, family, friends, dog– ahead of my own. I was willing to put myself at the very bottom of the list because that’s what I’ve always done. Seeing that so many people struggled with Self Care last week helped me to at least try and take care of myself too.

Outside of taking care of myself I have to remind myself that I am so very lucky to find myself traveling, visiting friends, having things to celebrate. Yes, it does take me away from my writing but in the end it is enriching my life with memories and lessons and inspirations that will ultimately help me when I do finally find those glorious couple of hours to sit and pen something. Why is it so hard for us to see what’s full in our lives? Why are we trained to always see lack? Almost every bucket of our lives could be full to the brim, but it is the one that is empty that we worry about. I am so guilty of this and it’s embarrassing to admit to the greater public.

But I am hoping there are others out there, that feel overwhelmed as well. Overwhelmed with not just life’s annoyances, but overwhelmed with goodness too. And maybe together we can find some tactics to stay grateful for a little bit longer. Live in our present a little bit more. And accept that we cannot be all things at all times and let each part of us (sister, girlfriend, employee, writer, friend, daughter, SELF) have their moments to shine, and let the others take a step back. The others are still awake, still learning lessons that can be applied in any situation.

It’s a painful cliche–but I have found that the older I get the more I understand these cliches–but life is meant to be lived. And even though figuring out how to do that with success is killing me (I will figure this out one day!) it still feels worth it. Remarkable.

Now tell me, how often do you forgive yourself for having a little fun? How often do you avoid something fun because of your work, your “dreams”, your diet? How do you find balance between all the yous there are, and when do you find time for self care? FILL ME IN!

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Do Less to Get More Done

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Three years ago I made a note to myself in my journal. I had been reading something–an article or a book– and wanted to boil down what I had read to a mantra.

The entry says this:

Work when you are working.
Relax when you are relaxing.
Write when you are writing.

And it is something I try to keep at the top of my mind every day. At the time, I was trying to do it ALL. I kept my days loaded with To-Dos and appointments and I would beat myself up mercilessly if I didn’t get it all done. I was overloaded and scattered — I got very little done for years. (Not an exaggeration. I drove myself crazy.)

I was busy for the sake of busy. Which I see as a silent epidemic in the US. We’re expected to be super fit, eat healthy, go to work, have a side gig, have a romantic partner, party all the time, have a nice home, have another side gig, have a hobby, volunteer, save money… this is a list that could probably go on forever. I thought that if I wasn’t busy, if I wasn’t part of the “hustle”, I was failing.

Projects fell apart. I spent more time making to-do lists than actually getting anything done and felt tired and overanxious most of the time. I really wanted to be perfect, or close to it, and of course it all came crashing down almost as fast as I put it up. It took a lot of time for me to realize that by not focusing on the present moment and present project, that I was ineffective and often times, rude to those around me.

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Instead of picking a date night with my significant other and sticking to it, I’d try to squeeze in a couple of hours of work before or after our “date” so the day wasn’t a “waste.” When I was at work, I was distracted by everything I had to do when I got home. When I got home I was distracted by everything I couldn’t get done at work.

I was an inefficient wreck.

I was prescribed to the “do more” movement and I was a whack job. It took a lot of time to unravel myself from this mindset, to love myself unconditionally and allow myself to be a human. Humans need rest. Humans need love. Humans need to unwind after a terrible day or week. I had to allow myself to “do some of it” and be okay with that.

My little mantra can be shortened into one word and it is this: FOCUS.

By being present to the task at hand you are able to finish it faster and at a higher level of quality than if you try to multi-task it with another or if you are distracted and distant. In the past I told myself, “Write today, all day.” Which was unrealistic and I got very little done. Now I tell myself, “You have 30 minutes. Turn off the phone and go for it.” I get more done in a shorter amount of time because I am tuned in.

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Also, another remarkable change was giving myself time to rest and recharge. To be lazy. To sleep in. To take a day off from the gym. When I am well-rested and happy my projects are easier to tackle. Slogging through a day at the office after four hours of sleep was hardly efficient and I had no energy when I got home to do a single chore or write a single line of text.

I know, trust me I KNOW, this is going to go against everything you feel is right. It’s going to take time to relax. It’s going to take so much time to be okay with not doing it all. It feels weird. I’ve been there. But I promise you, by doing less and FOCUSING on each individual task at hand, you are going to get so much more done and be so happy because of it.

6 Books To Make You Feel Strong

Can you hear that? That’s me sighing so deeply that the roof is rattling. The past two weeks have been trying, tiring, and… good for my character. Two weeks ago I received a promotion at my day job. This was a position that I had been chasing for two years relentlessly. And now it’s here. And now it’s mine. And now I am hella tired.

Adjusting to my new role has, on the surface, been alright, I feel like I am where I need to be finally… however, I come home exhausted, I work later, and my balance of life has been thrown for a loop. It’s amazing how small changes affect our entire being.

At the same time as my promotion I really hurt a tendon in my left leg and had to stop training for my half marathon. I am unable to run. Running is my main source of stress relief so not only have I found myself coping with new issues but I do not have my usual coping tools available to me. It’s been a weird September.

I found myself going back to my bookshelf for comfort. Reading books I read a decade ago for the first time, to help relax me. I wanted to find a center and I hoped it would be in those pages. I read Kerouac’s On The Road, Hornby’s High Fidelity, and I’ve been eyeing my Fitzgerald collection (I own all of his books) with a hunger I usually reserve for pizza.

As a result of using texts to soothe me, where I would normally use my body, I’ve put together a list of books that have made me feel strong in the past and that deserve a re-read. I’m hoping you too will pick up on of these books and feel strong and centered.

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Create a New Story & Live It

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I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about meditation, mantras, and visualizing goals. I keep reading about mental blocks and holding yourself back from the things that you want and the things you deserve because of patterned thoughts and “stories”– the things we tell ourselves to keep us from going for something. We tell ourselves that we will never have money because we’ve always been broke or we’ll never find love because we’ve never been worthy or never had it before. We take the same paths over and over again because we don’t believe we can take another. It isn’t always about blazing a trail but simply taking a left instead of a right.

I get asked a lot where all my energy comes from. How do I get up early, how do I write at night after work, how do I have a dog… etc. etc. And while I sometimes thought I was just a high energy person by nature, I realized it’s really because I believe I am a high energy person.

Did I lose you right there? Wait! Stay with me.

I know this stuff can sound weird and can scare the living hell out of you but listen… just stop and think about the things you have always just assumed about yourself “I am just a nice person”, “I am just a lazy person”, “I am a math person”. Where did those things come from? You made them up! Or someone told you were good (or bad) at something and you believed them and created your story from it. We naturally want to do the things we are good at and avoid the things we are “bad” at, I get it. Life is easier that way. But what if the you you are now, is based on a series of stories that you wrote for yourself?

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To prove my point I’m going to break down a couple of my stories, both good and bad.

I Am Not A Math Person. Numbers bore me.
This is a story I started telling myself in the 7th grade. What’s funny is that I was in the “gifted” math group in the 5th grade, but it took just a couple of years of consistently being told I was a great writer, that I’d publish a book one day, and that math was my weakest subject, to reject the whole thing all together. No one explained to me that though it was my “weakest” subject, I was still very much “good” at it. I believed what I was told and leaned into my writing and let my math muscle deteriorate. Combined with two unhelpful middle school math teachers who laughed at wrong answers, and of course, puberty, I rejected the whole notion that I could ever be good at math or science and by the time I hit the 9th grade I lived in perpetual fear of it.

And then I had a wonderful Chemistry teacher who was TOUGH on everyone. She was this way because she believed we could do anything we worked for. I spent hours after class with her going over formulas again and again until I could do the most difficult problems she wrote. I worked my ass off and got an A. Because she believed in me, because she made me focus, and because she made me work as hard as she knew I could.

It still took me some time after that, years and years of undoing the bad story, but here I am, working at a company, doing math, handling my own finances, figuring shit out. The stories we tell ourselves are sticky but they can be unstuck if we focus and move past our setbacks.

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I am high energy. I don’t require sleep.
When I got to be about 16 years old and was forced to work my ass off at boarding school (a school that I was getting a free ride to and thus was in perpetual fear of getting tossed out) I told myself that I required little sleep. I worked a part-time job, I stayed up late doing homework, I had a boyfriend, friends, extracurricular activities, started playing sports…I jam packed my days and found that if I pushed outside of myself, the energy was there. The same went for college, I pushed my limits, always feeling a heightened awareness that college was going to end and that I needed to soak up as many experiences as I could. I went to parties, I took lots of weird classes, I worked as an RA, I said “I can do it all” because I truly believed I was that type of person. If I pushed, I found the energy for it all just outside my comfort zone.

Flash forward to me as an adult trying to do as much as I did in college but adding in new responsibilities: rent, a dog, full-time job, bills, navigating NYC, cleaning my apartment… At times I would come to a screeching hault all of a sudden and realize “Maybe I can’t do it all.” But I had always been that person, I had always told myself I could do it all. And the moment that belief faltered, so did my ability to do the things I wanted to do.

It took me a few years (yes, years) to right this ship. It took learning a new way of doing things and getting things done to get there. I went through months and months of stress and of simply doing it all wrong. I tried to apply what I knew in college to my new life and that failed miserably. And now I do believe I can do it all, just in a different way.

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I absolutely know what you’re thinking right now. Really! You’re thinking that this can’t possibly be true, that there are things standing in your way but just remember, someone who was born with more than you has fallen and someone born with less than you has risen. It’s all a matter of perspective and of creating stories for yourself that fit. If you secretly wish you were “A Morning Person”… Tell yourself you are, set your alarm like you are, GET OUT OF BED like you are. If you wish you were kinder. Tell yourself you are, do kind things, enjoy the feeling that comes from doing kind things!

I’m not saying this cut and dry and I am not saying it is easy. It actually kind of sucks most of the time. Re-writing your story is HARD. But like… what else are you doing with your time here?

Shakshuka for One & Getting Past Bad Days

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I’m having one of those weeks where I feel bogged down but can’t find the source of the bogging. I am searching in every drawer but I can’t find what it is bringing me down. The grind of 9-5 job doesn’t help despite the love and support of coworkers and each day I find myself coming home depleted, worn out, and demotivated. Probably sounds familiar and despite my sadness, it makes me feel better knowing I am not alone.

I am fully capable of psyching myself up, repeating mantras, believing, and feeling inspired but I find very few outlets for that good energy. I have yet to find my gift to give and the process is endlessly draining, discouraging, and tiring. Hanging on to the belief that I’ll find my gift is not easy.

When I got home last night, unable to use my subway commute to determine what I should do with my life, I focused on dinner. I wanted to eat something that would taste like comfort food to take my mind off of the chaos for a bit. I wanted something to stick to my ribs but not weigh me down anymore than my own thoughts already do. So I decided to make shakshuka and make it for the first time. And of course, being as inwardly focused as I am, I recorded the process and wrote a little recipe.

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I started by surveying what kind of spices and vegetables I had on hand to build this yummy egg dish around. I did not use a recipe. I am happiest when I am just grabbing whatever I have on hand and experimenting.

I love cooking but don’t have strong feelings toward recipes. I am including one here today and yes, I read them all the time. I believe the true pleasure of cooking is not following rules but taking something and make it your own. I like to use recipes as guidelines.

From my fridge and cabinets I pulled and used the following:

3 cloves of garlic
1 stalk of green onion
1 handful of Picholine olives
Olive Oil
3/4 cups of tomato sauce
Pepper, parsley flakes, and turmeric
3 eggs
1 cup of arugula

I do love simple and minimal recipes and this one certainly falls into that category with a fairly short ingredient list and the use of a single pan.

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Eating olives instead of cooking

To start I diced up the garlic while heating up a decent amount of olive oil in my pan. I kept the heat on low as I added the garlic. Next I rough chopped the green onion and tossed it in. And followed it up with some olives. The only olives I had on hand had pits so I spent a good amount of time both eating them and pitting them. Do yourself a favor and just go buy pitted olives and rough chop them as well. Toss them in with everything else and keep the heat low. Low heat requires patience but I usually use that time getting myself organized.

I let everything get tender but not mushy and poured in my tomato sauce. I used a Barilla pasta sauce that, while cheap, is pretty tasty. I stirred everything all together.

After that I sprinkled on some pepper, parsley flakes, and a tiny bit of turmeric because I like its anti-inflammatory properties and add it where I can. I did not stir these in, I left them on top to help season my eggs. Which I cracked right on top of the mixture. I wish all 3 eggs would have sunk in a little bit more from an aesthetic standpoint but in the end they all cooked nicely so it wasn’t a big deal.

After the eggs were cracked and plopped in, I covered the whole thing and turned up the heat to medium. I let them cook for about 10 minutes but should have done 7. The sauce cooked down just a touch too much. Full disclosure, I was texting my friends and making my lunch for the next day so I wasn’t paying as close attention as I should have!

I pulled everything off the heat and after a little photo shoot I dumped the mixture onto a bed of arugula.

And then I ate until I felt better. Which is perhaps not a healthy statement, but it is true.

Cooking is soothing and keeps me feeling level when days are long and difficult. Cooking dinner gives me a sense of purpose when I feel like I have none. I think perhaps that is why I cooked elaborate meals every single night when my former relationship was falling apart. It makes me feel needed and accomplished. It is the best escape.

Give the recipe a try and let me know what changes you make. There is a million things you can add to this! (Avocado, feta cheese, tomatoes, etc.) Also, what do you cook when you are feeling blue? Why does it make you feel better?

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SHAKSHUKA FOR ONE
3 cloves of garlic
1 stalk of green onion
1 handful of Picholine olives
Olive Oil
3/4 cups of tomato sauce
Pepper, parsley flakes, and turmeric, to taste
3 eggs
1 cup of arugula

  1. In a small to medium pan, heat olive oil over a low heat and add diced garlic, green onion, and olives
  2. Once tender, pour in tomato sauce and stir
  3. Sprinkle with pepper, parsley, and turmeric, do not stir
  4. Crack eggs on top of sauce
  5. Cover and turn heat up to medium
  6. Cook for about 7 minutes or until eggs are baked through
  7. Remove from heat and lay on a bed of arugula
  8. Enjoy!