Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Refilling the Well

by Annette Dashofy

The saying goes “If you want something done, ask a busy person.” Only don’t ask me next week.

Yesterday morning I started to slip into a meltdown. I had tons of excuses for going all weepy. Unemployed husband with no good prospects in sight. Potentially needing to find that dreaded “real job” in spite of all efforts to avoid such nonsense. No time to write. Too many demands.

Pick one.

But as I blew my nose, wiped my eyes, and settled into my early morning yoga practice, the true reality of the situation came to light. My well is dry.

I’ve been pouring out all my energy in many different directions from mentoring new Avon representatives to coordinating a day-long writing workshop for Pennwriters to heading up the job hunt for Hubby to caring for my 90-year-old mom. I love all of these tasks. But you can’t keep giving it away without replenishing the reserves.

No wonder my writing has been such a struggle. Not only am I trying to cram a page in here and a page in there; I’m trying to tap into an emotional well that has been exhausted.

In that moment of clarity, when I diagnosed the source of my meltdown, I also knew what I needed to do to fix it.

Years ago I read a book called The Right to Write by Julia Cameron. In it, she devotes a chapter to "The Well" and talks about restocking the pond by going on an Artist Date. Once weekly, she goes on a solitary expedition to something that interests her. Perhaps a museum or a favorite store. The main requirements are that it be someplace fascinating and to go alone.

In my current situation, another requirement is that it be cheap.

Another name I’ve used for “refilling the well” is a Mental Health Day. But I need way more than that. I need a Mental Health Week.

As it happens, Hubby will be out of town for several days next week.


I was supposed to have a dentist appointment during one of those days.

I cancelled it. I’ve cleared my schedule. If you want/need me to do something next week, the answer is NO!

The plan is to practice yoga in the quiet solitude of my empty house. (Cats don’t count. Cats soothe the wounded soul.) Then I shall write and I shall read. Meals will consist of Lean Cuisine and pizza delivery. I plan to take some long evening walks. I also plan to take one of those Artist Dates, but I haven’t chosen a destination yet. And when I do, I probably won’t tell anyone.

So when was the last time you took a Mental Health Day or went on an Artist Date? And where do you recommend as a good location for one? What recharges your batteries and refills your well?


Ramona said...

Annette, I wish you a well-deserved week of recharging yourself.

One of my writing friends volunteers at a local museum as a labyrinth guide. I've been on a few labyrinth walks, and they are peaceful and invigorating at the same time. But anything outdoors, with a laptop or notepad, is good for the well.

Annette said...

Oh, Ramona, I've walked a labyrinth and it is an incredible experience. Hmmm... Wonder where there's one around here...

PatRemick said...

I love the idea of an Artist Date. For me, sometimes a walk along the beach is enough. Last night it was watching the surfers as the sun set, with one glass of red wine in my water bottle, dog and husband sitting silently beside me. But I don't think you need an ocean to recharge. Even taking an hour to sit and people watch might be enough -- it's free and you could even justify it as necessary for character development. I also find that doing something totally out of line with my regular day can be so energizing -- even if it's just listening to an entire NPR program and not doing anything else at the same time. Don't forget to update us on your wonderful week!

Ramona said...

Annette, you can try searching here:

Joyce Tremel said...

Annette, there's a labyrinth right here the North Hills. The Sisters of Divine Providence have one at La Roche College. I've never been there even though it's so close, but I've heard it's really nice.

I find walking in old cemeteries to be very relaxing. Reading headstones gives me all kinds of ideas for stories.

Sherry D. said...

As you know, Annette, I have some issues going on right now. I hope a lot is settled this weekend. Like you I've been running on a nearly empty tank for a long time now. When things settle down I need to try some of your suggestions.

Bet I never told you that years ago I was actually in an Artist's Way group with Julia Cameron. I even did Artist Dates. You can do a lot of them for free.

Thanks for the reminder.

Jenna said...

Wow. Awesome post. But I've never done Artist Days, and I'm not sure I ever replenish the well, really. My life is pretty much being dragged in three or four different directions at once. I escape by reading, which is something I have less and less time for these days, with deadlines every so often. I go grocery shopping by myself - sometimes that's a glorious experience when you have small kids - and I sneak off to the library and the bookstore on my own sometimes. I'd love to have a beach, though. Still keeping the dream of Florida alive, even though the condo didn't work out.

Enjoy your time off, Annette. Well deserved!

Annette said...

Pat, I love walking on the beach, although for me, it's likely to be the beach of Lake Erie at Presque Isle.

Joyce, I thought there was a labyrinth around here. Yes, now that you mention the one at La Roche, I remember hearing about it.

Sherry, no, I did't know that about you. How cool! Hope your life settles down soon.

Jennie, that being dragged in so many directions thing is what's gotten me down. Alone time, whatever that means for you, is vital. Sorry to hear the condo in Florida didn't work out for you. Bummer

Gina said...

Annette -
I read. Anything and everything but, when I really want to replenish myself, I reread the Harry Potter series (all 7 books). It's so easy to fall into that world. I'm doing that now, in fact. Just finished book four (Goblet of Fire) and started into book five (Order of the Phoenix) before I left for work this morning.
I also like Joyce's suggestion of walking in cemeteries, which I do, too. And as for story ideas . . . I've never used a story idea I got in a cemetery, but I remember walking among the graves of St. Mary's in 1997 (I remember the year because my mother was seriously ill). I came upon a child's grave. The tombstone read: "Our Darling""1921-1924." There were fresh flowers on that grave and I had to wonder who had been grieving for this child for more than 70 years.

Laurie said...

Annette, great post! I'm sorry to hear you're going through a difficult time. I hope your week of well replenishment is wonderful for you.

It's good that you've been able to diagnose what it is that you need to do to start refilling your well.

I love the idea of an Artist Date and I might give that a try myself.

Joyce, I'm with you on the "cemetery thing." I found the first name for one of my characters on a tombstone.

Annette said...

Our local cemetery is my favorite spot to walk. Gina, I know what you mean. There several very old graves that are still well kept and it does make you wonder about the backstory.

Becky said...

Will be praying for cooler weather for your time alone. I know how you have been wanting that.

Ricky Bush said...

I snatch up my harmonica and play a little blues until the pond refills.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Trust me, Annette, I know exactly where you are and what you're talking about. I was where you husband was less than 2 years ago.

I thought I'd be able to write while I looked for work. No way. Tha anxiety of needs overshadowed the wants and I couldn't concentrate on writing.

Now I'm still trying to figure out how to run a new environmental department and working 10 to 12 hour days. When I get home, I'm spent. I no more feel like being creative than a freezing man wants an ice cube.

When I went to my wife to tell her I needed some time off... a vacation to relax, she said we couldn't afford it. Because of paying for a wedding this year AND having two daughters in college, we weren't going to take a vacation.

A week later I told her we could either go on a vacation or I would go in and quit because I needed a break, I guess she saw the light.

Hopefully the last week in September I'll be able to recharge the batteries and I plan on taking my netbook down to the Riviera Maya and maybe get back into my WIP.

Annette said...

Oh, Will, I feel your pain. Good luck on getting that vacation.

We have our camper on a seasonal site in Confluence PA (right on the Youghiogheny River) and last year when it was time to renew our lease, Hubby questioned spending the money. I put my foot down and insisted, because it would likely be the closest thing to a vacation we'd get. I was right. And spending time there is the only thing keeping me sane these days.

Cheryle said...

For a refresher: For those who might want to travel to the South Hills area of Pittsburgh, I invite you to drop by the Oliver Miller Homestead in South Park, on Sunday afternoons from 130 to 430 PM (this is where I volunteer as a docent at this historical site with a stone house dating from 1809). It's by the 'circle' when you drive down Corrigan Drive thru South Park, on the hill to the left. Look for the log cabin and the stone mansion.

Our Revolutionary War encampment with the 9th Pennsylvania Regiment is the weekend of Sept. 18/19.
Cost is $2 per person on special event days, $1 on other Sundays.

Recharge your batteries in the 18h century.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Ahh, Annette, the vacation is bought and paid for. Sept 25 - Oct 2. Secrets Capri all inclusive. Can't wait. Sanity is worth it.

NancyM said...

Great post, Annette. I try to have an artist date every day. Even leafing through an art or photography book can be inspiring. I also read short stories by writers in other genres. All free!

N said...

I also think looking at Emmy Awards dresses counts.

Carol Silvis said...

Annette, take the time you need and forget about everything else that needs to be done. Your sanity and peace of mind are sacred. Good luck and happy writing.

Tamara said...

Annette, sorry I'm just seeing this now. Great post.

For me, I love being by water. It doesn't matter what kind of water - swimming pools, lakes, creeks, water falls, ponds, oceans. Just sitting by the water and starting out into it calms me. The sounds help, but there's something about being next to the power of nature (we can be pretty powerless against water as those who went on the Confluence trip last year know!) that makes me feel I can conquer my challenges. I'm not sure if that makes sense.

I'm not a huge nature girl. Trust me, but you may think otherwise when I add that the wind against my face does the trick as well. A great place to feel that is Mount Washington, overlooking the City of Pittsburgh.

No matter where you go and what you do, though, it's a good plan to take time to yourself, and you totally deserve it!