Friday, June 01, 2007

Welcome to the Swing Shift Writers Series

To kick off the Swing Shift Writers series, the editors of Blood Orange Review give their own thoughts about their personal struggles and tricks with balancing work and writing.

You’re not the boss of me!
Stephanie Lenox

Stanley Bing has recently come out with a new and revised version of his book Crazy Bosses, which was first published in 1992. Since then, he has honed his experience by becoming the boss himself, which has allowed him insight into the insanity of leadership. In the book, he pinpoints five different kinds of crazy bosses:

The Bully

The Paranoid

The Narcissist

The Wimp

The Disaster Hunter

After receiving a project grant that allowed me to quit my job and focus on my writing for several months, I thought my scheduling woes and work frustrations would be over. Now that I’m in complete control of my days, I have had to figure out what kind of boss I’m going to be. Enter: new boss. Same as the old boss.

During the months I’ve worked on my project, I’ve been both micro-manger and absentee leader. I have timesheets and reading lists and submission goals and spreadsheets. I’ve torn myself down to the point I thought about quitting altogether. I’ve managed to write some work I’m proud of, but it is never enough. I’ve had the opportunity to exercise my craziness in many unproductive ways.

Bing explains that “there is a limit to the effectiveness of rationality.” He later recommends that readers “aspire to the most potent level of craziness you can personally achieve in your lifetime.” The key is the word potent. While the above crazy types can be a drain on achievement, there are certain kinds of craziness that can serve the greater good.

In my remaining weeks, I’m trying to hold tight to a different kind of insanity in order to push my writing to the next level. I’m reading more and staring out the window more. If I don’t write, I’m trying to be nice about it. I leave the house at least once a day and make sure to have a conversation with someone other than the cat. I’m trying to remind myself why I write and why I’ve worked so hard to have this time to concentrate on my work. Through it all, I’m remembering the words of my teacher: “If anything, you should have fun.”

I’m a horrible, crazy boss. But I’m trying to get better. I’m trying to love my words enough to revise them. I’m reading more than I have in years—out loud for hours on end. I’m trying to remember that there’s never a perfect time to write—I will never have enough space, leisure, money, and time. I’m trying to counter fear and paranoia (an occupational hazard) with generosity and patience.

Work Benefits
Heather K. Hummel

One of my most helpful writing tricks is the happy side-effect of a job that I do part-time: I am a yoga teacher. I started practicing yoga because I had too much stress in grad school. But I've continued to practice, and then teach yoga because it clears the clutter from my day and makes me focus, really focus on the thoughts in my head.

After searching high and low for "inspiration" I realized that I usually have plenty of inspiration to keep me busy writing, but it's hidden under distracting, jumbled thoughts about what I needed at the grocery store, and what tasks I need to finish at the office before the weekend comes.

Early yoga practitioners did not "do" yoga like so many people do it these days, as calisthenics. Early yoga practitioners considered that it was a way to get the restless body (and mind) to settle down enough so that the practitioner could meditate. And isn't writing a form of meditation? We sit down and focus, and then explore some image or metaphor very intently, much like one might stare at a candle flame or visualization during a meditation.

So, why do I teach yoga, and not just "practice" yoga if it is a preparation for my writing practice? Well, it is often said that teachers teach what they most need to learn. I'm still learning how to get all the useless clutter out of my brain so I can see the poetry underneath. And teaching yoga gives me a couple hours a week where I have to practice, no excuses: I'll get fired.

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