Archives for category: work-life balance

IMG_1864My back hurts, I can feel each muscle in my legs and arms. I have paint imbedded into vast portions of my hands, and at least five new bruises. Each night I crawl down three feet into a bunk where all my earthly (with me) possessions surround me, scuttling from clothes to books to towel on my knees, hunched over. For the past three days it’s been an endless stream of cleaning, sanding, painting, moving stuff from one place to another, carrying and hauling, with the occasional break for bullshitting. I’m exhausted, too tired to sleep more than five hours a night, really.

I couldn’t be happier.

Wolf 2

The Topsail Schooner Wolf,  sailing to Cuba as part of the Conch Republic Cup

Later today, somewhere between 5 and 6 this evening, I will sail away from Key West, along with 11 other people, aboard the Topsail Schooner Wolf, a two-masted, 74-foot schooner, as part of the inaugural Conch Republic Cup. At last count, some 59 boats and around 400 people are making the run from Key West to Varadero, Cuba. Three days later, we’ll race from Varadero to Havana, Cuba. Three days after that we will race back to Key West.

 

This isn’t the first time for the Key West to Cuba race – but it’s the first LEGAL one, made possible by Obama working to “normalize” relations with Cuba since he announced the changes in December, 2014. The result: a field of boats, large to small, all trekking to Key West to participate in this historic event, which could also easily be one of the largest contingents of US citizens to converge along Cuba’s coast since prohibition.

(Fun fact: During the US’ alcohol prohibition from 1920 to 1933, the Key West to Cuba trip via boat was a popular method to get to a legal rum source. Havana is only 90 miles off the US’ southernmost island’s point.)

conchrepubliccuplogo1000This race is a goodwill mission- an ambassadorship of sorts, and at the rate the US keeps announcing new allowances in trade and financial regulations, I wouldn’t be surprised if we get to see one of the last visions of a Cuba un-touched by the American way.

Making this race even MORE special for me (as if sailing a trip aboard my favorite ship and visiting Cuba wasn’t enough), is that my husband Jay is along for this trip, our Greenhorn crew. I’ve spent nearly four of the past 13 months down here in Key West crewing on Wolf again, and Jay has only been with me for five days of those. I now get to show him the ship I so love. He’s already been pulled into working on hatches, cleaning all sorts of things – the stuff of the lowly deckhand.

In many respects this is our last hurrah. Jay and I are approved foster parents, and we will start taking “placements” (aka, foster kids) into our home when we return. I won’t be able to just head south for a few weeks to go sailing, and there’s no international travel looming on the horizon since you can’t take foster kids abroad. Change is afoot. Good change, a new adventure. I can’t think of any better way of saying goodbye to our kid-less couple hood than jumping aboard a pirate-inspired schooner for a sail and a visit to a place most Americans have never gone.

You can track our progress here.

Meanwhile, wish us fair winds and following seas. Cuba has no real internet access, so we will see you on the flip side, full of sea tales, Cuban travel tips and just a few more high jinx up our sleeves.

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I am a recovering creative.

Truth be told, I am a recovering a lot of things. But that’s another blog. Ok, maybe a book since, after all, I’m getting up there in age.

I don’t mean recovering creative as in, “used to be and now seeking to not be.” I mean recovering as in, “becoming again.”

Just Say No(In case you think I am making up this creative recovery thing, I am not: it has a whole movement, a 12-step recovery process all its own, A.R.T.S Anonymous. As if artists really need help being any more anonymous: if you ask me, we need more light shined on how much work we are actually producing each day. It’s surprisingly easy to do work, without actually working on what you are supposed to be working on — this blog post being the perfect example.)

Each day I used to don the professional gear, commute 20 to 30 minutes, sit at my desk and begin the work of beginning to work. Each day was different, but the setting, the task, the GOAL, was the same: do lots of stuff to accomplish overall organizational goals, win friends, influence others and look smart while doing it!

And let me tell you, when it was working, it was HEADY stuff. When I was ON, the power was mine to wield, to make marvelous things happen for people, to make a DIFFERENCE. And I was good at my jobs – Good at getting money for the organizations I worked for; good at producing papers, newsletters, words that made people act; good at connecting people and making things happen.

But after 20 years, I was starting to run dry. The stress of not working on the words, the stories, the ideas in my head, was starting to show.

More importantly, I was starting to believe the headiness all that power of creation in the workplace created. I was starting to buy in. I started to want the fancy Brooks Brothers suits; the nicer, new car; the Washington DC parties and high-end connections and the power of knowing the people running the Ultimate Power City. In short, I started to think it was real.

Thankfully, a few things happened that leveled out my progress down the Great Corporate Power Road:

  1. My first husband left me, suddenly and without word or communicationIPhone Laura 2015 239 thereafter, after clearing out all his clothes and our joint bank account;
  2. Bereft and broken, I started exploring the whys and hows of the world, and of me;
  3. When I slipped up and let my EGO pick a power-filled job again, I ended up In a position that made me realize, quickly, that no amount of work would actually mean I could achieve the very thing I was supposed to in said job.

Ultimately, it was the crushing of my EGO — the painful tearing away of expectations, assumptions and successes — that got me out of that mess.

And so here I sit today: STRESS-less and Corporate-America-Shine-and-Dine-Big-JOB-less. Entirely for the better.

Except.

Each day I write and work on my active creative recovery for an hour, sometimes up to three. I am supposed to “play” several times during the week – and do lots of reading, not necessarily related to the book I am working on. I am supposed to work at creative things that don’t necessarily produce anything, and aren’t meant to. After I write, I head to the desk to tackle my actual creative work: Research, writing, planning. Usually for all of four hours, which is about what I have left after all that. I have yet to produce any new words for my book, and I’m only 10% done with my research. I alternate between feelings of despair, hopelessness and loneliness, and ever-soaring elation, freedom and the feeling that I have finally landed IN myself. Which, it turns out, is exactly what folks tend to feel in addiction recovery programs.

Addiction, at its core, is all about when individuals start thinking/believing and/or trying to BE God. For many of us, that’s exactly what work becomes. When you’re working, hard, every day, and making things happen, and bringing in more money each year, and hearing great things about yourself from all loads of people – well, it becomes easy to believe all that. And, you start to want to hear it more often. Until just one is no longer enough.

Our culture is set up to support accomplishment, great productions – money and things included. I’m starting to think that, in fact, our nation’s founders had tendencies towards bi-polar disorder that made them want to strike off across the ocean to unknown land to begin with – let alone settle remote outposts surrounded by woods and wilds. That certainly explains the Salem Witch Trials  to me a whole heck of a lot better than religious zealotry. Ok, so maybe it’s an equally-weighted thing.

Either way, as with anything that feels good when you first do it, but then gets more guilt-laden than celebratory, where the repercussions start outweighing the benefits, and where one is just not enough (job, shift, one more hour or one more digit increase to the salary), eventually, if work is your addiction, you hit the proverbial bottom.

Increasingly, we Americans are hitting that bottom – even as countless stories, research projects and pundits caution us that happiness does not lie in great works, money, things or more hours working. You analytical types can see the proof by reading Stanford University’s “The Relationship Between Hours Worked and Productivity,” or by watching the Ted Talk Video, “Flow: the Secret of Happiness.”  Or read up on the work of social scientists who discovered a few years ago that people who make $75k or more may feel better in general about life, but not in day-to-day, overall emotional well-being – and that, in fact, that daily happiness ratio decreases the more a person makes above that mark.

It’s just not hard to find the studies and scholarly articles that prove we Americans are working more, achieving less and being more miserable doing it.

The challenge is, of course, recovering in a society that is largely addicted to the power of work – something that ultimately is more related to culture, which would take far more than a nationwide 12-step recovery program to address.

But if any of you creative, workaholic types out there feel like tackling that fix-it, have at it.

IPhone Laura 2015 199In the meantime, the best answer might be for us each, individually, to embark upon our own recovery – creative, spiritual, family or otherwise. At the end, it’s all about uncovering what it is that throws us off balance, tracking it down, excising it and then working on re-centering.

Maybe that’s the closest we really need to a New Year’s resolution.