If anyone was to ask me what I’ve noticed about my professional life in the last year, I would says “I’m working harder than I ever have in my life, but I’m minding it less.” There’s something to be said for getting yourself into a job that provides more eustress (the good kind of stress that comes from challenging yourself or doing something exciting) and distress (which is… well, distressing.)
Stress is still stress, though, and one of my issues is finding ways to “turn it off” and letting myself relax without the feeling of “Yes, I’m relaxing, but surely I could be relaxing more productively…” Sitting down with my therapist, he suggested a good mix of self-love and self-care. “Give yourself permission to not be firing on all cylinders,” “make time for rest,” etcetera. All good advice I need to keep in mind more often. Critical for today, though, was his last suggestion- “What activities inspire and restore you?”
Well… that’s what writing used to be. Baking too. Both still work now and again, but the cathartic aspect just doesn’t hit like it used to. THIS is what restores me now.
It’s a chilly, windy Saturday afternoon of the kind that Portland is so good at providing. I’m sitting at a small table in a new beer spot on Belmont and waiting on my wife- the other end of the table is taken up by three strangers.
I’m about to kill my second beer after having a big plate of Arroz chauro con carne from the Peruvian cart down the block. Behind the beer, I have a cup of chicha murrada– a cold sweet drink made of purple corn that tastes like something between açaí and fruit punch. It makes an interesting (but not unpleasant) taste sensation going back and forth between that and the Vienna-style lager.
I’ve only lately discovered Foreland Brewing’s wares, and I don’t remember the last time I had Peruvian food except for the briefest of trips to Andina when I was first looking for work in Portland. I’ve heard of chicha in historical contexts where a fermented version was the popular drink of Incan royalty, but the closest I’d ever come to trying it myself was a local brewery making maize-based cerveza.
Going out, finding new foods, trying them in new places, and talking to strangers is without a doubt as restorative to me- creatively, spiritually, emotionally- as exercise, yoga, or a blanket-wrapped nap in my rocking chair. Whichever one I crave depends on my mood, but the result is the same. Interestingly, the word “restauraunt” is derived from the 19th Century French “restaureur” meaning “to provide food for” or literally “to restore to a previous state.”
Back when I first started writing this blog, the most restorative activities I had were exercise, writing, baking, and gaming. I would finish a long day at work and culinary school, get into gym clothes, and then exercise till 1 am to “blow off steam.” Writing this blog and writing, in general, was my place to express myself. Baking was both education and relaxation.
We are not made of stone, though, and it was a manner of time before I sought new ways to relax. Increasing stress meant increasingly strenuous exercise, and increasingly physical labor finally made me turn from running and regular sandbag exercise to yoga and long rambling walks.
Two books and nearly ten years of blogging later, writing is still enjoyable but no longer necessarily relaxing. It’s a business, a job in itself, and an obligation. And baking? I happily bake for my friends and loved ones, but don’t experiment at home just for the fun of making something in the kitchen nearly so much anymore. Gaming is still fun, but it tends to happen near my desk where I can see books about writing, food, and entrepreneurship. Besides, the energy I get from exercising makes it difficult to stay planted for long periods of time unless I’m sick/injured. “Gaming” then gets a 30 minute timer set before I remind myself I need to go for a walk/write something/ finish those recipes or whatever adulting I need to get done.
Growing and improving means watching the “old” you change and fade- and sometimes that means losing touch with things that used to be all-important to you. Don’t ask about the last time I sat down to write a poem- changing my personal business cards to read “Author” rather than “Poet” was more than a little bittersweet. It was sad to recognize that I wasn’t really doing the thing that got me started in Creative Writing anymore, but I recognized that my life was full of so much more because of it.
I’m about to finish up the blog post and then do some laundry. With that bit of adulting done, I’m going to test out a new recipe for the pie shop in my home kitchen, and reward myself with a trip out into the sunshine to see friends and enjoy some tasty beer. I’ll bring my tablet with me so I can work on my next book if I find I’m needing some alone time.
Tonight though, you can find me in my rocking chair, under a blanket, with a drop of whiskey or a martini and listening to some jazz. We all have our ways to recharge. What’s yours?