The Illusion of Productivity

by Paige Ray in , , ,

We want to do something but we think it needs to be the right something, by which we mean something important.
— Julia Cameron, The Artist's Way

The impetus

Th quote above struck me particularly hard when I read it because I had just had a conversation regarding productivity.  

"This week has been great," as I was explaining my first week off from the full time job. "I've been staying busy, getting so much done.  Crazy productive."

"Why?" she asked. "Isn't this like... you know... vacation for you?"

I sputtered, "Well... I mean... I've got stuff to do... And... you know... laundry is never done... and my dream of being a novelist won't happen if I never get in front of a computer..."

"What's the point of staying so busy? I mean, you're in the last stages of creating a human... isn't that fairly productive in itself?"

And I'm fairly sure I looked at her as if she had just asked me why I don't eat newborn alien babies more often (that quizzical look you have on your face right now is close); it simply didn't compute.

And it stuck with me for such a long time.  It made me realize how much I tie my happiness to this illusion of productivity.  And anyone with basic ability to read in between the lines could see it on this very blog: whether I was stressing about my lack of productivity in nursery decor or my fear of a lack of productivity during future blizzards, whether I was deciding how my one little word would help my productivity, or praising an event that is basically focused on productivity, or simply looking back to see how productive I have been.

When did I get so focused on getting stuff done?
How did life become about checking off the cute little boxes I make on my daily to-do lists?
What is the difference in being simply productive and doing that which is important?

The realization

All of these questions have left me to realize that my goal of productivity is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt at convincing myself of my own self-worth.  If I have seven out of ten boxes checked, I have been a relatively decent human being.  I can justify using up the oxygen it takes to go throughout a day and I can work tomorrow at checking off more boxes.  These boxes, I have come to realize, have been stand-ins for every role I play in life.

Want to see how good of a wife/writer/sister/friend/worker bee I’ve been?
Let’s refer back to those boxes and their corresponding check mark please.

And Now...

I am coming to terms that with the following facts:

My "good human" score has nothing to do with the average number of boxes checked or forwarded until tomorrow or those duties done that were never listed.
My answer of, "I got a lot done," will never again be a sufficient answer for when my husband asks how my day went.
My to-do list will never describe my self-worth.  

Essentially, this past week has shifted my point of reference.  I can no longer allow my self-confidence to be a product of an inanimate object. Instead I have to take the responsibility of asking, and honestly answering, whether I have made a difference instead of simply been satisfied with making a dent in the never-ending to-do list.

Image Credit : Ilya via UnSplash

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The Stages of Labor and Life // Transition

by Paige Ray in , ,

"Transition," the childbirth instructor coos, "is generally the most difficult part.  

The part every woman, even the most staunch natural childbirth advocate, looks to with trepidation."* 

At the front of the room, the motherly figure with a sweetest voice and most calm demeanor isn't trying to scare us.  No, her belief is that pain in childbirth is often exacerbated by fear which leads to tension which ratchets up pain.  She believes that knowledge of the situation is a remedy to fear and that by knowing what's happening you are in a situation which you are better prepared to handle.  It's because of this that she is trying to convey the reality of last past of the first stage of labor. (In case it's been a while since 10th grade biology, check out this link to see what I'm referring to.)  True to her belief that knowledge is fear's greatest opponent, she doesn't hold back when preparing us with how this stage is not just painful, but painful without a break. 

"That's the hard part," she explains, "the fact that you don't have any time to recover from the latest contraction before the next one comes."

I really appreciated my childbirth class experience.

I found that it was a time to bond with my husband, learn about my unborn child, and take away some of (okay- lots of) my own fear and doubt; all without the anxiety that comes with a pregnancy related Google search (which always always always leads to a message board with a mom talking about a worst case scenario). And now I've had some time to reflect.

Currently I am six weeks on the other side of childbirth class and three weeks before my due date.  I have one more day to work a job that, like every job, has had its ups and downs, but unlike every job, has allowed me to grow in ways I didn't know to ever expect.  I am two days away from spending the weekend with my mother, who would definitely be in the running for "world's most excited grandmother" if such a title existed.  I am three days away from my first day of "retirement", which is what my husband and I are calling the period of time between my last day at work and my first (and ongoing) day/s of motherhood.  

This is the official beginning of my change:
My own transition of ‘working girl’ to ‘stay at home parent’.

And I am scared.

And maybe others wouldn't see it that way.  Maybe they would see this time as the calm before the "storm" that is new motherhood - with all the diaper changes and 2am feedings and constant temperature taking. But this is a big mental shift for me, one that has taken up a lot more brain space in the recent months than that of both "labor and delivery" and "brand new motherhood".  

Similar to an impending hurricane that has it's own Weather Channel update every 30 minutes, I fully respect the power of the forces directly in front of me.  And while I understand the activity that surrounds these "main" events, I also innately trust the people who promise that my body "was made for this" and that I will "instinctively know what to do when that baby cries, no matter how many diapers you have previously changed."

For the record:
The number of diapers previously changed currently hovers around three.

Its the before and after that I am currently more concerned about.  Though I have never personally experienced a hurricane I imagine the questions are the same: What do I take with me from my current life? What do I sacrifice?  Which personal levies will hold strong and which will be washed away?  What happens when I am left to face a part of myself that I may not recognize?

Specifically, I wonder how I will deal with my own expectations of personal productivity.  Will I choose for these next three weeks to resemble vacation or do I stuff them to the gills will tasks and to-dos?  How will my encounters with other friends and colleagues change once they realize that I no longer have a "real job"?  How and when will I choose to express my creativity?  How will I choose to work?  How do I prevent myself from being so cocooned in motherhood that I can no longer carry on a conversation of any worth? How do I stay involved in a community that I love  that enriches me?

For now, when things start to back up and threaten to overwhelm

I give myself permission to stop and step back.  

I remind myself of the fear-tension-pain cycle and take comfort in the fact that knowledge and practice and outside support, all things that I hope to take advantage of, are the things that prevent the cycle from getting out of hand. 

I remind myself to breathe... that's what everyone on television says to do during childbirth.  Who am I to fight with popular culture?

But mostly, I remind myself that transition may be the hardest part but is it only a single part of a process that has the potential to change my life for the better.  

*I am greatly paraphrasing the wonderful childbirth educator and doula Kay.  While I don't pretend to remember everything word for word, I feel like my recollection is in the spirit of her vast knowledge and experience.

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An Open Letter // Amy Tan

by Paige Ray in , ,

Amy - 

I hope you don't mind me calling you Amy.

Yes, you're a professional and well respected author and, no,we've not had the pleasure of meeting one another, but I hope that you don't take my candor as a sign of disrespect.  

It's just that I know you.  Let me explain:

I recently traveled to listen to you address a college audience 75 miles away.  While I generally love a good drive (it's the best for catching up on podcasts & audiobooks, don't you agree?) I am 35 weeks pregnant.  Forcing my body to retain itself in one position for longer than 30 minutes probably wasn't the smartest decision I made that day.  Sure enough, because of a combination of pregnancy needs and my own constantly delayed internal timing device, I was characteristically late arriving to your talk, but you didn't seem to mind.  In fact, you had just begun speaking as I walked through the back entrance, while apologizing my way through a set of good natured college kids, explaining my lack of ticket to the event. (If you're thinking that the presence of my huge belly probably helped gained me a sympathy vote, you would most likely be correct.)  

You continued speaking to the audience like an old friend, explaining how as a student, you too had relied on you "friend Cliff (Notes)" to help you get through those seven literature classes you took during the same semester.  In this one instance of pointing out of a personal "flaw" you were suddenly accessible, real, and normal.

When you told us that a story is simply "universal truths of human nature delivered in the context of a specific situation", it was a quote to write down for our (in my case, nonexistent) Composition class the next day.  Then you dug deeper and explained that a story is often contained in two separate narratives: that which is supposed to be and that which actually is.  

This,” I thought, “is another solid example to file away in my ‘aspiring writer’ journal.

But when you went through the full story of being tested at a young age and how that lead to a projected career as a brain surgeon and concert pianist, both of which fell by the wayside in college, I deeply understood your internal conflict. 

"Gradually my identity was gone," you explained."Who am I going to be?" was the question you asked yourself and, by extension, us as the audience.  

"I know this story," I whispered to myself. (Very softly so that no one would think that the pregnant lady was in some sort of hormone induced psychosis.)

As your story continued, we realize that later (years after becoming a best-selling author, no less) you come across information about the initial testing where you discover the description your parents gave of you as a child who constantly drew pictures and told stories.

That girl is who I was supposed to be all along.

You seemed to almost whisper it to yourself even as you were speaking to the crowd; you were realizing that you were on the "right" path.  As you spoke that line you were realizing, again, that your "supposed to" path and your actual path were simply a part of your individual story.

So, you see, it's less that I know you and more that I know your story.  

I know what it's like to feel miles away from the place everyone expects. I know the self-doubt you spoke of when you submitted your initial short stories: "I didn't know I should obsess.  I would send it to New York and it would be rejected."  I know what it's like to gaze across the chasm that separates intellectual ability and creative curiosity.

It's because of this knowledge that I wanted to convey my appreciation to you for telling your personal story.  And I wanted you to know that by doing so you have inspired me to share some universal truths of my own.

Sincerely yours,


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I Am Done

by Paige Ray in , , , ,

In honor of my 31st year, here is a list of things that I no longer intend to do / take part in / believe / make a part of my life.  While some are big and life-changing, most are small and relatively insignificant lessons that have rolled past me over and over and over again, which I am just now starting to appreciate.

I am done - 

  1. Not claiming my title as a writer.
  2. Having cold feet. (Literal cold feet.  I will wear footwear that will keep my feet comfortably warm.  If this means I live in boots six months a year so be it.  Choosing to have cold feet is stupid if one has the money and sense.)
  3. Not speaking up in the name of "protecting others".
  4. Not speaking up with the excuse of being afraid to "expose myself".
  5. Surrounding myself with things that don't bring me joy.
  6. "Making" myself finish a book / podcast / song that I'm just not that into.
  7. Writing the encouragement email or thank you note but never pressing send / getting it in the mail.
  8. Not being a good gift giver.  (I'm not sure how I will become better but I am officially saying that I want to become better.)
  9. Watching TV with my darling husband and calling it "quality time".
  10. Feeling bad about not watching TV with my husband... because it's not quality time.
  11. Justifying everything.  Sometimes a girl just needs that third bowl of cereal- there is no reason to "blame" it on needing a higher calcium level.
  12. Not having my own style.  Something about becoming a boy mom has made me realize how much I want to keep my femininity in tact despite the upcoming (decidedly unglamorous) days of changing diapers and cleaning mud out of pockets.
  13. Allowing others to dictate how I feel. 
  14. Feeling bad / guilty depending on how I think/ assume others will judge me.
  15. Not having a "cause". That sounds pretentious, but it's true. Similar to a beauty queen that is able to quickly and concisely name her platform, my current boss is able to express his view on what he is involved with in the community and why.  I appreciate and want to emulate that.
  16. Not being willing to name my fears.
  17. With the phrase "I am bored." My life is too amazing and I have too many things currently undone to ever utter that again.
  18. Not giving myself grace / space to relax.  (A paradox to the entry above? I think it's simply the opposite side of the same issue.)
  19. Not having / using a budget. I will unapologetically learn from friends who are smarter . more experienced than myself.
  20. Not going on "artist dates". 
  21. Talking softly.  My "talk louder" campaign has started at the drive through and I hope to continue it in healthier establishments.
  22. Not taking care of myself.  Even 15 minutes of exercise is something.  I should do something every day.
  23. Imagining that others are better than me.  A childhood spent feeling insecure is no reason to continue thinking that any person out there, most especially those that I admire, are superior to me.
  24. Requiring validation from others.  
  25. Treating others how I want to be treated. I am slowly slowly slowly learning that sometimes, the way I want to be treated (gently, softly, lovingly) is not the best way to get others to respond. Sometimes standing my ground and being loud about it (see numbers 2, 3, and 21) are the best ways to help others understand where I am and where I need to go.
  26. Being ashamed of my love for genre fiction.  I recently started Sue Grafton's "alphabet series" from the beginning (though I know I have read some of the middle "letters") and I feel like I'm ten and discovering the thrill of Nancy Drew again.
  27. Drinking too much.  Not being "allowed" to drink because of pregnancy helped me realize how nice it is to wake up on a Saturday and not regret Friday night. While this wasn't happening too often, this unintentional experiment has given me the space to know that I will be more intentional about it in the future.
  28. Avoiding vitamins.  
  29. Not asking for what I want.
  30. Believing the negative stuff that other's have put in my head.
  31. Doubting people who tell me they love me.

Image Credit: Sylwia Bartyzel via Unsplash

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Insert Elvis' Voice Here // Prompt Club Giveaway

by Paige Ray in ,

Winner has been emailed!! Thank you for reading.

Sometimes those blurry moments when I'm just waking up, I will have conversations with people.  Non-existent people mostly.  

Generally, this is just the leftover pink and grey haze of some sort of dream, but occasionally I will latch on to one of the distorted phrases.  Sometimes I hear mini lectures from my college self telling me not to bungle up such a good life.  Sometimes I update long gone relatives about the weekend's plans.  Or, sometimes, like today, I will find myself talking to the teenage version of my (as of yet) unborn son.  

The phrase:

"What are we, if not a culmination of our experiences?" is what stuck this morning. As I wrote in my journal:

We’re all basically the same biology. The same chemistry.
It’s our experiences that make us different. The situation we put ourselves in, the situations we take ourselves out of, the situations we have little / no control over but we figure out somehow anyway.

Today is my 31st birthday.

And, per my tradition, I am giving something away to celebrate. 

If you subscribe to my news letter you already know that I am one of the folks being interviewed for Jennifer Snyder's Prompt Club.  (We had the interview / conversation via Skype and it was one of the most lovely - free flowing conversations I've ever had with someone I hardly know.)  For those of you who don't follow Jennifer and may not know, PROMPT CLUB is an 8-week journaling course (that’s meant to feel more like a club) developed to help you jumpstart your journaling practice and get in touch your inner writer. 

What's great about what Jennifer is doing is that she is emphasizing that you don't have to be an "official" writer to journal.  As she and I spoke earlier this week I shared that, like a good therapist, a journaling practice often acts as a mirror to let you reflect on your life.  Reflection, I'm starting to understand, is invaluable.

To get in on the giveaway simply leave a comment below letting me know the current status of your journaling practice: nonexistent, stagnant, thriving, etc. I'm genuinely curious how many other people are out there filing up empty pages with ink and struggling to find the right word to capture that exact feeling.

I will randomly pick one winner, using a random number generator next Friday, March 13th at/ around 7pm. Registration is open through March 20 and the course runs March 29 - May 23.  If you decide to go ahead and register and end up winning I will refund your money.  

Good luck and I look forward to taking this course with you.

*And the Elvis voice I hear: That's just my husband's chosen rendition of "Happy Birthday".  
I generally don't talk to Elvis first thing in the morning.

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Laser // February Update

by Paige Ray in , , , ,

My one word this year is "LASER".

As with previous years, I intended to use it as a talisman.  The one word that would guide me when there was a fork in the road.

Two years ago, when I had to make a decision, I would think "Fearless" and then (try to) follow the path that would come from being fearless.  Last year, when faced with a question, I would think "Grow" and then "lean in" to whichever situation allowed me growth.  My intention was that by calling up the word "Laser" I would be able to continually inspire myself to stay true to my 2015 decision of making this year all about writing and how I could use this year of transition (new motherhood, new job description, new environment) as "material" for all the stories that are currently being backlogged in my mind.  
"Focus on writing," I thought, "and, eventually, I will be a real writer."

But this year is different.  

This year, instead of shining light on what I should pursue, my word seems to be illuminating all my flaws and imperfections.  Currently, the word "laser" rises up to meet me when my curiosity has me exploring whatever foxhole that has piqued my interest.  
"Way to stay 'focused' on writing, you ADD loser," my inner voice taunts.  

When I'm reading an interview about the latest (insert any artist, craftsman, writer), the words "laser" and "focus" automatically jump out at me.
"You were right, they agree - it does take focus.  Too bad you are horribly inadequate at that skill," nags the tiny monster in my brain.

And the worst is when I have the time and space to write but absolutely no desire.
It's then when the voice in my head often goes silent.  A silent dare for me to argue.  Knowing that I have no excuse other than I'm big pregnant and it's the middle of winter and I'm cold and I'm tired.  Even through the silence I know that the voice is saying that a "real" writer wouldn't let those things get in her way.  Wordlessly, that critic is making the declaration that "real writer" status obviously belongs no where near my vicinity.

And yet, I'm still pursuing my daily writing goal (progress not perfection). And I'm still recording my "glimpses" which are daily observances that often turn into blog posts or stories.  But I'm also actively rebelling by passively protesting - refusing to review or edit or post anything that may help others or myself.  
What's the point?  It's not as if I'm a real writer.

Obviously I'm struggling.  
And I fully accept that this post hoovers dangerously close to melodramatic and whiny.  
But today it's my truth.

Suggestions / recommendations / magic wands welcome.

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