Distracted Much?

I’m going to go out on a not-so-surprising limb and say that distractions are the creative suck of any writer’s life. They are there, and while their singular purpose is not to derail you from accomplishing successful completion of projects, they do a pretty good job of it as a byproduct.

My opinion? Distractions are subversive havoc-wreakers, cropping up to gnaw away at your day, regurgitating their kill into the mouth of one’s tiny internal procrastination monster. That monster happens to have a bottomless pit for a stomach.  Not that I’ve pondered this much. Cough, cough.

Yes, I realize the irony of this following my blog post three months ago about creative resilience. Obviously I failed at that endeavor, despite my optimism, resulting in a severe cut back on the number of posts I was producing. Hey, you get divorced, make mandatory renovations (damn ice dams), prepare, list, and maintain a house on the market all while dealing with the emotional issues of children, cats, yourself, and everyone else effected by your divorce. The good news is, we all made it through.

Let me provide you with an example of how mayhem (yes, go ahead and think of those commercials) can disrupt the creative flow. If you let it. Which I did.

I’m not sure I’ve mentioned it, but I am the mother to two Siamese cats, half-brothers through their stud of a father. They are ten years old. I say mother because they both think they are human, will vocally argue the validity of their opinion should you confront them, and who am I to argue? I talk to them like they are, therefore it’s my own fault.

In the midst of all the house renovations during/after my divorce, the more nervous of the two brothers developed all the signs of kidney disease. I happen to be unschooled in the signs of feline kidney disease and did not recognize anything was amiss until he started losing weight. Three pounds of weight, as it turned out, in about a week and a half. That is 30% of his mass for all you math people. As you read this, all the math people in my life are completely impressed I just calculated that number. They are also wondering what the initial weight was because they doubt the accuracy of those calculations. They know me well.

My cat’s renal blood work was off the chart, not in a good way, and the veterinarian went from a possible kidney disease diagnosis straight to one of complete kidney failure. The only option was to put my kitty boy into the hospital and flush him with intermittent IV fluids for 48 hours at $800 a pop. That visit would have to be repeated as necessary. The possibility that it would be unsuccessful and only prolong death was high.

This heartbreaking news came one day after my ex-husband served me papers regarding yet another modification request with the court, causing me to retain my attorney for $2500. Okay, technically the sheriff served the papers to one of the construction guys working for me. I wasn’t home and I’m not sure that’s legal. The work crew and I had a good laugh about it though and the foreman offered to go in my place since he was technically the one served. I should totally take him up on that offer.

Simply put, I couldn’t afford to save my cat’s life in the hospital. Nice.

During that nightmarish call from the vet, she suggested the option of getting a medical credit card, something that prompted internal conflict. Of course I wanted to do everything possible to save him, but was it irresponsible to place myself in future financial jeopardy? I am pending a change of residence for my daughters and myself post divorce and that doesn’t come cheap. Having left my employment to become a writer eight months prior, would I qualify?  Then the vet revealed a third option. “Well, I suppose, if you’re comfortable, you could come in and we could teach you to give him daily doses of subcutaneous IV fluids.”

Subcutaneous, as in “under the skin.”

Now, being a speech language pathologist by trade, and having worked in several rehabilitation facilities, I am comfortable around medical situations and equipment and have made some pretty significant medical decisions on behalf of my patients’ best interests— that doesn’t mean I’ve ever stuck anyone with a needle. Um, Speech doesn’t do that.

But guess what? Faced with my cat’s demise, I found myself saying, “I guess I’m coming in to learn how to give IV fluids. I’ll be there in an hour.” And I did it— You don’t even want to know how long the needle was. I was provided an IV bag, just like you see in the hospital, no miniature sizes for cats. There seriously should be— less scary, for me and the cat.

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One week after my emergency IV lesson, I had to bring my sick boy back to the vet’s office. Still bony, close to a walking skeleton compared to his previous form, my mind wanted to believe he was a little peppier, a little meatier— that we wouldn’t lose him.

The vet knew what tests to run having narrowed the preceding blood work to the area of concern. Focusing on kidney function, they extracted blood to run his numbers and the wait went on, and on, and on. The vet tech called me to the back room, one I hadn’t been in before, and asked me to wait for the doctor. My heart was already swimming in bile at the base of my throat.

“I can’t believe it,” were the words that made my head snap up and look at the doctor as she came through the door. “Completely within limits except one level that is single number above the norm. You’ve done a phenomenal job!” I stared blankly at her. I’d done it? He wasn’t going to die as I’d been subliminally preparing my daughters. Stunned. Numb. And then, elation.

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I continued to administer subcutaneous saline for the next month, downgraded to every 2-3 days, and now he is completely off extra fluids. What’s important is that he’s alive, gaining weight (and subsequently is his lard ass of a brother who steals his food if I’m not watching), and our smaller family unit, human and feline, is going strong.

Procrastination monsters are losing their feeding source, and therefore, havoc is decreasing and I am managing distractions. I’ve joined a writer’s group on MeetUp, and, totally unrelated, summer has arrived. Expect the blog posts to increase.

Rock, Paper, Scissors– Write!

Rock, paper, scissors– shoot! Was there ever a better rock thrower than writer’s block?

Recognizing our own creative process is a puzzle creative people piece together over time. We discover what works for us and what doesn’t. We immerse ourselves in learning the craft of writing, the rules involved, grammar or language usage, and develop strategies or habits we think assist our inspiration. I don’t sit down to my desk without a candle lit and music unobtrusively playing in the background. I change up which Pandora station I listen to. Setting up my writing ambiance is one way I get my creative juices flowing, but what happens when your creative atmosphere is on point, yet you are looking at a blank canvas or an empty sheet of paper? There is a enormous boulder of nothingness sitting between you and the message you want to communicate. You end up looking at a blinking cursor, unable to move it. Why?

In the educational social thinking movement, there is a cognitive behavioral curriculum called Superflex. Rock Brain is one of the characters created by the authors, Stephanie Madrigal and Michelle Garcia Winner. Rock Brain is used as an example for unflexible thinking traits– He doesn’t compromise, wants things “his way,” thinks there are strict rules he must follow (even ones that don’t work), and gets nothing but anger and frustration in return. Sound familiar?

When you develop what you perceive as writer’s block, are you being a rock brain? Do you get stuck and immovable in your writing practice?  Whether writer’s block or artist’s block, this impasse can be surmounted with alternative strategies. Writer’s learn about brainstorming, clustering, journal writing, free writing to alleviate writer’s block. These strategies work, but not all the time. These methods of eradicating the dense slab between writers and their muse all involve the primary difficulty that the writer is experiencing: writing.

This is when you should throw paper over that rock. Paper beats rock for a reason.

Cover that rock with a mantle of other mediums that inspire you. In Bird By Bird, Anne Lamott proposed the idea that instead of being blocked, we may need to fill ourselves up. We are chugging along the road of creativity, and when we run out of gas, we often bang on our vehicle exclaiming that it is broken or clogged, when all we simply need is to refill our source of creative energy. We are empty.

I’m a visual person, moved by paintings, sculptures, photographs, movies. Visuals prompt words when I can’t find them within, words prompt my own mental images, which then lead to breakthroughs and inspiration. Step away from your regular medium, be it writing, music, visual arts, and do something that recharges you, that leaves you feeling refreshed and inspired. Blow off steam by immersing yourself in silliness, exercise, or simply make a Pinterest board for your current project rather than approaching it with words first. If you are a painter, write down in words what you are hoping to convey in your piece. Switch that medium up, turn it around, look at it from a different vantage point.

Relieve the pressure to force creation by doing something fun and mindless. Pick up that guitar, shower, throw on a holiday movie, light candles, re-read a passage of your previous efforts that you are proud of, go to a coffee house, call a friend over for a lunch of homemade pizza and wine, sit alone and stare out the window at your favorite view.

One caveat: Be sure you are using these strategies for inspiration, and not as a distraction. There is a huge difference between filling your empty tank and distracting yourself from work— the work you already have plenty of inspiration to do. That is resistance to the work necessary, not writer’s block.

When you find you are resisting doing the work, it’s time to throw down scissors.

Cut out distractions, snip your own laziness, and shear negative forces from your environment. All of these vices are frenemies to your creativity.  They are pretenders, claiming to understand your process and are oh-so inviting with their diversions, but the entire time they are stabbing you in the back. Most likely with those scissors they want to keep from you. Pry those scissors from their hands and take control of your craft, including the time you dedicate to it. Commit, show up, sit down, and do the work.

For writers that have managed to take the first cut, but worry about maintaining commitment, there are online programs that help remove distractions. Stop Procrastinating has options for choosing how long you want to disconnect from the internet and only allows reconnecting after rebooting your computer— a pain in the ass that is a major deterrent in itself. If that wouldn’t stop you in your dedication to being distracted, then there is a selection that won’t allow access for a predetermined time even if you try to reboot. If you are blessed with some self control and don’t require either of those two options, you can simply limit access to certain websites (think Twitter, Facebook, email). This is a good option if you are working but require search engines to be available. Freedom and Anti-Social are other programs/apps that limit access to online content. Research what system works best for you.

Me? Get distracted? Nah…

Okay, I do get sidetracked on the internet at times, especially when I Google information and end up researching a topic that has nothing to do with my original quest. A prime example: I was researching railway occupations in Ireland circa 1920 and somehow ended up combing the 1901 Belfast census looking up my great-grandparents. Those are the types of distractions I encounter, not social media. I don’t require certain sites be blocked. I do write in a program called Scrivener that offers a less visually diverting Composition Mode (think not having folders, menus, and buttons surrounding your writing) that I’ve used once or twice, but that is the extent of my self-imposed limitations.

I’m more apt to have trouble resisting the homemade pizza while drinking wine with the neighbors type of distractions. I don’t think there’s an app for that.