Finding – and Defending – Balance

This photo is from a few weeks ago, but I think I never posted it. Ice on the rain chain and the fairy sculpture my mom gave me in the background. 

It’s been a busy week for me so far. I’m making excellent progress on THE FIERY CITADEL (sequel to THE ORCHID THRONE). I’ve also been making daily inroads on collecting my income tax information for my CPA. And there’s been a lot going on with Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) – where I serve on the Board as a Director at Large – both the peaking of some planned projects and dealing with some problems. We also have elections going on, so yesterday I took some time to answer the “Questions for Candidates” on the SFWA forums.

One person asked the candidates if we’d to prioritize our SFWA work above everything else in my life. I said no. I added that I’d never expect that of any SFWA volunteer.

Hell, I’d never expect that of anyone, for any activity in life. Not 24/7.

We talk a lot about work/life balance, or work/family balance. For me, my life runs the smoothest when I devote some time each day to my various commitments. I have my To Do List color-coded for various activities (I am the Spreadsheet Queen, after all) with time allotted to each. Getting word count happens first because I write best in the mornings and that’s how I keep the roof over our heads and food in the pantry. I also have categories for blogging or doing my podcast, for updating financials – which includes keeping track of royalties and getting money to authors who participate in anthologies with me – for exercise, for errands and household chores, and an hour a day for SFWA. 

Sometimes it’s more; sometimes it’s less.

But overall, balance for me means making every day reflect the pattern I want my overall life to have – and that means some of everything that’s important to me. 

Chatting with friends and hanging out with the hubs? Those things happen every day, too, but I don’t have to put them on a list. 🙂

Stand-up Paddleboard

Keeping My Balance in a Chaotic World

Stand-up Paddleboard

Last Sunday we went to Abiquiu Lake for some fishing (David) and stand-up paddleboarding (me). I know I’m not standing up in this photo – this was when I first got it – but I really can! I wasn’t able to find any pics of me standing and paddling. This is partly because David obviously would be the picture-taker, so I don’t have them on my phone or computer. It’s also because I told him not to take photos of me in my bathing suit because I never look as athletic and gazelle-like as I do in my mind and this is one place I’d rather not deal with crushing reality. 

Just imagine me in a bikini, golden tan, with long, lean thighs and washboard abs, okay? 

So, I’ve been doing the stand-up paddleboarding for two years now and I’m pleased to say I’m getting pretty decent at it. Last summer in San Diego I rented a board and got advice from a very helpful surfer dude that really improved my form. It’s both peaceful and good exercise – why I have those washboard abs! – and excellent for core strength and balance. Plus it’s super cool to glide over the surface of the lake and see the fish swimming by. 

Things that make it more challenging are driving winds – very difficult to make progress standing up because the body creates so much resistance, like a sail-and the wakes from boats.

On Sunday there were several jet boats with water skiers. In fact, my friend told me that she saw on Instagram that Cassidy Freeman was on the lake in one of those boats. She’s likely in the area filming Longmire. I suspect what happened is her fault, because that bitch has always been jealous of me. 

I was paddling along fine, feeling good, the lake lovely and cool, not too choppy yet, though the wind was picking up. Then a big swell from a passing jet boat came rolling in, rocking me massively. I rode it out, though! I kept my balance, eyes up, knees bent and stayed up until the water calmed.

But, you know what? It rattled me. My adrenaline shot up, I got shaky. I got nervous. Even though I tried talking myself through it, I no longer felt serene. 

When it happened again – another swell from a jet boat, probably Cassidy’s, swamping me – I fell.

Now, I should clarify that falling off the paddleboard is seriously No Big Deal. Because you’re on water. Boom, under you go. It’s even refreshing. It’s not like I hurt myself. I’m a good swimmer and NM regulations require the life vest, so I’d float regardless.

But there’s the moment of floundering. I’d forgotten and worn my good sunglasses and those were gone, sacrificed to Lady Abiquiu. And there’s the whole pride thing which apparently doesn’t goeth before a fall, because I still had mine, all bruised and stinging, even though I don’t think anyone even saw. Besides, who cares if they did?

Still. 

Falling rattled me even more. I’ve been thinking about it since then. 

With stand-up paddleboarding, I want to get so I don’t care if I fall. It should be equally fun, in and out of the water. I’m not trying to win a water-gazelle competition. I learn as much – if not more – from falling as from staying on. It’s a weird emotional attachment to some idea of success that I need to weed out of myself.

But it’s also a good metaphor for life. We like it when life is smooth and serene. I know I do! Peaceful orderly days, beauty around us, working at something we feel good about doing. And then the wave comes and swamps us. We’re rattled and sometimes fall. Getting back on that metaphorical board – which isn’t easy, but it’s that, drown or tread water – takes a lot of effort. I want to get so I’m okay with that, too. When things happen in life that upset my balance and topple me, I want to get so I take the dunking philosophically and go back to what I was doing. 

In a world that can feel like a stormy lake full of careless jet boats, it’s a critical skill to acquire. 

Finding Balance by Accident

These are desert 4 o’clocks. I posted some photos of them last summer, but haven’t so much this year because, well, we’ve barely had any. Our incredibly dry winter and spring meant the plants never really grew, much less bloomed. Even the ones next to the house, that I watered twice a week (our water restrictions) faithfully, didn’t get more than a few inches tall.

This clump, however, is on the far side of the driveway, was never tended, and burst into bloom. If you look closely, you can see another clump deep inside the juniper in the background. They’re on the east side of the juniper, so I think the got protection from the afternoon sun, the drying west winds. For whatever reason, they were in the perfect spot to flourish while the rest didn’t.

We spend a lot of time talking about this culturally. Failure to Thrive is a well-studied medical syndrome among babies. Educators constantly seek ways to encourage students to flourish – however that might be defined. Lots of people discuss work vs. life balance.

I’ve had that on my blog topics list for a while now. Actually it’s been #1, through sheer inertia and says:

  1. Work/life balance – only the mommies think about this?

That’s because a friend added me to a Facebook group of “smart women.” (No, I have no idea why she included me. Most of them talk about techie stuff. And marketing. Nobody asks me to explain the power exchange dynamics of a spanking, like my CPs did last night.) One of the things they do talk about is work/life balance. Kind of a lot. I felt like I didn’t have much to add to the conversation (reference: spanking conversations) and I wondered why. Then I noticed that they usually defined the “life” part of the equation as being with the children. As my stepchildren are grown, no wonder this isn’t really a consideration for me.

I’m thinking about it today though. Those of you who regularly read know I’ve been on a long day job trip. And work has been crazy busy. In fact, our boss who is forever exhorting us to work more hours, to make certain metrics, is now cautioning us not to burn out. (It’s entirely possible he’s been replaced by aliens determined to undermine our GNP.) I had enough hours for the week before I started work yesterday, so I’ve been toying with the idea that I should, after a few conference calls this morning, take the afternoon off.

Yes! my brain chimes in, and we could write that synopsis. Send those queries. Answer those interview questions. Send some feedback on the new website, including on that incredibly outdated friends/blogroll list. (I know, I know – I can’t believe none of you have complained about it.) Then it occurs to me to that all of that is just for my other work, my writing job.

So, I think, no, if I take the afternoon off I should do something for life balance. I’m trying to decide what that would be.

Which makes me pitiful, I’m sure.

This is the thing that people often cite about having children, that they force you to slow down and enjoy life. They *make* you play. So, maybe I was too hasty in my judgment, as judgments almost always are, that this is a mommy thing. Maybe it’s on their minds more because they have to think about it.

Perhaps we just all need to find that little spot that lets us flourish.