Use Your Gut

I have begun a new season in my life. On New Year’s Day this year (2022) I looked out over the panorama of the coming year and I could already see that it was going to be a year of change. Like a lot of change, big changes. What I didn’t know was that there was one unforeseen change—a biggie—that I didn’t know about. So, change was brewing, in even bigger ways than I anticipated, and I braced for them the best I could. As for the biggest changes, we have left our church of twenty years (in the spring), found a new church (slooowly entering the water), I have retired from teaching co-op (spring), I have wrapped up home school (beginning of the summer) after seven years, and I have sent my homeschooler off to a charter high school with his sister. Freshman and senior. These are the biggies and half of them led to another biggie: I have started working fulltime from home as a writer. Again, yes. It has been seven years since I set my career on the back burner and here I go again.

I was going to get a little journalistic and give you a schedule of my day (which will have to change periodically or my ADHD will send me flying head-first out the window). I will do that, but this morning I have something a little different on my mind. As someone with ADHD, I have considered medication for many, many years. This year I have tried a couple and I am currently taking one on a regular basis. (Another change. Oh, there are several more.) This coupled with the enormous stress of a post-Pandemic America running under one of the biggest years of change I have ever had means that I am dealing with all the feels and trying to bear up under a lot of stress. It also means that I am having to ask myself if I am acting like me but also knowing that of course I’m not quite acting like me right this moment, in the cocoon I’ve built around all the tender places that have been exposed by sending my buddy off to school, etc.

So this: use your gut. I was working out this morning (another change: I had some Pandemic weight to lose) and I was trying to use my abdominal muscles while doing uppercuts. (I would not get in front of one of my uppercuts right now, if I were you.) I thought, “Use your gut.” And, thanks to all the things running through my mind, I thought, much more vastly, “Yeah! Use your GUT!”

It’s difficult when you are dealing with a bunch of stuff to be passionate about your life or to enjoy it. Change is stress and stress can lead to survival mode. I have tried to be understanding and give myself space for this survival mode. But there also comes a point where we need to leave the shock behind and get back to feeling life and living it fully. To be honest, there has been so much going on for years both in my life and in our world that I don’t know how much I have been feeling life and living it fully. (I have been living it.) I do know that if I want to be my best writer, I have to do those things. I have to use my gut to write, have to use passion and intuition to be a creator. But that seems, although metaphorically visceral, abstract. How can I use my gut? Thanks for asking.

Well, first off, I want to say that I also think, even before the passion, that I need peace. I believe that peace comes from a place of acceptance or, as I would put it coming from my worldview, surrender. Humility. A sense of perspective. A place to receive love and security. I’ve done some CBT this year, some group therapy, some really intentional friend time, etc. I am working on it, as always. But now I also want to jump back into my life and seize the day. I want to do art. So these are the things that the “gut” needs to be activated:

  • Creativity. Wait? Aren’t we trying to access our creativity? Yes. And I do mean to actually do creative things, but I also mean to take in creative things and preferably not creative junk food. One of the things that most gets my juices flowing is music, loud and with me alone and focused on it. Go to a movie or a play or a dance performance. Read a novel, a story, a poem. Look at paintings, sculpture, architecture, fashion, something new or avant garde. And absolutely enroll yourself in a pottery class or a ballet group or just pull out a sketchpad or paint your tray ceiling with the moon and stars. Sew some curtains or do textile art, furnish a doll house, make a model, color. Doing something creative besides writing (or whatever your creative job is) can feed into your writing, which I have already blogged about HERE. But mostly I mean you need some sort of diet of creative things—creative input—to inspire you to creative output.
  • Presence. It has become increasingly easy for us to go through our days without being present in them. With computers in our pockets, distractions at every turn, and the modern privilege of not spending our days either gathering or farming just to survive, we can just check out. Perhaps this is why there is so much talk about “being present.” As much as I cringe at the buzz of the term and even the concept, it is an uphill battle to stay present in our lives, but we need to be present to be creative. As contrary as it seems, I often use visualization to bring me back to the moment (like me laying back into a giant palm or two giant hands presenting me with whatever the moment has to offer me in my immediate surroundings/reality). I also use mantras, like “Enjoy more.” (That was one of my former pastor’s favorites.) Using your senses is a way to be present, but we’ll get to that in a moment. Putting down the damn screens is another way to be present. Looking at people in the eyes, another one. Opening your own eyes, another.
  • Gratitude. I have blogged before (I think) about a game my husband and I have played over the years when we realize we have become especially crotchety. We go back and forth, listing things that we are thankful for, from the small and even silly (distilled water) to the big stuff (each other, each of our children). This is one of many ways you can seek gratitude. You could also journal gratitude, say “thank you” more, do some of that therapy or whatever to stop being so negative or complaining. Make yourself “soft” toward the world; that’s one my yoga instructor says. Why do you need to have gratitude to be creative? There is no way I am going to produce my best stuff, really get in the “gut” zone, unless I have some positivity going. For me, a lot of my work is about redemption on some level, but it’s more than that. I’m not going to function properly if I’m knotted up, turned in on myself. Gratitude opens us up, opens our minds and emotions up. Don’t look at me, just look at all the wisdom literature of the world.
  • Engagement. I was almost talking about engagement with the other three, but I want to be specific here. Yes, you need to actually get up off the couch on which you are binging and eating potato chips (I said to myself many times), but you also need to specifically engage in these three areas: body, nature, and adventure. I am sedentary by nature (which is weird, because I also have a lot of mental and sometimes even physical movement). I write and read and enjoy a real long lounge session. I don’t go in for most sports. Physical touch isn’t my love language (which I’m starting to think is just a form of brokeness and can be healed). However, I have been really surprised as I reached middle age and started to work out, that physical activity taps into a powerful part of my emotions, mind, and even soul. Perhaps because of the old, Western philosophical idea of dualism that was adopted by much of the Church, I believe most modern Americans are missing out on important connections between our bodies and the rest of us. What I know is this: jogging, punching, dancing, biking: these things take an emotion, thought, or experience I am having and ratchet it up several levels. As simple as waving around your arms when you have a strong feeling of excitement or rolling on the floor in grief and as easily begun as aerobics in your family room, we need to engage our bodies to be fully engaged and fully creative. We also need nature (a walk? Notice the breeze, stick your toes in the water) and adventure. I love the word adventure, but what I mean is that you have to do things that scare you, you have to put your foot on your own butt (it can be done) and shove yourself off some sort of cliff into the unknown, the unsure. To reach full creative potential, to really feel life and then enjoy it, you have to do challenging things, which is what I call adventure.

Maybe this blog is not that helpful. Who needs another thing to do, right? Another thing to put on their checklist: have a diet of creative things, be present, have gratitude, engage with your body, nature, and challenges. What I said is a little vague, too, because I condensed a lot of big thoughts into one little entry and maybe you’re not even with me. The point is, as I begin again my career, as I face days without my son at home, as I step onto a new platform to sing at church or write a new short story, as I’m “pressing against the wind” (in the words of Victory) or “open[ing] my eyes” because a new dawn is coming (in the words of Jose Gonzalez), I want to have that living feeling. And this is the best way I know to cultivate passion: to listen to music that makes me cry, to hug my husband, to concentrate on my bubble tea instead of the traffic jam, to roller skate the Tobacco Trail, go for a hike, go skydiving. Then I’m there, and all my senses and my brain and my emotions and my soul are on high volume and I can’t do anything but write the next great, American novel; it’s just buzzing around in my brain waiting for me to catch it.

THE SCHEDULE

I did promise it to you. And really, if you’ll notice, it does facilitate what I’ve just been talking about. Hardly ever do my days go exactly like this due to appointments, events, holidays, and life. Also, there is a whole lot of my helping Eamon do homework and create good afterschool routines, right now. It lessens by the day. Tear.

Monday-Friday

  • Pup fed and out
  • 8am: Up
  • Get ready
  • Make the bed
  • Do backercises
  • Downstairs: Make tea
  • Eat breakfast and take morning pills
  • Quiet time/devotions/meditation
  • In office: Journal (and therefore organize my day, etc.)
  • WRITE WORDS!
  • Noon: Eat lunch and do small, daytime to-dos
  • Take the pup out
  • WORK (Monday, blog; Tuesday, submissions; Wednesday, work to-do list; Thursday, illustrate; Friday, read writing craft books (with activity) and mags)
  • 4pm: WORK-RELATED ACTIVITY (Monday, arts and crafts; Tuesday, brain exercises; Wednesday, write letters; Thursday, creative journaling; Friday, art exercise)
  • “Back at home”: 5pm: Make dinner and eat it
  • Pup fed and out
  • Bake (sometimes)
  • Dishes
  • Exercise (Monday, Wednesday, Friday)
  • Shower (many days)
  • Entertainment time! (go out, watch a movie, read, play a game or activity, listen to/make music)
  • 845pm: snack time!
  • 10pm: retire screens
  • 1030: Get ready for beddy (and pup out)
  • 11pm-midnight: Bedfordshire

Saturday: Clean the house, do the laundry, big to-dos, prep cooking, groceries (every other), errands that can happen on weekends.

Sunday: Church, family, relax, get outside.

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