Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sometimes you just have to get away...

It's been a tough Spring. Heck, to be honest, it's been tough around here (our house, the area in which we live, etc) since October when a certain Senator decided that the House of Representatives needed to make a point. So that Senator held a long filibuster, the Representatives of the Republican persuasion decided to take his advice and most of the Washington, DC area sat at home twiddling their thumbs for most of a month while Congress kept getting paid.

Then the government reopened with the exact same expectations of everyone - but with much less money and 3 weeks less time. Oh - and make it better than expected, if you don't mind. But we don't need government, right?

What this has translated into is stress for anyone who works for the government directly or indirectly now has to double down, get all projects done with a project triangle that is completely out of whack, and, if you are a consultant you must also help your company find new work in an effort to make financial goals that are out of whack for the new reality. I have an odd feeling that not for profits looking for funding are hitting the same issue, but I don't have anyone in my house who works for a not for profit.

In other words stress.

So, what does the work stress of my significant other have to do with my writing stress? Well...stress from one tends to spill over onto the others in the house. Think about when you had roommates in college - their exam stress may have caused you to feel stressed. It's natural. What it means to me is that I tend to think more than put words on paper.

It's gotten so stressful in our house that the situation called for extreme measures. CAR TRIP! And here is where it gets fun. We decided to check out a town that neither of us had seen since our college days and never together. It was also our son's first trip to North Carolina. If we'd been able to leave for the whole week, I was hoping to include a quick trip to the Outer Banks, but OBX will wait for another day. One I am looking forward to.

We drove down, stopping at my alma mater to show my son off, and to show him the campus. After that not so quick stop - hey, it's fun saying hi to people you will know! A school the size of Randolph-Macon, you tend to know a lot of folks, even years later, so it was a successful trip. As I was saying, after a not so quick stop, we got back on the road and were in Durham by 3PM. We got the lay of the land, found out that not everything you read on Expedia or Hotels.com is true. Oh, we also found out that they are really the same company and that you really should call the front desk and make your reservation, not a website.

After we settled in, we started exploring Durham, well, my son and I did. We went to Loaf and found some of the best cinnamon rolls I've ever experienced. We then ate dinner with friends at Geer Street Garden, wonderful ribs that fell off the bone for me. After the food, we went to the ball game and saw the Durham Bulls play. I have to say, for someone who really doesn't have a bucket list - seeing the Bulls play was actually one thing I felt I had to do. It was fun, but no one hit the bull. Oh well, no steak dinner for anyone that particular game.

The next day was filled with more goodies - breakfast at Scratch Bakery. So here's the thing - when an employee at a rival bakery asks where you had breakfast and you say "Scratch," you tend to wait for a chilly reception as you went to the rival, right? At least I do wherever I've lived - DC area and LA. Not ones for friendly competition. What I got after telling this lovely woman that my son and I had eaten at Scratch was "Oh, isn't she wonderful? That Phoebe, I don't know how she does it. That woman is creating magic over there." I had to agree. Her food is magical - maybe I can put it into one of my books one day....maybe.

More activities - the Museum of Life and Sciences, late lunch at a tap room by what used to be American Tobacco and is now a revitalized portion of the city, Then, Ice Cream for dinner. All just as delicious as it sounds.

Here's the thing - everything was locally sourced, made by the people who owned the restaurants. Food was good, it was fresh, the pastries on everything were just the perfect flakiness or stiffness or whatever it needed to be - not just at Scratch, but also at Loaf and Parlor. (OK - Parlor was all icecream so their gold standard tended to come in a cup, cone or waffle cone.) You could walk everywhere and there were so many more places to eat I know we didn't hit 1/4 of them on this trip.

We went down to Durham to eat our way through the city as much as possible after hearing from our friend Chuck exactly how amazing the food is, we had to give it a shot. But we went with a second agenda anyway, We went to figure out a way that we could spend time as a family and yet still allow my husband to do the work he needed to do. Solution - one room at the hotel and some walks with Sammy for me. When we were back in the room, we were quiet, we let my husband work, but we were all together. In one room. That was enough of a vacation for now - a short break where we could stop for a minute and enjoy each other's company or we could sit still and read or watch a show. Just those few minutes brought us out of the stress we've been buried under. And even though we're back, and my husband's workload is light for the next 24 hours before it becomes hellish again, we are preparing to give up on the "trip is done" thing and just start planning the next one. So...who's up for meeting up with me and my family in Los Angeles (probably staying in Santa Monica area) for some fun, some food and some new memories,

There's an article, well video feature and news article stating almost the exact same thing a number of us have been feeling - the US is one of a very few countries that does not believe that you, the person working, doesn't have a family or life outside of work. You are expected to give up on everything - kids, health, a living wage, vacation. But, if we are a bunch of burnt out workers who's kids don't know and have been seeing that other countries have rights you would have thought could have come from this country from paid, required, holidays/vacation/sick leave etc.

But you know what is an absolute start? Taking two days, getting in the car and leaving the state, put it all together last minute if you don't have time to plan. Go to a place you've always wanted to see in a certain mile radius. Just go. Get one hotel room for everyone. And, even if you or your significant other has to work, block out times when you'll be working. Odds are, if your kids are young, they'll come hang out in the room with you if only because they miss you. Set rules of course to make sure you get the time you need to do work. But, the odds are, they'll do it because they love you.

And if you pick Durham as your location for a quick break for R&R - eat at Scratch. Just do it because it is worth every visit. We intend to go again, if only to eat more goodies the Wizard of Pastry Phoebe Lawless has conjured. Truly worth the visit.

I will stop rambling now. Obvjously this short break did some good. Hopefully a longer vacation somewhere completely new for most of us.

And how will this help with the writing? Well, here's an list:

1) Firsts

I experienced many firsts this trip. First trip to a minor league game in the South. First time we took a trip with no planning in this family. First time wandering around a city with my son more often than my husband or my husband and my son. First time wandering around without any clue what I was looking out and having to figure it out.

2) Banishing the All or Nothing attitude

You know that attitude - you must have the entire book done or it's nothing. You must have x or y is nothing. In our case there were so many things that fell into this cauldron - either by us or by others - that the cauldron got too heavy to carry and some things were starting to get lost, like my writing. Hopefully when I start writing again (this week) I will not be as hard on myself and just work to get it done!

3) Sometimes small is good

I just watched what happens when a city starts to recreate itself. When American Tobacco left Durham for good in the late 1980s, they left their warehouses, cigarette rolling machines, boxing equipment, etc. In other words - a big old mess. Instead of letting it sit until it disintegrated, companies worked with the Durham government to turn it into what it is today - the American Tobacco Campus. That's happening all over downtown. The ice cream parlor is in place because of a grant from the city. I'm almost 100% sure that's the same all over the downtown area, But each place, except the Tobacco Factory though some of them are in this category, started small. They are growing their companies slowly, organically so that they won't ride a rocket sky high and watch as your dreams turn to dust. So, in writing maybe that small thing is starting a character, sometimes it's so small no one can see it because it's hiding in your head. Small does not mean it won't become bigh, just that it isn't right now.

4) When the family goes on vacation, your laptop should as well.

Take a notebook, sketch out ideas, soundboard them against your partner. Don't try to wake up at some insanely early time and write. That's insane. Vacation is for family. Leave the writing alone and spend time with them. You know, the people who most inspire you to begin with?

5) Be open to all sorts of new possibilities.

My son was introduced to a horse in full Indian armor getting ready for a wedding. My son was invited over to pet her and see if he could make friends with her. It was a beautiful moment, and one we absolutely would not have captured if we hadn't been open to every possibility. I'm grateful the Front Desk Manager thought to show us that, well, S specifically. But mostly it answered a question. "If you aren't open to new possibilities, then how can you call yourself a writer?"

So, what you thought might have started as a political rant (OK - it was a bit of one) has become a lecture on how you might make a better writer one day - Firsts, Banishing All or nothing, Sometimes Small is Good, When family goes on vacation, your laptop should as well; and finally "Be open to all sorts of new possibilities."

Those were my lessons on this very short break. Can't wait for the next adventure.

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