On BBC’s Downton Abbey (I just lost a few of you, didn’t I? Hold tight…), the highly quotable Dowager Countess played by the marvelous Maggie Smith innocently asks her working class cousin Matthew, “What is a week-end?”  She has to ask because she has never worked a day in her life.

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I think today some of us find ourselves asking the same question, only because we work right through the weekends, or our weekends are so packed full of activities we’re relieved when Monday comes around again and things calm down.

But the whole point of the weekend was to calm down. The Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths all have a day of rest built into the week that is not just recommended, but required, if we really take it seriously. Early 20th century Americans Henry Ford and President Franklin Roosevelt standardized a five-day workweek to give workers a consistent expectation and employers boundaries.

Like many other arenas, the film industry considers weekends one of many social norms that just don’t apply to them. Saturday and Sunday are sometimes even better for production than weekdays, and sometimes the weekend is the chance to “get ahead” while everyone else is supposedly taking a break.  Maybe your industry has crept into the weekends as well.

As a writer, I’m realizing that while it’s important to get the work done, it’s also important to stop getting the work done. The process of work drains my energy and creativity, and it’s essential to find ways to fill up again or there is nothing left to give.

So the weekend mindset is needed, but the weekend isn’t always available. I’m trying to build some habits that give me a little bit of “weekend” whenever I can get it. These are a few of the things I’ve discovered that refill my writer’s tank, and I suspect they would work for a lot of different people.  They’re not difficult or expensive habits, but I must confess, I’m guilty of neglecting them. I’m writing them here to remind myself, to keep myself accountable, and to find out if there are other ideas that work for you.

Unplug

I love technology, so this is not a luddite rant. However, now that we have laptops, tablets and smart phones, it’s possible to have technology constantly at our fingertips. Therefore, it is constantly at our fingertips.

I have to consciously stop myself from compulsively checking texts, emails, Facebook, Instagram…. Like a lab rat that pushes a pedal and sometimes food pellets come out, sometimes there’s actually a new status update that I care about.  But it’s usually nothing I couldn’t wait until later to read.

So what’s the problem with the ability to find out anything anywhere anytime? I think it makes us twitchy.

Look around the next time you go to a restaurant or any public place where people are waiting for a few minutes (school pickup!). Everybody (including me) is taking the moment to check email or play a round of Words with Friends. Compulsively. We’re busy people, so we fill up each little moment “accomplishing” one more thing, and technology gives us that ability to never sit still.

I don’t think this is a big revelation to anybody. Our shortened attention span is something that educators are now accommodating in children rather than resisting. Studies of the brain are showing that our brains truly are “wired” differently.  I can see (without much study at all) that filling all the extra moments checking in on my social media is a detriment to my creative energy. It certainly doesn’t relax me, or fill me with new ideas.

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There’s only so much to be done in the modern world. But here are a few things that I do to unplug. I turn off alerts and push notifications. I set my computer email to only check manually.  (It’s easy enough to interrupt myself with technology; I don’t need it to beep to remind me.) I leave IM off unless I need it, and I don’t leave Facebook open in a browser window (too tempting to take a “quick look”). And I got rid of that mesmerizing Facebook news ticker too.

Remember Dug, the little dog from Pixar’s Up?  Technology is my “Squirrel!” I have to keep my focus on what I really love.

“So please, oh PLEASE, we beg, we pray, Go throw your TV set away, And in its place you can install, A lovely bookshelf on the wall.” — Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Read

Stephen King, in his inspiring book On Writing, said “It’s hard for me to believe that people who read very little (or not at all in some cases) should presume to write and expect people to like what they have written… If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

This haunts me.  I love reading, but I don’t have time to read.  There is a stack of books on my nightstand giving me guilt. Let me lay on the guilt one layer thicker…

“The man who does not read good books is no better than the man who can’t.” —   Mark Twain

Ouch, Mark!  I mean, I love books, so that doesn’t count for me, right? I’m a busy mom, I have zero uninterrupted quiet time, I have to stay up way too late just getting things done…

I don’t think he’d care about my excuses. Reading is the place where we can take in our craft, measure ourselves against the greats, and engage our imaginations. We have to make time for it.

And I think we have to actually read books. We read a lot of different things every day – news, blog posts, email, business correspondence, etc. But printed, published words are held to an editing standard that keeps us sharp as the rest of the world  slides into the text messaging spelling and grammar abyss. (but thx 4 readng my blog LOL)

So please, tell me the last great book you read so I can add it to my nightstand or Kindle.  I just have to figure out how to make the time…

Get Away

Most people picture themselves reading a great book on the beach during a fabulous vacation. This is not my reality. I can’t remember the last time we took a “just for fun” vacation, primarily because the work my husband and I do is so unpredictable and project-based, there’s no such thing as planning ahead. The one true vacation we put a deposit on, we lost because we had to change our plans.  So when other parents start having conversations comparing their favorite islands of Hawaii (I live in Hollywood, remember), I smile politely so they won’t know.

However, vacations – like weekends – were created as another way to rest and recharge. So I have to find some method of getting away that gives me the vacation refill I need without having to stress about money, job opportunities lost or travel itineraries.

I have a very simple vacation spot right at home – a hammock.  When I’m in the hammock, the kids know, “Mom is taking a break right now. It’s okay to come snuggle but not okay to ask for apple juice.”  Sometimes, just a few minutes of swaying in the breeze and looking at the sky is enough to rest my weary self. And the idle time rests my mind and allows it to wander into new ideas.

Or sometimes I just fall asleep…

Sleep

Sleep.  We need it.  We don’t get enough.

“Now, blessings light on him that first invented sleep!  It covers a man all over, thoughts and all, like a cloak; it is meat for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, heat for the cold, and cold for the hot.” – Cervantes’ Don Quixote

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Honestly, it seems like sleep is the cure for most everything from sickness to stress, but still we neglect it. I don’t know why I think that getting one more thing done is so much more valuable than the sleep I’m missing. Maybe it’s because night is my quietest time of day, so I try to make it last.

I used to have a funny little postcard on my wall that said, “Coffee! You can sleep when you’re dead.”  Anyone who knows me might find that funny, but after a while it lost the humor. Yeah, if I don’t get myself some sleep, that’s exactly what will happen.

This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.’” Isaiah 30:15

All of these things are my choice.  Will I find rest, quietness and trust that brings strength, or will I have none of it?  There are plenty of places to find “free refills” for the drained body and spirit – unplugging, reading, getting away and sleeping are my obvious ones.

What is your “week-end”?

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