January is one of those times when I can’t help but re-evaluate how I’m navigating through this life. I know I’m not the only person who feels that way, but after a few months of topsy-turviness that made me feel like I was getting an ulcer, I really had to sit down and think hard about how I can make room for more creativity and more quiet in my life. I’ve always been striving for balance, but the last year was an epic fail in that regard. I had high hopes of balancing tedious jobs with fiction writing, a good diet, better exercise, and more relaxing activities—and more things that brought me joy.


I’m practically middle-aged, so now I have to consider things like fiber, and varicose veins, and blood pressure. Blargh.


I also have to consider making more time for the things that are most rewarding in this life. Like the people I love. And art. And books. Sometimes things like jobs get in the way of all that—if we let them.


So here’s how I started:

1. I made myself make art. I was invited to be in a group gallery show called “Lost and Found.” (Appropos, yes?) To be honest, the deadline slipped my mind, and I realized in late December that I needed to prepare at least 6 sculptural books to ship. I had three finished. This meant I had to make three more on the fly, and not get too wrapped up in the planning as I normally do. The result was a week of designing and binding books that didn’t involve serious subject matter, but were just fun to make. (I made a book with a pterodactyl, for heaven’s sake. How’s that for fun?)


2. My fella and I decided to have a low-key Christmas—so low-key that is was postponed until two days ago when he was back from visiting his people in the Midwest. When I asked him what he wanted for Christmas, he said, “Want to pretend we’re in Iceland? Let’s buy each other books, and then spend the day reading them. And drink coffee, or tea, or bourbon.” He was referring to that lovely Icelandic tradition that someone on Facebook reminds us of every year. So we did it: we set a budget of $25 and ended up giving each other five books each. My haul: The Earthsea trilogy by Ursula K. LeGuin, The Merman (Carl-Johan Vallgren), and The Palace of Curiosities (Rosie Garland).


3. Even though my days are pretty full lately, I’ve made time to read every day. It relaxes me, and makes the creative part of my brain work harder. I’m reading four different books right now, because I tend to skip around the way I do while watching a handful of TV shows. Thanks to my bookish appetite, I’ve finally gotten around to reading Joe Hill and Alice Hoffman, and wondering why it took me so long to find them.


4. I’m carving out more writing time. I have three competing novels in my head right now, and all of them are screaming to be written. I’ve tried to be methodical and make myself finish the one that’s closest to being done. I was mentally outlining the second novel, tossing around ideas of where to start. But then one day in December I woke from a dream that gave me an idea for a whole new book. I was completely psyched about the idea, and hurriedly wrote an outline so I’d at least remember the basics. I’ve fleshed it out a little more, still stumped about where to start, but itching to get that story out. Romance, comedy, birds. I find myself thinking about that one as I work on other things, to which the fella said, “I think you need to write the one you’re most excited about.”


5. I made myself move. I started eating more salads. I walked through the neighborhood a few times last week. I’ve been lifting weights while watching episodes of Banshee. (See, that’s sort of working out.) It’s an attempt at the diet and exercise portion of my balance challenge. I’m getting there. Small steps.


Here’s hoping this Year of the Rooster brings you much balance and creativity, too. We could all stand to seek the joy these days, and remember to take time for the things that are really important, and the things that bring us delight.


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