I haven’t written in a long time.
This is how writing always starts for me, with an apology for not having written sooner. I don’t know what that’s about, the deferral and the delay, the email that is left in the inbox a few days (or weeks) too long, the stories and ideas that sit in the on-deck circle of my mind as the earth spins around itself and then around the sun, unwritten, undone. It’s on a long list of things that I’d like to change about myself, that I try to change about myself, that I may never quite manage to change about myself. Things always happen for me in ebbs and flows. There are long periods of constant accomplishment followed by a day when it takes me three hours to get dressed in the morning, periods of thrift followed by a lethal trip to IKEA, a sense of all being right in the world alternating with the sense that the quest stands on the edge of a knife. In the midst of it all, there’s almost nothing, other than eating, peeing, and thinking of my family with love, that I consistently do every single day, or on a schedule at all. Because my job is what it is, I can’t even put sleeping on that list, because sleeping is not something I necessarily do in every 24 hour period. Each of my days feels like it is invented from scratch.
I went to an Integrative Medicine conference two weeks ago which was dreamy, in the sense that I was surrounded by people who are interested not only in making people better, but also making their lives better, and also making our own lives better. The issue of physician wellness came up a lot. On the one hand, we are an infinitely privileged group of people and what can people possibly complain about who are eating organic steel cut oats and fresh strawberries on a resort veranda in the cool desert morning? On the other hand, so many people spoke of burnout, of struggling to provide good care in a system more concerned with efficiency and documentation, of seeing numbness and dis-ease in their colleagues and trainees, of finding the weight of the world’s unsolvable problems too heavy to bear, of bearing the heaviness of the world with grace but wondering, deep down, about what good medicine might truly look like. It was good to remember what I had dreamed of, when I started on this path. And to know that other people still dream of it.
As part of the conference, several people gave mini-TED talks, two of which centered on the concept of daily practices — in one case a daily gratitude practice, in the other a daily practice of writing morning pages, a practice suggested by Julia Cameron in her book “The Artist’s Way.” Each of the speakers had been doing their daily practice for over a year. And each of them spoke about the profundity of practice, of doing the thing every day no matter what.
I belong to a number of different cohorts that espouse daily practice. I’m Jewish, to begin with, and if you practice Judaism to the letter of the law, your day is one long daily practice of prayers and blessings and prescribed acts. Then there’s meditation and more broadly mindfulness, which I’ve been dancing with for more than a decade. I’m mindful every day, but I don’t meditate every day and that is without question the recommendation. Then there’s writing. Most people who are serious about writing — or any art practice — do it every day or most days. (People who talk about their daily practices don’t often make fully clear whether it’s truly EVERY DAY or just most days, and even though the stickler in me kinda wants to ask, maybe it doesn’t fully matter, because either one would be progress.) So I’ve become adept at feeling guilty about my daily non-doing in multiple of life’s domains.
I had a wellness session with a few of the interns this week. We watched a TED talk together about the power of positive psychology. We talked a bit about the research presented in the talk that shows that by doing something positive for two minutes everyday for 21 days, you can retrain the way your brain thinks. I’m kind of allergic to the whole notion of the “21 day fix” because it implies that there is something that needs fixing (I’m doing the best I can and it’s pretty damn good, thank you very much!) and that anything that needs fixing could really be changed in 21 days. As a concept, it seems (very) reductive and simplistic. But on the other hand, I’VE NEVER BEEN ABLE TO DO IT. So who am I to say it isn’t true? Maybe it really is that simple.
We broke into small groups and talked about what we might try to do every day for the next 21 days. I promised to write every day. Then I didn’t write that day, Friday, or the next day, Saturday. Now it’s Sunday, and I’m writing. So I’m not sure whether to classify this as a failure or a success. I’m not sure if it’s day 3 or day 1. But regardless it feels so good, like an awesome first date that is also tea with an old friend. Because it’s been so long, but sentences are still a sweet road to understanding.
So I guess I’m going to try to write every day. 21 days. Just 21 days! It feels insurmountable. Right now, for example, my daughter’s nap has gone on longer than it should have. There are some work emails I haven’t answered that will have to wait a little longer because I was writing this instead. Two minutes isn’t really a feasible time frame for writing, so what I’m committing to is more significant than that. But if I can do it, I’m pretty sure I’ll be glad I did. And if I don’t make it every day, maybe I’ll make it most days, and that would still be a lot.
Anyone want to join me? Write the thing you are going to do every day for 21 days in the comments and we can check in on each other and see how it’s going and then in the end, we can see how it went, and maybe we’ll even keep going.
Looking forward to reading for the next 21 days! I love writing, and I wish I could do it every day like I used to. When I get home these days I’m just so exhausted though, my mind is blank.
As for physician wellness, well, on one hand we ARE very lucky. On the other, is it so bad to want to make things better? I really do think that if we take better care of ourselves, we do a better job with our patients. 1/2 of what they need from us is emotional support anyway, and how are we supposed to provide that when we are barely hanging on ourselves?
Agreed! It’s hard to be as emotionally present as we want to be when we have no reserve left. As far as writing goes — I could only do it once every month or two in residency but it was still so worth it.
I don’t think I’ve ever commented on your blog before… so hello!
Thank you for sharing this. I’ve been telling myself that I want to become a better musician for a long while, so I think I’m going to try practicing my violin every day for the next 21 days. Good luck to us both. 😀
Yay! I totally support you in playing everyday. I’ll check back in next week and see how it’s going.
So excited to see your post! And that’s not in a pressuring, do it more often kind of way- I just truly appreciate reading your words of insight!
I will do 21 days of sitting quietly for 2 minutes. I have been contemplating starting a meditation practice for a while and am feeling intimidated, so 2 minutes of quiet sitting feels lighter.
Thanks for reading, Katie — I support you in sitting quietly! As my toddler can well tell you — it’s not easy, even for two minutes :-). Two minutes sounds like a good place to start — when I’m having trouble I count my breaths up to ten and back to one over and over again. It gives me something to focus on. Good luck — I’ll check back in at the end of the 21 days and see how it went!
I just started maternity leave (!!) so I have plenty of time and no excuses. I would like to meditate for at least a few minutes every day for the next 21 days. Of course this is a beneficial practice no matter what, but seems particularly good practice for welcoming another howling being into our daily (and nightly) lives. Thanks for the motivation, M.
Yay for quiet even when (or especially when) there isn’t any. I hope you have a wonderful last few weeks of now and first few weeks of the new now.