At my Bikram yoga studio, every time I clasp my hands together, weave my fingers tightly with the index released and drop my head backward, I stare at the words written at the back of the room. With my knees locked and squeezed in snuggly, I start leaning back farther into half moon pose and look at the words painted in black cursive.
Do not be afraid of growing slowly. Be afraid only of standing still.
I try to breathe, even though my lungs feel slightly constricted as my lunar position wilts down and down, stretching my spine to its limit. I try to breathe and keep those words at the front of my mind, tattooed on the inside of my forehead.
On those days when I feel like I have just spent the working hours treading water rather than actually swimming anywhere, these words paralyze me. Am I even growing at all? Or am I a merely reacting to situations around me, just to fight to keep the ground I’ve already won?
I am a firm believer in setting SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound). How else can you possibly know if you’ve arrived unless you had a good idea of the direction you were headed in the first place?
So, each year, I make New Year’s resolutions. I keep them in a file on my phone, so I can look at them every time I’m bored and confined to a small space, like when the subway train gets struck with sudden constipation inside the tunnels. I read them over again and I reassess. I measure my (slow) growth.
One of my goals this year is to finish my first novel, get it polished and deliverable. And then deliver it, of course. Whether or not someone with clout and good favour reads it, is beyond my control. But, after I finish the first draft and print it all out in a spiral bound manuscript (what a high), I am advised to take a step backward before editing. Take a moment, advises my writing group. Get some distance and time in between you and your words. You need perspective to be an effective editor.
They are probably right. I nod along with their advice, knowing that they are the kind of people to understand how these processes work. It’s been an amazing support, to have these people involved in my writing life. Like my favourite Victoria’s Secret bra. They understand my body of work.
And so, the manuscript sits there. On the table in my office. For over 2 months. And. It. Kills. Me. Every inch of time, I feel that burn to pick it up and have at it with my red pen. I want to rip into it like an over-eager butcher until it can be grilled to perfection and served at a high-class bistro.
So, even though those words on the back of the yoga room wall burn into my skull every time I practise and reach for Zen, I remind myself that you sometimes have to stand still in order to grow slowly. That the raw hunk of meat in book that sits and taunts me daily isn’t ready to be carved yet. Or, more accurately, I’m not ready.
I need time, out in the physical world, to grow and to think and be a real human being, before I bury my head in the sand of my own words again.
So, in the mean time, I try to get out. To experience everything I can, with friends and family and sweaty yoga rooms. I start a new blog (hello virtual world!). I write short pieces of fiction. I feel the sunshine on my face. I get my haircut after 8 months of grow-up. I pick at my fingernails. I paint said nails to deter anxious picking. I pick at them more when the polish cracks and peels. I watch movies. I get ideas from the strangest of lyrics. I start a wine club with my friends, with spreadsheets that stay true to the nerd inside. I marinate.
But, now, thank the heavens, I think I am ready. About time! my brain yells. I am ravenous! The time to meaningful pause is over. Someone hand me my red pen! This could get messy, folks.