Monday, May 03, 2010

That Mythical Creature Called Balance

You know those magazines by the grocery checkout, the ones promising gourmet dinners in 30 minutes or less, a clean house, solid finances and the design pattern for a tropical fish tank birthday cake? I've noticed a trend in them: they talk a lot about Balance.

What they're really selling is how to have it all: the dayjob, the hobbies, the exquisite house and the made-from-scratch birthday cake.

'T'ain't possible, folks. Balance is as mythical as a unicorn, at least for me. You can't, not with as many irons as I have in the fire, have them all turn out perfectly. You can't -- or at least I can't -- have it all.

Balance brings to mind a deft juggling act on a high wire, with disastrous results if I slip (could also have something to do with my fear of heights).

Instead, I like the medical terminolgy "within normal limits." Doctors have learned that people's enzyme and blood count levels fall within a range, not on exactly the same count or level. As long as it's above the bottom threshold and below the upper threshold, you're "within normal limits."

In other words, keep it between the lines, just like when you're driving.

As I've pursued my writing from the first time I pushed through Chapter Three to finish a book until today, with four books out, I've realized that sometimes I've really shoved against those limits. My house might not always be clean. My dinners might be so bad that Mickey D's appears gourmet in comparison. But my daily wordcount was through the roof.

And then there are other times, when family needs come first, and my daily wordcount bottoms out.

As long as I'm falling between some fairly wide thresholds, it's okay. I'm within normal limits.

Instead of working ourselves up about corralling that mythical, unicorn-like critter Balance, I think we should dispense with it. It's just a guilt-inducing wild goosechase. Set some thresholds -- the absolute worst you'll put up with from yourself and the absolute best.

And keep it between the lines.

The lovely unicorn clip art came via Webweaver, a great place where unicorns hang out.


Piedmont Writer said...

How right you are! My house is never clean, I'm lucky if I can manage mac'n cheese for the Monster Baby, and the word count is never what I want it to be.

But you know what, I'm happy. I'm happier than I've ever been because I'm writing. I'm doing what I've always wanted to do. So my life, right now, is in balance.

Great post Cynthia. As always.

India Drummond said...

I'm not sure I even strive for balance anymore. I'm quite content with "moderately managed mayhem".

Cynthia Reese said...

Yay, Anne! When you're at peace with yourself, that's a GOOD thing!

And India, can I steal your line about "moderately managed mayhem?" Because, man, that describes my life to a TEE!

Linda G. said...

Amen! I love "within normal limits"--I need all the leeway I can get.

Great post. :)

out of the wordwork said...

Balance?? Balance?? We don't need no stinkin' balance.

Which is good because I don't think writers who have as many irons in the fire as you do, Cynthia, can ever achieve it. One thing at a time, one day at a time, one house chore at a time.

And even if your life seems to be crumbling around your feet sometimes, remember what Scarlett said, "Tomorrow is another day!"

Jayne said...

Within normal limits. Gosh - I need to take that to heart! I feel forever struggling to keep those juggling balls moving, keep those plates spinning, and it is exhausting! But 'within normal limits' - even the idea of it takes the pressure down (balls bounce, plates crash). If I think about my life 'within normal limits' then I am actually doing ok. I like it - thank you! :)

Cynthia Reese said...

Linda, thanks! I give you permission to have all the leeway you want, if you'll do the same for me! :-)

(((Nelsa))) for saying the EXACT right thing to me!

Jayne, it works the same way for me. The idea that I am harder on myself than I actually have to be is a liberating one, because the one person I AM the boss of is, well, yours truly.

Lydia Kang said...

What an excellent post. I'm always striving for balance, for being "within normal limits" or WNL as we like to abbreviate it.
Thanks for the important reminder...Balance.

Angie Paxton said...

I like the within normal limits thing. I'm going to go with that because the whole 'balance' thing has not been working out for me. Most of the time I find myself careening toward the ground with the bowling pins I'm supposed to be juggling beaning me on the head.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Thank you so much for this post! I gave up on the guilt long ago - there's just no time for it - but I do find my self pushing the limits, especially lately.

I like the idea of staying "within normal limits" although I think "normal" has to be readjusted for this insanity called the writing life. But seeing real people strive and achieve and struggle, just like me, really helps! So thanks!

Linda G. said...

That's a deal, Cynthia. Uh, can I get that in writing? Something along the lines of "Please excuse Linda from housework and cooking today. She's busy creatively exploding into her computer." Thanks!

P.S. My word verification for this comment is "cusnot." Admit it--you set that up especially for me, didn't you? ;)

Misty said...

You are my sage, aren't you. Either that or you've been peeking in my windows. All good. Seems like I'm plowing through my story and the laundry, the dinner, the obligations of all kinds...forgotten, until OOPS. Kids are hungry and there's no underwear and everythings gone to crap in a basket...but hey~ I got 5 grand in words! A good day is just gonna have to be measured in syllables and not clean socks around here.

Jen said...

Well said! I love the unicorn as well, what a perfect choice! Balance doesn't work very well in my home but I do the best I can, and when I don't get everything done I remember it's not the end of the world, though at times I feel defeated. Right now I'm feeling fantastic!!!

Awesome post!

Elisabeth Black said...

Unicorns aren't real?

Toby Speed said...

The guilt thing has been making me crazy lately, too. Partly it's because I have a whole new (and somewhat unrealistic) set of expectations for myself, writing-wise, plus I'm finding that being a mom doesn't end when the kids are grown. Not that I'd want it to, but you know what I mean. I completely agree with your views about balance -- keeping it between the lines is more like it! It makes me feel better just to read that.

Your attitude inspires me, Cynthia. I don't know if you realize just how well you are doing!

Cynthia Reese said...

Lydia, you're actually the one who sort of gave me the idea for this concept. I put together my angst over not enough "balance" in my life with having just read one of your Medical Mondays -- so cool!

Angie, they must have issued you the same bowling pins they issued me. So. Not. Working. :-)

Susan, that's the whole point of the blog post -- your normal depends on everything going in your life. And I sure wish that I could give up the guilt. That's what I'll do for Lent next year!

Linda, how DID you guess??? It's a conspiracy between me and Tawna. :-)

Misty, I'm stealing the line about syllables and socks, and I'm SO using it on The Husband.

Thanks, Jen! I'm just so not good at balancing -- but WNL? Can do!

And Elisabeth, unicorns are just really, really shy. Balance? Now that IS mythical!

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

I love your subsitute for balance. Within normal limits is so true. I understand exactly what you mean.

Great post!

Tawna Fenske said...

I'm not sure how I feel about the "normal" part of the "within normal limits" idea. Can I be abnormal and still use the concept?


Sarah said...

It's an important thing to be able to balance parts of your life, but like you said, you can't have it all that way. To survive and keep my sanity, I have to put things aside for a period of time to study or during exams, and take it up afterwards..or else I crack up :P

Cynthia Reese said...

Toby, my mom always warned me that motherhood was a life-sentence, and as much as I worried her, I'm sure thinking that karma's going to be a bad boomerang!

Glad I was clear, Kathi -- so often I'm just clear as mud!

Tawna, normal is all relative. It's like the atmosphere on Mars. For us, not normal. For little green men? Perfectly normal. :-)

Sarah, only eggs can crack up with good results. So adjust as necessary to avoid a Humpty-Dumpty impersonation!

Shannon said...

Amen. :)

I've learned not to strive for balance every day. It simply isn't possible.

There are going to be some days were I am a better employee than I am writer and visa versa. It ebbs and flows each day. I try to achieve on weekly (or sometimes monthly) basis.

Julie Musil said...

You've jumped in my head and read my mind. I was just thinking about balance today! Great post.

BillRicksofSoperton said...

Focus and priority are my unbalancers. Employment provided forced focus and was the priority. Now I'm undisciplined. I work hard on personal, trivial projects, but before I complete one, another seems to demand priority.
Right now I'm putting off scanning Vietnam slides, scanning old b&w negs for my blog, and today's photos of the yard sale, car show, and baseball game for the E-NEWS, because I've neglected your column far too long.
No reply needed, thanks.